TAMPA — As sprints go, the ones done Tuesday by the Lightning weren't quite "suicide drill" quality, but they weren't a walk in the park either.
A couple of trips up and down the St. Pete Times Forum ice at the end of an hourlong practice certainly got the legs burning.
So, when wings Gary Roberts, 42, the second-oldest NHL player under contract, and Mark Recchi, 40, the fourth oldest, led their groups to the finish, it became perhaps the most important teaching moment of the first day of training camp.
"We've got to lead by example," Recchi said. "We have to be the hardest workers. That's very important for us. We have a lot of young guys here. You have to lead the right way. You've got to show them."
You would think their resumes would be enough.
Roberts, in his 22nd season, has 434 goals and a Stanley Cup with the 1989 Flames. Recchi, in his 20th season, has 522 goals and Cups with the '91 Penguins and 2006 Hurricanes.
But Roberts said on a new team, with a new coach, nothing should be taken for granted.
"No matter if you're 20 or 40, you're trying to earn your spot," he said. "By no means is anything given to you. So, you work all summer and try to prepare so you're able to do those drills and keep up."
"That's why we want them," coach Barry Melrose said. "We want our young players around these guys."
Roberts and Recchi set a high bar before even hitting the ice.
Strength coach Kevin Ziegler said both "will be at the top" of the team when he evaluates Tuesday's off-ice fitness tests.
"They can compete with anybody in the National Hockey League," Ziegler said. "That's why they've played so long. They came in prepared and did a great job. They're leaders for the young guys in here."
Rookie Steven Stamkos agreed: "They're 40-plus years old and still working as hard as anyone in the gym. It's definitely two guys you want to follow in their footsteps."
Roberts said that in the past his summer conditioning program depended on weaknesses he detected during a season. After a 2007-08 in which he played just 38 games because of a broken leg, a bad ankle and groin and pneumonia, "I didn't try to be anything but a hockey player."
He said he skated more, lifted more, got twice-weekly, three-hour messages to stay limber, and reduced his thickly muscled 6-foot-2 frame from 215 pounds to between 202 and 205.
"Hopefully, that's going to help me keep up a little bit more but also give me enough mass where I can still play that physical style I need to be successful," Roberts said. "The key is maintenance. Years ago, I would have been in there riding the bike and lifting and trying to maintain. Now, I'm getting off the ice, getting a message, getting my stretching in and calling it a day."
Recchi, 5-10, 195, who had 14 goals, 48 points last season for the Penguins and Thrashers, said he added Pilates to his regular routine of distance running for conditioning, and sprints and plyometrics for explosiveness.
"I come to camp to prove myself every year," he said. "I never had the attitude I should be handed something. I always had the attitude I'm going to earn my job and my ice time and earn the respect of my teammates."
A lesson that works at any age.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.