Andrew Gordon Answers Our Readers’ Questions: Part 1

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A few weeks ago while the blog took a week hiatus, we asked if any of you had questions for player-turned-blogger Andrew Gordon. And boy did you! Tonight we present to you the first five answers out of the ten best questions we received. Also, make sure to check out the photos in this entry. They are from Game 6 of the 2010 Calder Cup Finals where the Hershey Bears celebrated the franchise’s 11th AHL Championship. The photos are from Gordo’s digital camera that he had on the ice. Take it away, Andrew!

Hi, everyone! Looks like this will be my last blog of the summer. Training camp is right around the corner, and once that hits my focus will be on hockey, not writing! I’m going to try to answer all these questions as best I can, but keep in mind some of them would take me forever to fully explain, so I’ll try to cover as much ground as I can without making this a complete yawner of a read. Thanks for reading!

tfirey asks, “Gordo: I have a lot of questions about how pro athletes train (as it’s a world that I’ll never know — alas!). Can you tell us what you do in your workouts? Are any exercises hockey-specific, as opposed to standard endurance and strength-building? How does your routine change throughout the year?”

Thanks for the question, tfirey.  All players have different things they like to do to prepare for upcoming seasons. It’s kind of a trial-and-error thing. The majority of us have had trainers growing up, in junior, in college, and at various pro levels.  They each have their own philosophies and training methods to get a player to the optimum level of fitness.

Over time I have taken a program (created by Caps strength coach Mark Nemish) and tweaked it here and there to make it more customized to my needs and what I feel allows me to be at my best going into camp. I take the base program and add my favorite exercises from past experience and use them to round out my off-season training. For me, this means sticking strictly to the weight program, and modifying the work away from the gym.

Over the course of the summer, we spend a lot of time on the track doing different running intervals, sprints, and plyometric exercises, as well as running and jumping uphill and riding the stationary bike. This is where I find I really get better. Anybody can walk into a weight room and lift a lot of weight, but pushing yourself through 12 x 300 meter sprints with hardly enough time to catch your breath between reps is just as much of a mental workout as it is physical. The track is where I train myself to push harder when I don’t have anything left. It’s where you learn how much you actually have to give, and what kind of character you have. Quitting is easy, but its overcoming those moments when you want to quit that make you a better player.

When it comes to hockey-specific training, there are thousands of different exercises that train your body to move the way we do all winter. Most of which involve your hips, groin, and core. There are lots of ab exercises that build strength in twisting motions. This is relevant when a player is shooting, passing, and turning sharply on the ice. Very rarely does a player lie on his back and do a crunch during a game, so we don’t do them in the gym. We also do a lot of lunging and lateral squatting. These simulate a skating stride and will strengthen the groin muscles and hips that are used to extend your legs as far as you can reach, as well as the power to push and recover your foot back under you. The faster you can stride and recover, the more strides you can fire off in a short period of time, the faster you get to that loose puck. Simple!

As the summer rolls on, the work out goes through various phases. Each phase has a different emphasis that leads you into the next phase. Early on, the workouts are lower intensity and are made to build up a strength base before you get into the next stage, where things step up a notch. Some phases have full body days, some phases are split into upper-body and lower-body days. As much as the phases vary, they all revolve around a lot of leg work. Without strong legs a player would have a trouble keeping balance, taking hits, winning puck battles, and virtually every other aspect of the game. If I were to get into all the different leg exercises and why we do them, I would be writing a book, not a blog. However, I will say the common denominator is power. The objective of every rep in every set all summer is to generate as much power as possible. Hockey is an explosive game filled with quick puck races and short bursts of strength. Being explosive through your first few strides gets you up to top speed faster and puts you in position to win those battles.

