With September almost behind us and summer off-season training sessions ending, players have started focusing on the camps and seasons that lie ahead. As a strength coach, this is a bittersweet time of the year, much like a mother’s feelings when she sends her little ones off to their first day of school. Although the days filled with dead lifts, loud music, plenty of good stories and some beauty chirps have come to an end, the opportunity as a strength coach to watch your players go out and succeed at some of the highest levels of hockey is a reward like no other.
This year marks the 5th summer I’ve gone through this routine with Mike Borkowski (or as his teammates over the years have cleverly named him, “Bo”). Mike and I first met following his minor midget year of hockey when he played for the Ottawa Jr. Senators AAA team. Mike (all 140lbs of him) was projected to go into the OHL draft that summer during the mid to early rounds. Mike was drafted in the 4th round, 78th by Sault Ste. Marie, but instead elected to play out his junior career in the CJHL. Mike is now heading into his sophomore year at Colgate University, an NCAA Division 1 school located in Hamilton, New York.
Colgate’s Big 4: Kevin Lough, Tyson Spink, Mike Borkowski and Tylor Spink. All former Cornwall Colts each heading into their sophomore year at Colgate
During Mike’s freshman year at Colgate, he was approached by the Vancouver Canucks and asked if he would accept an invitation to their summer development camp. This accomplishment was something I know not only Mike is proud of, but something I take pride in as well.
Attending an NHL camp was something Mike had always dreamed of but never thought he’d actually get to experience. I recently sat down with Mike to chat about his experience in the Canuck’s summer development camp. Here is Mike’s point of view of what it was like to be treated as an NHL hockey player for a week:
Q: As a kid, did you ever think you’d be headed to a Vancouver Canucks prospect camp?
A: Not at all. As a kid your parents tell you every time you go to the rink to have fun and do your best. Obviously, as you move further on through your career the stakes become a little higher, but ultimately I still try and follow that mindset to a certain extent. I just try to go out and believe in what I do well as a player, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend that camp.
Q: When were you asked to go to camp? What was the feeling like?
A: I was asked to attend camp earlier on in my Freshman year at Colgate. I had spoken to a scout in the organization and he had mentioned that it would be great to have the opportunity to have me at camp. The feelings I had were of obvious excitement, every kid’s dream is to have a shot at playing in the best league in the world, and although this is just a very small step, it was reassuring to get that opportunity.
Q: What are some of the things you think helped get you to this point in your career?
A: I think any hockey player will tell you that your parents are the most important influence throughout your hockey career, and it’s no different for me. They have been really supportive of any decision I have made, and have stuck by me through those decisions. I’ve had a lot of great coaches throughout my years playing, and I truly believe that a good coach can make a ton of difference in terms of how a player can perform. Finally, the work you put in off the ice during the off season is so key, especially with how the game has changed. I knew that making the transition from junior to college hockey was going to be a significant one and was motivated in the gym to get stronger heading into my freshman year. Having you (Jake) as a strength coach was extremely helpful and it was encouraging to see your strength coach have just as much motivation to see you succeed as you do.
Q: What was your feeling the first time you stepped on the ice?
A: Vancouver’s development actually takes place directly at Rogers Arena where the Canucks play, whereas some other teams hold theirs in local rinks around their respective cities. So being able to step on the ice where some of the best players in the world have played was really rewarding. I can’t say I was nervous, I used to be before things like this but as I got older I think I gained some more confidence. I was excited more than anything that I had the opportunity to play with some really good players at camp, as well as showcase some of the things I think I do well.
Mike’s view from the Westin Vancouver where he stayed for the prospect camp
Q: What was your favorite part?
A: My favorite part had to be the scrimmages. Although the skill development drills were really productive, every player wants to show what he can do in a game situation. The pace of the scrimmages was really good, especially for it being mid-July. It was a lot of fun playing against some good players and trying to develop chemistry with players you had never played with before.
Q: What were the on ice and off ice sessions like?
