EL SEGUNDO, CA — If you hang out at the the Los Angeles Kings’ practice facility for a long enough time during the summer months, there is a decent chance that you will run into one of the players before or after, working out in the weight room.
On this day, the local media gathered at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California for the final day of the Kings’ 2011 Development Camp for their young prospects, and during the second practice session of the day, veteran, and much-maligned left wing Dustin Penner emerged from the weight room to watch the prospects on the ice while he took a break from his training regimen.
Penner, 28, was acquired in a trade deadline day deal on February 28, 2011, in a deal that sent defenseman prospect Colten Teubert to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange, along with a first round selection in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft, and a conditional third round pick in the 2012 draft that would have become a second round selection if the Kings won the 2011 Stanley Cup (see LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi Makes Two Big Moves On Deadline Day).
But the 6-4, 245-pound native of Winkler, Manitoba was a huge flop once he arrived in Los Angeles, and was heavily criticized for his lack of intensity, and poor physical conditioning, both of which loomed large in him being a non-factor for the Kings (see Time For The Los Angeles Kings To Be Patient With Dustin Penner Is Up).
During his exit interview with head coach Terry Murray, Penner was told, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to focus on his conditioning.
“This goes back to a conversation that we had right at the end of the year,” said Murray. “It’s important to know who [you] are as an LA King, and become part of our team, our culture, structure, and to be the player that I expect him to be.”
Two months remain before the Kings open their 2011 training camp, but all indications point to Penner having figured it out, as he has committed himself to making a big improvement in his strength and conditioning, and he got started just a few weeks after the Kings’ season ended in late April.
“They tricked me into starting to workout three weeks after the season ended,” Penner joked. “No, I’m just putting it politely. I’m on a new team, and I see the potential that we have, especially now, after the trades. It motivates everybody, not just me.”
“Knowing [strength and conditioning coach] Tim Adams’ record with athletes here and, in his past, with the [National Football League’s] Oakland Raiders—I’ve always enjoyed training,” Penner added. “It’s just a matter of getting there. When you live in Newport Beach, it’s a one hour drive, and I never use the carpool lane.”
Penner makes that drive three days each week.
“I bargained for three days a week, to save money on gas, and to save the environment, because I’m going green,” he said with a big grin. “I come up here for the big days, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I’m usually up around [6:45 AM]. It takes about an hour to get here, and then I workout from about 8:00 to between 11:30 and 1:00 PM, depending on what kind of workout it is. It’s about a six-and-a-half hour day.”
“The first [part] is a warm-up—quick rotations, about fifteen exercises, fifty reps each exercise, one to three times,” he added. “That could take about an hour, maybe [45 minutes], depending on how you’re feeling that day. Then you go to either the track, which is a soccer field, about 120 yards, or to the beach, which we did for the first time today, and do lunges. We do different variations, like lift your leg 45 degrees and step out.”
Boy, is he doing lunges.
“We started doing [lunges over] 1,000 [yards] in the third week of May,” Penner noted. “I said, ‘are you kidding me?’”
“[Adams] said, ‘wait until July,’” Penner added. “Now we’re doing 2,000 [yards]. I can’t wait for 1,000 [again].”
“After that, and after we regain consciousness (another joke), you have six to eight exercises [back in the weight room]. That’s another hour or hour and a half.”
Penner indicated that he was surprised by the intensity of the workouts.
“These workouts are something different from what I’ve had in Canada before,” said Penner. “It’s really exciting, especially with a guy like Tim Adams. [Prior to coming to the Kings], most of my workouts in the summer have been around two hours, maybe a little over, with an ice time session. Now, it’s pretty much an 8:00 – 2:00 job.”
“It’s different for a lot of guys who’ve come from other teams,” added Penner. “We all share that we weren’t used to this type of intensity.”
When told of Penner’s surprise, Murray was not disappointed or angry. Nevertheless, he was a bit discouraged that some players (not just Penner) across the NHL might not already have the same expectations in terms of what hard work is all about.
