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Q&A: Strength and Conditioning Coach Jeff Conkle

The game of hockey has never been faster than it is today. A few years ago, speed was not the game’s top priority. A physical aspect, blended with skill, was the path for most teams to win games. Fast-forward to today’s game: Off-ice and player-specific training regimens have never been more crucial for young players in the American and National Hockey Leagues.

Enter Jeff Conkle.

In his first season as the Chicago Wolves strength and conditioning coach, Conkle sat down with Wolves sideline reporter Mark Citron to discuss his role and his first season with the organization, among other topics.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your role with the Wolves?

JC: Continual motivation throughout the year. I must keep the big picture in mind, but what also is happening currently with tiredness, fatigue levels, travel, and wins and losses. The mood and energy level of the team is so important and to not tear down morale. Try to keep guys working hard so that it will be beneficial. You want to gain that trust and buy-in with the guys so in the short-term and long-term they and the team can succeed.

Q: Why do you have players workout postgame?

JC: Neurological strength really needs to be stimulated regularly. If your brain is tired, you can’t move as fast. In the AHL you have more focus on development so it is nicer to have more time to train. Obviously, you don’t want to burn out these guys, but a great analogy for a strength and conditioning coach is a fatigue manager.

Q: Have you witnessed the transition of the routine in how players focus more on training and the desire to be faster skaters?

JC: Since I started working with hockey back in 2010, strength and conditioning in the hockey world has advanced tremendously. When I first came in with the pros, they didn’t come into the league with all this new training regime incorporated. The last few years, the conditioning world has really progressed in hockey.

Q: Is there more focus on training the core and legs, say, rather than a bench press and heavy lifting?

JC: The funny thing about hockey is that depending on their geographic location, some of the coaches have different philosophies. If you are from the New England area, you are more than likely doing single leg training from Mike Boyle and what he recommends. They won’t train with heavy exercises much. In Minnesota, Cal Dietz does triphasic training. In Toronto, Gary Roberts and Andy McDonald have their own training program guys from all over use.

Q: What is your program?

JC: If you are a young player and aren’t playing as many minutes or games, you will be trying to gain strength in certain areas. I do like triphasic training a lot, like Cal Deitz. Guys seem to respond to it well. Allowing development for maximizing strength, speed and power. An example would be if you want to work on ankle mobility to get your skating improved. Just different things for each individual player. Pushing and hinging the lower body and maintaining — nothing too heavy. These guys are Lamborghinis and Ferraris, not diesel trucks.

Q: You do the grocery shopping for the team. What is on the list?

JC: Skillets, eggs in the morning. Nice breads, English muffins, peanut butter, oatmeal. It is a simple spread. When they are off the ice, I talk to them and educate them on their diet with a lot of proteins and carbohydrates. An example would be just giving the rookies some recipes to try out. A lot of guys like Chipotle and BIBIBOP.

Q: Why did you choose hockey? How did you get into it?

JC: It was a fortuitous accident. I was interning at Ohio State and I grew up playing contact sports, so I let the coaches know I was interested in working those sports. I wrestled and played football and lacrosse, but never played hockey before. Then Columbus Blue Jackets strength coach Kevin Collins came calling for a recommendation and I ended up in that organization for six years.

Q: What is the best part about working for the Wolves?

JC: The best part working with the Wolves is trying to make these guys and the team better. In the short term, and in the long term, I can be an educator and help the young guys become self-sufficient in the process. It is really rewarding watching someone you have trained crack the NHL and then become a stud. It is really rewarding.