Crosby begins offseason training program at historic site

Sidney Crosby sat in the grass at the bottom of Citadel Hill in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Thursday morning, elbows resting on his knees, sweat running from his backwards hat, cooling down from a morning workout with Andy O’Brien.

This same scene has played out every summer between Crosby and O’Brien ever since 2002, when Crosby was just 14 years old.

Fifteen years later Crosby is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, winning the last two titles with O’Brien as the Pens’ director of sports science and performance.

Fifteen years later also finds them back where everything began: at the bottom of Citadel Hill following another July training session.

“It’s a little reminiscent of those earlier days and all the time we spent on here,” O’Brien said. “There is that element of using it for years and years in the past.”

Following two lengthy Stanley Cup-championship runs, Crosby gave his body a much-deserved couple of weeks of rest. He began his off-season training program on Monday and was being slowly worked back into the groove.

O’Brien put Crosby and Halifax-native Nate MacKinnon through drills that focused more on technique, agility and foot speed on Thursday.

“Basically to get moving again,” Crosby said. “It’s the first week. It’s good to be back. This is always a good way to get going. Hill stability and foot speed. It’s good to get back at it.

“It’s nice to get that rest. We don’t have a lot of time though. The turnover is quick. It feels good to get moving. Camp isn’t that far away. As it gets closer you start to get more and more excited.”

Crosby and MacKinnon did a variety of drills up the hill, often utilizing cones, such as a dynamic warm-up, sprints, back-pedals and cross-overs.

“We’re just creating an introduction to some movement,” O’Brien said. “We’re getting him outside, doing a few different drills, focusing on technique, relaxing through the drills, making the drills feel easy as they go. We’ll ramp up as the summer goes along.”

Citadel Hill is an appropriate backdrop for these training sessions. For one thing, it is a National Historic Site of Canada. It was erected in 1749, the year Halifax was founded, to help the city defend itself against enemies.

“The hill here in Halifax is a really cool site because it’s a National Historic spot,” said O’Brien, who has trained Crosby in some capacity for nearly 20 years. “Just being on the hill and being downtown is really cool. It makes it feel like you’re in Halifax when you train on this hill.”

Another strength of Citadel Hill is that it provides an ideal training spot with its varying elevations and slopes.

“You have steep grades or minimal inclines if you want to do more speed work. It’s a very versatile training tool,” O’Brien said. “Being on a hill puts you in the push position. It’s reflective of the types of positions that you’re in when you’re skating.

“I’m just a big believer in hill work. It offers a lot of advantages.”

Another advantage for O’Brien is working with a unique physical specimen like Crosby.

“He’s the dream client,” he said of Crosby. “You can look at him athletically the way he’s built, he has so many tools physiologically as an athlete.

Crosby’s lower-body strength allows him to be strong on the puck and win battles in the corners or along the wall, while his foot speed allows him to win races and create separation. Those characteristics are partly genetic, but also partly due to his diligent training programs throughout the years.

“He’s built for power. He has those short levers that allow him to sit down low and be really powerful,” O’Brien said. “But he can also turn his feet over. He’s got great range of motion. You just go down the list and you have all the things you need.”

Hockey is a unique sport when compared to other sports, such as track and field, long-distance running or Olympic lifting. In many other sports athletes can be gifted in certain areas while weak in others (like a marathon runner possessing great endurance, but lacking explosive strength). But hockey requires a complete, all-around physical talent.

And when it comes to being a well-rounded, trained athlete, Crosby fits the bill.

“In hockey you just need every athlete lumped into one,” O’Brien said. “You need to be versatile. That’s what he is.”

Originally published at www.nhl.com.