By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – The leader of the pack was missing from action Thursday afternoon at the Body Xchange and the hounds were baying.
“Make sure you put in the paper that (Sean) Venedam wasn’t here barked out Mike Hofstrand. The rest of the pack howled and quickly added like comments.
The pack is a group of minor league hockey players who have turned what could be a hour or two of drudgery — an offseason workout at the gym — into a sort of competition and good time.
On this day, Andrew Ianiero, Brett Lutes, Scott Balan (all who have signed with the Condors for the upcoming season) and Hofstrand were hitting the weights and doing a variety of other quickly-paced exercises. Scott Borders and Reagan Leslie (when he’s in town) also are regular members of the workout group.
“Those fat guys were saying what?,” Venedam said with a laugh on Friday. “I have a doctor’s note. It’s the only day I’ve missed all summer.”
Venedam is a stickler for offseason workouts, a task minor league hockey players often shy away from.
“Players don’t make much money at this level and a lot of guys have summers jobs,” Venedam noted. “When you work an eight, 10 or 12-hour shift it’s tough to be motivated to go to the gym. I played for a coach once who didn’t expect his players to be in that good of shape at the beginning of the season.”
That certainly wasn’t Condors head coach Marty Raymond, who makes a point of emphasizing fitness — during the season as well as the offseason — to his players.
“Marty likes his players in the gym so I’m sure he’s not too upset about us being here,” Ianiero said.
In past seasons it might have been difficult to find more than one or two Condors players with a regular summer workout schedule in Bakersfield.
But with more and more players now residing here year round or nearly year round, the summer group workout is becoming routine.
Lutes is one of those players who used to shy away from the gym during the summer, but now he’s pumping out the sweat four days a week.
” Sean Venedam, our captain, has taken it upon himself to get us all in shape this summer,” Lutes said after finishing up a set of exercises. “It’s fun when you have a good group of guys come and work out at the gym. It makes everything a lot easier. Time flies.
“Just going by yourself or just with another partner is not as fun. You have a lot of guys doing a big circuit of exercises, one after another. By the time the last guy is done you’re starting again so it’s fun. It’s good to have guys cheering you on, per say.”
For Balan, summer workouts have long been part of his routine, but usually back home in Red Deer, Alberta, a hockey hotbed located about halfway between Calgary and Edmonton.
“I’ve always had a good group of guys to work out with back home,” said Balan, who is summering in Bakersfield following knee surgery late last season. “There are a lot of hockey players in my hometown. We’re all friends and usually get on the same schedule, go to the gym, go golfing, go to the beach every once in a while. We’re never teammates, but we are in the summer. You all kind of come together.
“It’s easy because you have guys pushing you all the time. It’s easy to come to the gym and get motivated.”
Balan is putting in extra work this summer as his workouts at the gym are usually proceeded by a rehab workout for his knee at Terrio Therapy.
“I’m kind of a step behind so I’m working hard to catch up,” he said.
Ianiero said he has always worked out during the summer, but may not have been working in the right direction.
“Vinny and I put our minds together last year and came up with a pretty good program and felt like it showed on the ice and it’s good to see a few more guys out this summer,” he said. “Everybody that’s here wants to get better and we all have the same goal and that’s to win a championship. Guys like Lutesy know they can improve their game by working out in the offseason.”
This year the workout has improved, thanks to Hofstrand who has a friend who plays for the Anaheim Ducks.
“We’ve stolen a little bit from the Anaheim Ducks program, I think they did all right last year (a Stanley Cup championship) if I remember correctly,” Ianiero said. “We’re trying to work more of our mid and lower body than our upper body this year.”
The real payoff for working out now may not be for several months, but Hofstrand is already seeing results.
“They only work four days on and three off and it’s quite tiring,” Hofstrand said of the Ducks program. “It’s quite different from what we’ve been doing. It’s a lot of stuff wrapped together in a quick amount of time and you get pretty tired. I’ve been dropping the pounds in a hurry.”