LA Kings Trainer Emeritus Pete Demers On The Evolution of Treatment, Strength And Conditioning

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Strength And Conditioning: A Monumental Shift In Thinking

Just as the way injuries are treated have changed since the 70’s, so has the emphasis on strength and conditioning.

To be sure, during Demers’ early years with the Kings, the hours were often grueling for the players…not to mention the trainers.

“You’d get up in Quebec—it would be 2:00 in the morning here—to catch a 5:00 AM flight out of Quebec City to Montreal, then to Toronto, and then back to [Los Angeles], all commercial flights,” Demers recalled. “You’d get into LA at 11:30 in the morning, and we’d go to practice. That’s just the way it was. Guys would go home, change their clothes, and we’d be at practice at 1:00 PM.”

These days, going straight to practice after all that time in the air would be unheard of.

“We didn’t know any better,” said Demers. “Our players were well conditioned. There’s no doubt about that. You should see the skates we used to have. Sometimes, [they were] on the ice for two hours.”

“Maybe it would’ve been better to rest your players [in such cases],” added Demers. “We didn’t know. Now we know so much more. Thank God we brought other people in to help us make better choices.”

“Conditioning and nutrition were always on our minds. We called on outside people to help us. We always did our continuing education stuff in the summertime, as far as the medical field goes. But then I would be going around between periods, looking at the stick rack, seeing who needed sticks. You get your skate list out and see who you needed to order stuff for. You just did that.”

The focus on strength and conditioning was ratcheted up a notch in the late 70’s.

“We learned a lot of stuff from Howie Wenger, a doctor in Victoria, [British Columbia],” Demers explained. “Mike Murphy, when he was the coach, he saw this guy training Olympians in Victoria, so we ended up hiring him. He was our strength guy.”

“He was really, really good,” Demers added. “He had a nice balance of nutrition and strength. But he believed in training guys the farthest away from the next game. Maybe we’d [have a player] ride a bike real hard after a game. They were tired after the game, and you’d make them more tired. But they’d have more time to recover before the next game.”

A common sight near an NHL dressing room is players riding a stationary bicycle, even though they just finished sixty minutes of hard-hitting hockey.

“That’s very common,” said Demers. “It helps get rid of the lactic acid in their legs. That’s guys that have played quite a bit. They’ll go out and have a ten-minute spin on the bike, and maybe they’ll go in a cold tub. For the guys who didn’t play as much, maybe they need a little cardiovascular [work].”

“We have five or six bikes for the visitors,” added Demers. “That’s just the way it is. Like I said, at the Culver rink, we had one bike upstairs. No weights, nothing. But neither did anybody else in the league. Now it’s evolved to multi-million dollar training facilities. Guys are in there, putting their hearts and souls into it.”

“You just got by with what you had. The training room at the Culver rink was 25 feet long, and about eight or nine feet wide. But the kicker is: inside that room was a shower, a coaches room, a training room, and a toilet. That was all in this one little room. The table was up against the wall, and the coaches—players didn’t want to come into the training room because the coaches were there. That could’ve been the object. Make a real small clinic [and put the coaches in there] and the players won’t come in. That was part of the culture, but the game’s changed now.”

Diet plays a key role in strength and conditioning as well.

“We had a guy come in once, he was a bodybuilder named Ellington Darden,” Demers explained. “Bob Berry was the coach. [Darden] had written a lot of books. He was a state-of-the-art guy. Everybody knew about him. He came in to talk and said, ‘you can eat as many doughnuts as you want. You’ve just got to burn ‘em off.’”

“When these guys are young, they’re burning a tremendous amount of calories,” Demers elaborated. “You should see the meals they eat, still. But they can burn them off. But as we get older, our metabolism slows down and we store that fat, if we’re not burning those calories off playing hockey.”

“Guys do watch what they eat, but diet isn’t as big a factor as you might think it is. I think the supplements that are out there that the guys take—protein is very important, and there’s others. Yeah, we constantly give them nutrition information, and to their wives, about good foods. We call it ‘the good, the sad and the ugly,’ and we carried that with us for a long time. That came from Howie Wenger in Victoria.”

Fast forward to the present, the thought on diet has not changed a whole lot.

“I still think it’s the same—education on the good foods, the not-so-good foods and the foods you should probably stay away from,” said Demers. “The general list has changed a little bit between carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The percentage changes a bit here and there. You know, if you don’t get the carbohydrates in, you’re not going to have the energy.”

Although the thought has not changed much, teams now play a larger role in helping players eat the right foods.

