By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
Most of them have been working out regularly since the Gwinnett Gladiators’ season ended abruptly in April. Becoming – and remaining – a professional athlete is essentially a year-round proposition. Especially for guys like this, who are fighting to make the move from the ECHL to the American Hockey League after spending their rookie seasons with Gwinnett.
All four players got in a little vacation at some point before arriving at the Atlanta Thrashers’ prospect development camp last Thursday. But not much.
Turple, Lehman and Fretter were all called to AHL Chicago following Gwinnett’s first-round Kelly Cup Playoffs loss to Texas. None of them played in a game for the Wolves and it was a long month to be living in a hotel. But it also meant a chance to practice with the team.
“I got to meet the coaches a bit more and joke around with them a little bit,” said Fretter, who re-signed with AHL Chicago earlier this month following a tremendous 2006-07 season in which he was named the ECHL Rookie of the Year despite missing six weeks with a broken ankle.
“So hopefully going into camp this year, I’ll be a bit more comfortable.”
The time in Chicago was well-used by Turple, who was able to work with Wolves goalie coach Wendell Young.
“Most of the time we were staying on for the practice with the team and then doing 45 to 50 minutes after, different skating drills, different shooting drills and scrimmages,” said Turple, who is entering his second year as property of the Thrashers. “I got a lot of work there.”
The effort continues this week – and it’s no joke.
The camp, which concludes Thursday, mixes high-intensity workouts on and off the ice.
“It’s all business here,” said Lehman, who is also under Thrashers contract after being drafted by Atlanta in 2004.
“I’m pretty tired,” the 21-year-old defenseman said with a weary grin.
Painchaud, who put up 54 points in 72 games as a forward for the Gladiators last season, got home to Canada sooner and took a real vacation. On Lehman’s suggestion, he went to the Dominican Republic with his girlfriend and another couple.
“Actually me and Lehman had been talking about it during the year,” Painchaud said. “He’s been there before. It was a good time.”
That was at the beginning of June and soon after, Painchaud was back to work, getting ready for this prospect camp – which, in turn, is supposed to get him ready for training camps.
“I’m just learning as much as I can and, hopefully, impressing some people,” Painchaud said.
He learned last year that the season starts long before October – if it ever really ends.
“For me, I think I need to be more prepared for the beginning of the year,” Painchaud said. “I think I had a slow start. But I learned from it and I’m preparing myself this summer.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting stronger and quicker.”
The sessions here are meant to do that. Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle is among those in charge of the on-ice practices while Thrashers’ strength and conditioning coach Ray Bear is putting all 30 players through their paces off the ice.
“I think I’d be lying if I said I feel good right now,” Lehman said with a smile.
“We still have a month and a half to get ready for training camp. So this is good to gear us up for the rest of the summer.”
Obviously everyone here wants to be as high up on the ladder as possible. Some, like last year’s AHL Rookie of the Year Brett Sterling, are looking at making the Thrashers’ roster. Others, like Lehman, Painchaud and Turple, are vying for a shot with the Wolves.
“Well, my goal is to prepare myself to play in Chicago next year,” Lehman said. “That’s where I want to be. The only way to do that is to work out a lot and get my conditioning up.
“I think playing in Gwinnett, all of us learned, it’s a little bit different game than we played back home (in Canadian juniors). It’s more focused on the team defense and every mistake you make here, they capitalize on.”
Turple, who was 18-13-2 with a 3.77 goals-against average for the Gladiators last year, likes the progress he’s made since the season ended.
“I think I’ve made a big improvement from how I played in Gwinnett,” the 6-foot-6 netminder said. “It’s nice to have a full-time goalie coach, who kind of got me out of my bad habits I got into all season in Gwinnett.
“Right now I feel like I’m playing very well and being more aggressive – back to the way I usually play.”
Fretter, with scored 36 goals in 51 games last season, didn’t do a lot of skating before he arrived for prospect camp. He was giving his ankle a rest. But spending the summer in East Lansing, Mich., he still got out a couple times a week for shooting competitions with Thrashers forward and former Michigan State teammate Jim Slater.
“He’s up 2-1, no, 3-1,” Fretter said. “Every day there’s an ice cream on the line. He was up to a large. I knocked him down to a medium with my win.”
It’s not all fun and games though.
“Obviously conditioning is the main thing (during the offseason),” Fretter said. “You can go out and run all you want, ride the bike, but nothing is the same as being on the ice and skating. Which is a luxury I have being at Michigan State.
“Aside from that, Jim Slater and I are just trying to work on some hand drills, in tight, quick shooting – on top of the conditioning.
“I liked it here (in Gwinnett), but I don’t want to come back.”