Killer drill for Lightning defensemen

Coach Barry Melrose, who learned the drill in the 1970s, says defense is now about finesse, so players have to move well.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Coach Barry Melrose, who learned the drill in the 1970s, says defense is now about finesse, so players have to move well.

TAMPA — Grimaces from the Lightning's defensemen were noticeably fewer on Wednesday.

Oh, there still were signs of discomfort, such as Mike Lundin leaning forward to catch his breath and dropping to his knees to give his aching legs a break.

Generally, though, the blue-liners, on the second day of training camp at the St. Pete Times Forum, got through a torturous skating drill in much better shape than on Day 1.

"Obviously, it still (stinks) while you're doing it," Shane O'Brien said. "But what makes it hard, makes it good."

The drill does not have a formal name, though it isn't hard to imagine the players' vile thoughts during the 40-something seconds it takes to traverse the center-ice circle with muscles screaming and lungs burning thanks to starts, stops and changes of direction.

Its main purpose is to quicken the feet, a necessity in a game that has stripped defensemen of obstruction techniques previously used to slow opponents.

"Probably no group has been punished more in the game than defensemen," coach Barry Melrose said. "All their weapons have been taken away. They can't use their sticks anymore. They can't use their hands. They can't use their strength. It's really become a finesse position. They have to move their feet, so these are the drills we do every day."

Melrose, who played as a defenseman, said he learned the drill from goaltender Jacques Caron, who played with Melrose in 1976-77 for Cincinnati of the old World Hockey Association.

"He'd stay out there with me after practice, and he'd make me do things like that," said Melrose, 21 at the time. "I've done millions of those. My feet never got any better, but these guys have hope."

The drill is complicated, with a path that almost always adheres to the edge of the center circle.

Players start by skating from the edge to the center-ice dot and back. They skate right a quarter of the way around, return and do the same going left. Right and left again, but this time halfway around and back. Then all the way around with a turn halfway through to skate backward. A sprint from the circle's edge to the center dot and back is the finishing touch.

Every time a player returns to the starting point, he must stop before starting the next leg. The 40 seconds it takes to finish is no accident. It is about the time of an average shift.

"The legs aren't too bad. They're a little shaky. It's more the wind," O'Brien said. "You're just done. That's 40 seconds you're going full out. Your heart rate is probably at 190 or something, so it's a good workout."

Especially with the Times Forum's mushy ice. Melrose said, "The worse ice the better," because it puts balance and endurance to a greater test.

"That's why you always do that drill at the end of practice," he said. "They're tired, and the ice is worse, so you get more out of it."

The defensemen say they are getting plenty out of it. Andrej Meszaros, who on Tuesday said his legs were like "stone," said he was "much better" Wednesday because he already felt better conditioned.

Melrose was glad to hear it but warned with a chuckle: ''Wait till they're doing it with pucks."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

>>fast facts

Training camp

When: Through Sunday

Where: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

Watch: Workouts are free and open to the public through Friday and during IceFest on Sunday.

Parking: Free, VIP West lot

Autographs: Players sometimes sign coming off the ice. They will sign on the Times Forum concourse after split-squad practices during IceFest.

Schedule

(Subject to change)

Today: Scrimmage,
10:45 a.m.

Friday: Scrimmage,
10:45 a.m.

Saturday: Game at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: IceFest, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; practice,
12:15 p.m.

On the Web

See lightning.tampabay.com for a Lightning photo gallery from training camp.

Killer drill for Lightning defensemen 09/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:05pm]

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