“[The Kings have] a full-blown restaurant in the locker room, they have all kinds of stuff,” Demers noted. “I remember the first guy who came in…[defenseman] Jay Wells [who played nine seasons for the Kings from 1979-80 to 1987-88, ranking seventh all-time on the Kings’ defenseman scoring list and second all-time among the team’s all-time penalty minute leaders]. He wanted tea.”

“I said, ‘how are we going to get tea? We’d have to get a tea pot, a warmer,’” Demers added. “But we did. It was coffee after that. Then, Gatorade. Power Bars, and then nuts, raisins, protein supplements, vitamins of various sorts. Then, we started giving them cereal in the morning, toast and peanut butter. Now they come down from the restaurant with a tray of oatmeal, egg whites. They have lunch there, also. That’s the evolution of how it’s done now.”

That was not only a convenience for the players, but a way for the team to help them with their nutritional needs.

“I would talk to the players constantly, giving them nutritional information, even from the 70’s,” said Demers. “We’d bring the wives in and talk to them about how to feed the players. Now, everything’s handy for them. The body is a chemical factory. We have to provide it with the right nutrition.”

During Demers’ earlier years with the Kings, off-season conditioning was not emphasized anywhere near as much as it is today in the NHL.

“At the end of the season, we’d sit down with the coach and look over all of our injuries and see who needed extra rehab,” Demers reminisced. “We had a basic program that we sent everybody, and we’d send a modified one to players who needed to work on extra stuff if they had a bad knee, a shoulder rehab, or whatever.”

“[Years ago, training camp was] to get yourself in shape,” Demers added. “Don’t forget, we used to keep the skates in mothballs. We kept everybody’s skates. No one skated in the summertime. Now, two weeks goes by after the season, guys are skating. So guys would play themselves into shape.

In stark contrast, NHL players now arrive at training camp in shape and ready to play hockey, with many having worked out for most of the summer, coming into training camp in top physical condition.

“If you come into camp [today], you’d better be ready for an exhibition game by the second day now, and be ready to show what you can do,” Demers stressed. “Back then, guy’s positions were sealed. There might be a spot here or there.”

“Remember, there were twelve teams when I started,” Demers added. “You just didn’t have as much focus on training camp, especially the older players. They were going to ease themselves in.”

Indeed, the differences in thinking about strength and conditioning between the 70’s and 1980’s to the present day is like night and day. But sometimes, the emphasis can be too great.

“[The difference is] monumental,” Demers stressed. “You can’t even—it’s like a mountain. It’s just unbelievable, the focus. It could be too much. At one point, it might’ve been too much. I think they backed off now, somewhat, the focus on the strength and conditioning. A lot of times, we have to sit down with our strength and conditioning people and say, ‘you know, the game is on the ice.’”

“If we put too much at the wrong time on the strength and conditioning, it could be an issue, and that’s something that’s discussed league-wide by us as a group—strength and conditioning people and the training staff,” Demers added. “[But] it’s all controlled by the doctors—they make the decisions.”

“You just don’t want to have a lot of burn out. You bring guys in in the morning—before we had strength and conditioning people, we did stretching exercises in the locker room. We did a lot of stuff, but then they added more and more stuff. Guys were coming in two hours before practice, getting a full out sweat working out, and not necessarily riding [the exercise] bike, either. Weight training, and maybe it could’ve been the wrong time for that.”

During the 70’s, Demers saw a lot of players, coaches, and others, come and go, and with them, a lot of different characters, including eccentric owner Jack Kent Cooke. In part four of this series, Frozen Royalty will look at Demers’ memories of working for Cooke, along with a few of the other characters with the Kings organization during those early days.

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14 thoughts on “LA Kings Trainer Emeritus Pete Demers On The Evolution of Treatment, Strength And Conditioning

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  1. After reading the stories of my friend Pete Demers I can honestly say that I am proud to call him a true friend. Its the things that Pete would do off the ice and away from the rinks that are amazing. He can converse with any walk of life and be truly concerned with their conversation. He makes a person feel important and that is a true gift in life. He never spoke of the road trips when he would finally rest his head on a pillow and there would be a bang on his door from a player down the hall asking for aspirin because he had a headache or his hangnail was getting caught in the bedsheet and wanted Pete to cut it down. Pete would rather not rest to make sure that others were ok. Like i mentioned before I am truly honored to call Pete my closest friend and a mentor. Tight lines is a fishing phrase that we use to wish another fellow fisherman good luck. To you Pete I wish you tight lines to last an eternity. For those of you that dont know,Pete tackled a feat that not many people on this earth could do this last summer. He singlehandedly reeled in a giant bluefin tuna weighing over 1,000 pounds with a rod and reel. That is truly remarkable but a task that can only be done by a marathon man like Pete. Thanks for being a friend Pete…JOE

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