Oh my, how training camps have changed

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
12:43
PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in two decades, no one is going to stick a tube in Bill Guerin's mouth and urge him pedal faster or run harder or leap back and forth over a bench or do chin-ups while holding a stopwatch in their hand.

Guess what? He's not going to miss it one bit.

"I wouldn't have taken the job if I had to do that," Guerin told ESPN.com the day before training camps opened Friday for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the rest of the NHL.

A year ago, Guerin was at the Philadelphia Flyers' training camp, trying to extend a pro career that began in 1991 after the New Jersey Devils made him the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NHL draft. He was not asked to stay with the Flyers and later took a job with the Penguins midway through last season (Guerin won a Stanley Cup with the Pens in 2009). He is now their player development coach.

Guerin, who will turn 41 in November, will see training camp from the other side of the wall for the first time. And as onerous as the medicals and testing processes are, he admits it will be strange not to go through it and there may be more than a little pang of longing for the ritual.

"It's a little weird. For me, it's still kind of fresh," he acknowledged.

His first NHL camp with the Devils was held at the South Mountain Arena near West Orange, N.J., in the fall of 1992. Guerin recalled doing some pull-ups on an iron bar. There were also agility tests using a bench, and machines that tested knees and shoulders. There was also an "infamous" treadmill that did some heart tests.

"I'm not even sure we did body-fat tests," Guerin said. "I don't think we did body fat tests for a long time."

Of course, back in the day, coaches would have players on the ice for two-a-day sessions and the exhibition schedule would sometimes include a dozen games.

"I remember one year Scott Niedermayer played in 10 exhibition games," Guerin said. "It was long, but it wasn't as intense right off the hop."

Now, the collective-bargaining agreement limits the amount of on-ice time players can spend during training camp to three hours per day for the first five days and no more than one practice session a day. And while it may be shorter, the tests that accompany team medicals are more grueling and designed to evaluate very specific elements of a player's physiological being.

There are tests to determine a player's oxygen consumption and recuperative powers, known as VO2 max tests, which can be administered while players are running or biking. Teams now use on-ice skating tests in timed periods to determine recuperation.

While unpleasant, the tests are important for a team to understand players' conditioning and areas that may need work. The results are also something players take great pride in, regardless of whether they're wide-eyed rookies or veterans already locked into a roster spot.

"You're so competitive as a player. You don't want to stand out by having the worst score in anything," Guerin said. "Even the best players don't want to have a bad score. They want to show they're committed."

So, how were Guerin's scores over the years? He paused.

"Year by year," he said with a laugh. "I had some good years, I had some bad years. The VO2 -- I scored poorly on that every year."

In his new role, Guerin is responsible for focusing on the Penguins' prospects, from major junior and college hockey to the American Hockey League and NHL.

"[I'm] making sure they're doing all right and headed in the right direction," Guerin said. "It's kind of like being an older player, except you don't have to play the games."

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