NHL players go through a gruelling season that, if they're lucky, ends with a long playoff run that takes them well into the summer. Once the grind is finished, the off-season isn't necessarily a long one and the mentality is to get back into fighting trim as quickly as possible.
But rest and recovery are key to optimizing a player's effectiveness and that's where Marco Capizzano comes in.
A chiropractor who played hockey himself, Capizzano works with an array of NHLers as well as pros from other sports such as basketball and football. And for the hockey players who have just pushed their bodies to the limit during the season, he stresses the need for a break of at least two-to-four weeks before off-season training begins. So take that beach vacation, boys; you actually need it.
"Walk away from it," Capizzano said. "These guys will have their fun and they should. But after two-to-four weeks they want to get back in and that's OK but they don't have to do it hardcore. Let's focus on massage, set up your nutrition, do some stretching and prepare. The body takes time to heal. We're not hitting squats or doing plyometrics; we're focusing on the body, getting strength back and evaluating where the weaknesses are. That's when you're doing your research and it's an ongoing process."
Capizzano sees players during the season as well, generally if they have a multi-day break in their schedule, but that's more about maintenance.
"Gains are made during the off-season, I'm a big believer in that," Capizzano said. "The body can heal and rest. A lot of these players play injured and they don't even know it because they're not feeling pain, but their bodies aren't functioning at optimal levels."
In order to best serve his clients, the Toronto-based expert asks for early-season game film and mid-season game film to work with. He focuses on body habits: is a defenseman pivoting well to the left side, but restricted on the right? With hockey players, a lot of quad muscles, adductors, hamstrings, hip flexors and core muscles need to be opened up.
Lately, Capizzano has worked with older defensemen in opening their groin muscles up, so they don't get walked by a speed demon such as Connor McDavid (though based on McDavid's season, he hasn't worked with all the blueliners in the league).
In general, Capizzano has been getting a lot more calls from veterans recently and it's because there's a lot more awareness of what it takes to stay on top in the NHL. Nutrition, energy levels – it's all a dialogue and players are beginning to realize how important recovery is to their career.
Capizzano grew up in a hockey family, so his roots in the sport run deep. His brother Paul Capizzano is a player agent with Quartexx Management who represents the likes of Darnell Nurse, Adam Pelech and T.J. Brodie. Marco played D3 hockey at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, but he wasn't flexible and it led to him getting hurt. He wasn't stretching and he didn't allow himself the proper recovery time – a lesson a lot of other past players never learned, either.
So Capizzano went to chiropractor school and eventually founded b-Stretched, a successful clinic with multiple locations in Toronto now.
"I like working with smaller muscle groups," he said. "That's where we see where these players are getting prohibited and where we can strengthen them. Whether it's band training or balancing or techniques that don't put extra weight on the body – we have to repair these smaller muscles but keep them agile and keep them flexible to get ready for the grind of the season."
Helping him along the way is the advances made in body analysis and recovery studies. Being able to monitor and track every physical movement of a player and conducting blood and saliva tests for data adds crucial information to a client's profile. The key is to remember that every player is different and requires a customized approach to recovery, but Capizzano does have a good rule of thumb for training.
"Do as much work outside the gym as you do inside the gym during the season," he said. "You've gotta make time for ice baths, you've gotta make time for massages."
Every high-level hockey player wants a competitive edge and making sure your body is prepared for the playoffs is something that starts in the off-season. For those who work with Capizzano, that's the program they get.