Throughout the year, many of us try to train to maintain the work we have put in all summer. In the American League we rarely play mid-week games, so it is easy to push yourself through a hard workout on Tuesday and Wednesday (Mondays are usually off), then give yourself Thursday to recover before we start another weekend full of hockey on Friday. In all three of my seasons in Hershey, we have always had good, hard-working guys. A lot of us will try to do something every day to get better, whether it’s a full work out, a cool-down bike ride, and a stretch or just a little ab work. I feel if I do a little something each day, it will result in a higher level of fitness over the course of the season that I might not have had if I allowed myself to leave the rink after the ice session was over. Small things in the gym add up over time just like everything else. As the playoffs draw closer, I pretty much stop lifting weights and spend all my time getting ready for the next game. I don’t want to be expending energy on working out, so I do everything based on rest and recovery.

Andrew Gordon High-Fives Bears Fans After Winning The Calder Cup. (Photo from Gordo's Camera)

FireFly asks, “Andrew- What do you do on your days off to relax and distract yourself from hockey during the season?”

Good question, FireFly.  To relax in my off days I really don’t do much! Hershey is a wonderful town to play hockey in, but away from the rink there isn’t much for us to do. I usually have a book on the go, and I see movies every now and then, but over the last couple years (thanks to the influence of my former roommate Dean Arsene) I have taken a serious interest in cooking and nutrition. I will watch a lot of the Food Network and see if any recipes catch my eye. Some days I find something new, some I don’t, but in either case I’m at the grocery store every day, most days multiple times. These trips can sometimes take an hour or more, and may only result in me picking up two or three items. I’m always looking for new products or ingredients to use or reading labels and checking nutritional information. Being an athlete by profession, my body is my business. The season can really break your body down if you don’t take care of it, so I try to make sure I’m putting as much good food in me as I can …and if I can find a way to make it delicious, that’s even better!

In a normal week, Monday is usually the only real “off day”, and I spend most of it sleeping or just laying on the couch watching TV. After playing three games in three nights, the last thing I want to do is set my alarm and have a hectic day. Through the week there are always things to do if you are interested though. The Hershey Bears as an organization are very active in the community. We have autograph sessions, public appearances, school readings, and hospital visits quite regularly, so it’s nice to get out around the city and help a charitable cause whenever you can.

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Meg S. asks, “Andrew, do you stick to a pretty strict diet during the season, or are you burning so many calories that anything goes? Any guilty pleasures (food-wise) you can’t give up during the season?”

Thanks, Meg S.; this is another one of those questions where I could go on for days! I don’t have a strict diet that I follow or count calories or anything like that. I just make sure I’m eating good food and a balanced diet, and that way portion size is never an issue. Nobody has ever been deemed unhealthy for eating too much broccoli. My diet, like my workout regimen, is something I have established through a 24-year trial-and-error effort. I know what I need to eat the day before a game, the day of a game, and immediately after a game to make sure I can be at my best the next day, so the vast majority of my weekly meals revolve around when and where we are playing. In a standard week, I only have about two or three days where I get to try new things or make some of my favorite foods.

I have found there are three levels of nutrition that I go through. There is my “break level”, where I’m taking my two weeks off after the season ends. This is a wonderful time of year. I will eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and as much as I want without thinking twice. This is a guilt-free two weeks, where I can stuff my face knowing I have 3+ months of hard training before camp, then 8-9 months of grueling season after that where I do almost nothing but focus on hockey.

Second comes the gray area I’ll call “mid-level nutrition”. Here I’m eating 95% good healthy food, but I’ll let myself slide a bit and have a few meals here and there that wouldn’t fit into a Weight Watchers program. This might mean bacon and eggs for breakfast one day. Or a Philly cheese steak for lunch. Having a couple “cheat” meals a week make them that much more enjoyable.  I know I’m not supposed to be eating the stuff, but every now and then I just have to take pleasure in some forbidden fruit order to keep my sanity. This is where I find myself many times during the season where healthy food just doesn’t look good anymore, and all I keep thinking about is how much I want to eat some grease! On a Sunday after a road game, I’ll look over the menu and splurge for the pizza or chicken fingers. I’ll treat myself with something other than the normal salad or pasta.

