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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet tells players: Be in shape next season or things get ugly

BOSTON — Rick Tocchet said that when he played for the Flyers and coach Mike Keenan, players wore weight belts during training camp skating drills.

Then there were "battle drills" in which "you had to go in front of the net with Glen Cochrane, who was one of the toughest guys in the league, and try to deflect pucks. There were huge battles. We took it to another level."

It is a blueprint for what Lightning camp will look like next season under Tocchet, who has bemoaned the team's lack of conditioning, as well as sandpaper, in battling opponents for position and the puck.

"We're definitely going to see who's going to compete come September, and who is in shape," Tocchet said. "That is going to be non-negotiable now that I've seen this year."

What Tocchet said he sees are players who, in part because of a travel-heavy European camp, were not able to establish or sustain a conditioning base.

Think being outscored 83-57 in the third period and overtime is an accident? Think a lack of competitiveness on the puck happens in a vacuum? "When you're tired," Tocchet said, "it's hard to be competitive."

The process begins April 13, when players during exit interviews will be given a handbook that shows benchmarks they will be expected to hit on skating and strength tests.

For players used to the boot camps run by former coach John Tortorella, it is nothing new. And it should be welcome. Tortorella's teams were some of the league's best-conditioned.

But strength coach Chuck Lobe said he also will contact players' personal trainers to see if certain exercises can be incorporated into their summer workouts, and to track progress.

"We want to make sure everybody starts at the same spot, so we're not wasting time," he said.

That means playing catchup.

"The wear and tear of a season won't get you better. You get better in recovery," Lobe said. "The weight room doesn't get you stronger. It's the stress you apply to your body and how you recover from that stress that gives you your training effect.

"What you're doing in the offseason is maximizing your ability to handle those stresses. You train your body how to beat itself up and recover so you can be fresh for the next game. If you wait for games to get you in shape, you're playing catchup."

Defenseman Matt Lashoff, 22, knows the feeling. He said training camp was so difficult when he played for the United States under-18 team, he vowed never to put off conditioning.

"It's usually the reason teams start dragging in the third period," he said. "The mind wanders if you're not in shape."

That would be bad tonight, when the Lightning faces the East-leading Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden. It will be worse if it happens next season, Tocchet said, when a high-tempo, physical training camp will weed out the slackers.

"It won't be accepted," he said. "If you don't come in in good shape next year, I don't know what's going to happen. It could be ugly for you."

Mike Keenan would be proud.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet tells players: Be in shape next season or things get ugly 03/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 9:18am]
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