A: The on ice sessions consisted of either a practice like atmosphere or a scrimmage. The practice sessions were actually a lot of fun. We worked on some skill development drills for our hands, did some flow drills to see how we handled pucks at top speed, then finished off with some small space games like a one on one or two on two out of a corner. Like I said, the scrimmages were obviously the most fun, but I appreciated getting to learn in practice some of the small things that NHL coaches provide just as much as playing the games. The off ice sessions were a typical strength workout with a variety of different exercises. This portion of camp I felt a little ahead of the game. Playing college hockey, you have the opportunity to lift a lot. Not only working out but getting in the mindset that you’re going to have to lift before an intense practice or after it. Having a year of experience doing that made it a little easier to wrap my head around having an up tempo skate and then a lift right after.
Q: Tell us about the Grouse Grind!
A: Going into camp the Grouse Grind was all that anyone was talking about. When you land in Vancouver it`s pretty beautiful. On one side you have oceans and the other you have mountains. I didn’t know that one of the mountains I was looking at, I would eventually have to climb. Basically it’s like a hike-style atmosphere, but a little steeper. The first third of the grind is gradual, then the last two thirds are basically climbing straight up a mountain. They had split us into groups of five and sent us off in 1 minute intervals. The staff would record our time. There was definitely a sense of pride and competition because you didn’t want to let any group pass you. Our strategy was just to keep moving, some groups would take breaks or some guys would cramp up. But we wanted to keep moving and keep a steady pace. We ended up finishing at around 46 minutes and placing second with the first group coming in around 44 minutes. Once you’re at the top, although you’re so tired, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. We were actually above clouds when we made it to the top. Definitely an experience I won’t forget.
Q: What advice do you have for kids hoping to experience a prospect camp someday?
A: One of the biggest things I’ve learned throughout my career is to stay patient. I’ve come to realize that this whole hockey thing is more of a marathon than a sprint. Some kids at camp were 18 years old, some were 23 years old. For me, I was 21 attending my first pro camp, and a 21 year old who just finished his first year in college. Don’t be concerned with the ones around you and the pace at which they’re going through their careers. Everyone’s path is different and ultimately, some do get there faster than others. Be confident in your abilities, and although it may be tough to watch some other players develop at a fast rate, go at your pace. Do the best you can with whatever situation you have. Because in the end whether you get there when you’re 18, or 23, you’re still skating the same rink, at the same camp, doing the same drills.
Mike with myself and training partners Billy Jenkins (Kingston Frontenac’s) and Brady Shaw (U of Vermont) after a session this summer (M.I.A. Chris Martin of St. Lawrence U)
Stories like this are why my partner Adam Bracken and I spend countless hours working each day not only in the gym but outside, creating programs, testing theories, acquiring new knowledge and researching whatever we can get our hands on to help enhance the performance of our athletes. Our goal with each player is simple: help them to be in the best physical shape that will allow them to perform at their highest level.
I thought sharing a story like Mike’s would to help inspire all the young kids returning to their minor hockey associations to be the best they can be and who knows where it will take you. When I met Mike 5 years ago we had no idea he’d amount to playing NCAA hockey or visiting Rogers Arena. Over the years Mike has always stayed true to himself and to his game and this has led him to great achievements. Never stop living the dream, who knows where it will take you.
To follow Mike on twitter check out his page @MikeBorkowski92.
That’s all for now,
Jake Wright, CSCS
About the Author
Jake Wright is a highly praised personal trainer, strength coach and part owner of two Greco Lean and Fit Centres in Kanata, Ontario. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NCSA. Since the start of his fitness career, Jake has coached and trained clients to reach and surpass their fitness goals, including professional athletes, post-rehabilitation patients and general fitness enthusiasts.
Jake and his fellow trainer and business partner Adam Bracken both grew up in the Ottawa minor hockey system and have a passion for helping young players fulfill their dreams. Together, they create and survey the programs for upwards of 50 players each year during off-season, with clients ranging from NHLers to young aspiring minor hockey players.
If you’re in the Ottawa area at any point and would like to know more about what Jake, Adam and their Greco Kanata team, feel free to stop by 100 Schneider road, Kanata, Ontario.
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