Lastly, there is the “high level nutrition” (which I’m experiencing right now). This is where I’ll eat nothing but the best. When I’m gearing up for playoffs, training camp, or even just a weekend of games that I know is going to be exhausting, I will flip the switch and discipline myself to avoid anything that could have a negative impact on my body. After a couple weeks of this, I don’t crave the grease or the sweets anymore. They almost look bad to me. Once I commit to eating completely healthy, any “cheat” meal sets me back to square one, and I will geel guilty and ashamed of myself for allowing myself to slip. My discipline breeds a deeper discipline that helps me avoid the bad and stick to the good.

As for guilty pleasures, I have a couple, but I keep them pretty much in check, partially because my favorite food isn’t really available during the season. My favorite food on earth is lobster. Not just any lobster, real Nova Scotian lobster. In my home town you can take a case of beer down to the docks and trade lobster fisherman the case for as much fresh lobster as you can grab. They are twice as big as anything you see in a grocery store, and taste a hundred times better than anything you can find at the Keg. The issue here lies in the way I like to eat it. In order for me to enjoy a fresh Nova Scotian lobster, I have to dip the meat in (what turns out to be) about a pound of melted butter! That’s not exactly the ideal thing to be eating when I’m trying to train all summer. I usually keep it to two big lobster feeds a year, boy do I make the most of them!

My unavoidable guilty pleasure is gummy candy. I love sour watermelons and have a really tough time walking by a bulk section or through a movie theater without picking some up. They are just too good and I’m rendered defenseless.

bears-in-lockerroom

Matt Carroll asks, “Hey Gordo! I remember watching you play for the short time you were here in Charleston, S.C. We have loved watching you progress! My question: How do you feel you have progressed in the Caps system, from South Carolina to Hershey? Also, what are you working on now to make the next step to the NHL?”

Matt, first of all, I want to express what a great time I had when I was in South Carolina! The team was great, the coach, trainer and equipment staff were fantastic people to spend time with, and the city was amazing. Obviously, it wasn’t where I wanted to be playing, but whenever I look back at the time I spent there I only have fond memories. Since then, I have progressed into what I see as a fairly well rounded prospect. In my three years in Hershey I have been on every line from first to fourth. I have killed penalties through the season and in the playoffs en route to winning a championship. I have played and produced on the power play and have never really shied away from the corners or the physical side of the game. I think the progression is mostly mental as sometimes it takes a little while for some players (like myself) to acclimatize to their new surroundings.

At every level I have played from minor hockey all the way through ’til now, it has always taken me some time to figure out the game at the new level. Pro was no different. When I first came to Hershey I was on the third or fourth line, not playing many minutes.  When I did, I was playing nervous hockey, afraid to make a mistake. When I went to South Carolina, I remembered what it was like to carry the puck and score goals. I wasn’t nervous. I was having fun again. By the time I returned to Hershey, I was playing more like I was in college, which is what got me to that level in the first place. From then on, I never really looked back. I always knew I could play at that level and be a good player, I just had to figure out the timing and how my game had to adjust in order to contribute to the team’s success. Now that I have established myself in the AHL, I have to go through a similar process in the NHL.

Going into training camp this year, I’m almost taking a reverse approach. In the past, I always wanted to move and play at 100mph. I would skate as fast as I could at all times, pass the puck as soon as I got it or shoot before I was ready, simply because I had it in my head that things had to happen faster in the NHL. Being on the brink of out of control is a hard way to play the game. This year I want to slow my thought process down and get a bit more relaxed and under control. I have thought about it over the summer, and I figure that if I have the same attitude as I possess in Hershey, my game will come over with it. When I’m in Hershey, I work as hard as I can– but at the right times. I’m not afraid to hold the puck and try to make a play. I’m not afraid to make a mistake. I believe I have the ability to play in the NHL if I play my game. Not at somebody else’s pace. So in conclusion, I’m working on my comfort level. In order to be successful I have to be comfortable with my game at the next stage, and I believe if I can prove that my game can adapt to the NHL tempo, I will have a chance to make the team.

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Brandee R. asks, “Andrew – Who would your dream linemates be up in Washington?”