“I don’t like to hear that,” said Murray. “I think players should know that you have to work hard. This is a business in which that’s a given. Hard work is the foundation of what it’s all about to bring your skill out.”
“Most importantly, though, for Dustin, is that he’s talking about it, and that he’s doing it,” added Murray. “He’s getting himself ready for training camp, and I want him to be able to step on the ice, go through the testing we do on the first day, and then, as we get into practices, play at a high level, execute the structure and the system that we want to play, and be able to do it over the sixty minutes.”
“That’s what it’s all about, to play the game the right way, and that, to me is being in top physical condition.”
Towards that end, it’s “so far, so good.”
“Yeah, I’m really happy about that,” Murray beamed. “[He expects Penner to] play twenty minutes a night. It’s going to demand a lot, from the physical part of it, and he’s been here from the end of the season. He’s worked very hard with Tim Adams, and we’re starting to see some progress.”
“I’m very encouraged,” Murray added. “We’re pushing him here. We met about this right at the end of the year, and he understands that this is a big year for him. Coming from Edmonton, coming back to California and playing for the Los Angeles Kings, he knows he’s got something to prove. He’s got great talent, great ability. It’s time [for him] to make the decision to get it done.”
“Time moves on very quickly, and if you’re going to let it slide until you’re thirty years old, you might not be able to catch up. He’s doing the right things, and I’m excited for him. He’s been hungry, excited, and on board with everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Improved strength and conditioning is just one benefit Murray sees for Penner.
“When I was here before the draft [in late June], I watched them workout in the field off of Aviation Boulevard,” Murray noted. “[Scott] Parse, [Dustin] Brown, Penner and Matt Greene were there. That’s very intense. When you get Tim out there for a couple of hours doing lunges and squats—you’re going the whole length of a football field—it’s very, very intense, and [Penner is] pushing through it.”
“You’re pushing through on the emotional part of things, too,” Murray added. “You’re trying to dig in and get to one step further than you’ve ever gone before. That’s mental toughness, and that’s what it’s going to take to get players to a higher standard, one that we’re trying to uphold.”
Penner, who has lost about ten pounds so far, and appears to be on track for more, was called out publicly by Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi after the season for his poor conditioning.
Some players, especially veterans, might not take too kindly to such remarks, especially when they are told to the media. But Penner’s reaction indicates that he now understands what he needs to do to turn things around.
“What he’s saying is that if you’re intelligent enough, and in the position I’m in—I know what he’s saying, I know what he wants out of me,” said Penner. “It’s just more kindling for [my] fire.”
In other words, those are not fighting words. Rather, they are motivational. But even without Lombardi’s challenge, Penner discussed other motivations.
“You can attribute some of [the Kings’ 12-3-0] start last year to their training in the off-season,” he said. “[They] were at the top of the league for a bit. Their conditioning contributed to their start.”
“With the team we’ve got this year, and with everybody on the same page, we’ll be tough to stop,” he added. “I think we’re going to look pretty daunting—the top two or three lines.”
Another motivation is more basic. Pride.
“Pride is a very good word,” said Murray. “I hope that’s the right way to define it. I think, sometimes, as coaches, people in management, even the media, we have a tendency to go in that direction [criticism], to see if there’s going to be a response, and there’s a reaction here, a positive reaction.”
“I know he went away on a honeymoon last week, but he’s back at it this week,” added Murray. “He got married during the All-Star break last year. He took that time to get away, but now he’s back with Tim, getting back on track.”
“We need him to follow through with what he’s been doing so far the rest of the summer. It’s a big, big push, and he’s got some catching up to do. This last couple of months is going to be critical and important, so that I can use him in those situations [and so that he can] live up to the expectations and be the player he knows he can be.”
With obvious, positive results from his workouts, Penner is already setting lofty goals for the 2011-12 season.
“Winning is one of them,” he stressed. “I want to set personal bests in the statistical categories, and then just improve as a player and become more of a leader.”
“What the great players do is always look to improve in different facets of the game. I think, with these workouts, I’m on the right track.”
For sake of the Kings and their fans, one can only hope.
Raw audio interview with Dustin Penner
(10:06; edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
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