Brandee, this question has a few possible answers. Obviously, I would give an arm and a leg to be the right wing on the first line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Who wouldn’t? But I think my style of play is more suited to guys like Brooks Laich. He’s the type of guy who always plays the game hard, honest and simple. He might not beat you with fancy toe drags like Alex Semin, but in the corners and around the net, he is a great player. I have spent some time with Brooks during previous Caps training camps. And I’ve also played a couple of exhibition games on his line. Suffice to say, he is an easy guy to get along with. I like talking a lot with my line mates about plays that just happened the shift before and areas I might be able to improve upon. Brooks seems to be quite similar. He was always talking to me, helping me and explaining things I can do to improve without making me (the guy with one NHL game experience at the time) feel like he was above me. I pick him as one of my dream line mates as much for his personality and character as I do for his athletic ability.

This is where the selection gets tricky. I have noticed that 90% of the forwards in Washington can play both wings, and some dabble at center so I don’t know where to put people on my dream line. If Brooks is playing center and I would be on the right, I would like to play with Tomas Fleischmann. He is a highly skilled guy who can make amazing plays in small areas that 99.9% of people in the stands can’t comprehend. He is another guy I have known since I was a Black Ace in Hershey, so there is also a level of communication with him that I don’t yet have with some of the other guys on the team. Fun Fact: The coincidence here is that this was my exact line at Madison Square Garden in New York where I played my first ever NHL game. Funny!

In my third scenario where Brooks Laich is a left winger and I’m still on the right, I would select Mathieu Perreault at center. I know he hasn’t “officially” made the team yet, but I believe he is the only player form Hershey who has proven himself at the NHL level, and I believe the Caps are looking for a skilled center. I have played with Perry in Hershey for the past two years, and I love his style of play. He has more skill than he knows what to do with, and is a small slippery player who makes plays that very few can. In my experience with him, he allows me to play my game very well. I just get to loose pucks, chip them in his direction, then go back to the net. 9 times out of 10 he will find a way to put that puck on your stick. Not much more you can ask for right?

So…here is the breakdown of my two Washington Capital dream lines.

FLEISCHMANN – LAICH – GORDON or…

LAICH – PERREAULT – GORDON

Both cases involve one highly skilled player, one hard working guy with good size and a known scoring ability…and me. Ha! I’m still trying to figure out what I ring to the table here! Decent writing ability maybe?

We’ll have 5 more questions and answers with Andrew Gordon tomorrow.  Make sure to come back and find out who Andrew’s favorite hockey players were growing up, if he actually reads our blogs, and what he did on his day with the Calder Cup this year. See you then!

  • shawn

    First off I just want to thank you Gordo for taking all the time you have with all the blogging you’ve done. It’s cool to have such access to a player. My main reason for responding is you response to the question involving your dream line. I think you bring plenty to the lines you mentioned. Your hard work has been evident to me in your play. I managed to get to about 20 Bear games last season and I saw a big difference in your play from the season begining to end. You elevated your game in not only speed and shot/pass accuracy, but in grit and strength. It makes sense to me that you really like Brooks because it seems that you are progressing your game similar to his. One thing that I love that you would bring to those lines is heart. I can’t say there was a player on the Bears last season that played with more heart than you. I hope the upcoming season goes well and you get more time in D.C., but know everyone in Hershey will miss you while you’re gone.

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  • Johanna

    This is EXCELLENT stuff, Andrew! You have a definite gift for writing. I will miss it very much!!!

  • tfirey

    Thanks for the very thoughtful answer Gordo! See you boys in October (either in Hershey or Balston)!

  • Bob

    Is there any way not to root for this guy to make the Caps? Even with a self-imposed writing blackout as he strives to make the team, Gordon is the kind of player that one is drawn to as a favorite. Good luck, Gordo!

  • congero

    “If I were to get into all the different leg exercises and why we do them, I would be writing a book, not a blog.”

    No doubt he will write a book eventually though!….and I will be the first to read it!

    Great stuff. I hope he has a long NHL career so more people can draw inspiration for his approach to the game.

  • http://www.capssnaps.com/ Chris

    Great stuff once again! Looking forward to seeing him at training camp.

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