PITTSFIELD -- The setting is not conducive to a good hockey practice. It's a small, cramped space with lower lighting than your average rink, and the ceiling is far too low.
Oh, yeah: There's also no ice.
For the St. Joseph's High School hockey team, the school's cafeteria isn't the ideal practice setting, but each Tuesday, it's where the Crusaders can be found from 3:30-5 p.m.
"It would be nice to have somewhere else to go, but we make it work," senior center Luke Perry said.
St. Joe's coach Tim Kelly has been running dry-land practices for a few years now, having previously held them in the Lighthouse at the Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club before its renovation.
Sure, he'd rather have his team on the ice -- as he does in practices on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays, as well as Wednesday and Saturday games -- but ice time can be both scarce and expensive at either the Boys and Girls Club or the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink in North Adams. So, to make up for lost ice time, Kelly has his players go through cardiovascular workouts in the cafeteria on Tuesdays, while also working them on a sliding board.
Senior left wing Derek Romejko uses the workouts, which include stair running, to focus more on his endurance and strength.
"Today, we wouldn't normally practice on ice," he said. "If we get an extra day in here, it could help, rather than me just sitting at home, doing nothing."
Senior Eric Leitch remembers the first time he was told the Crusaders wouldn't be practicing on ice. He wasn't exactly thrilled by the idea.
"Now that we're doing it, it's good," he said. "I'm sweating. I do see why we do it."
That's what the coaching staff had hoped would happen.
"When they come in after the first one, they understand that it's almost as grueling as being on the ice," Kelly said.
The boards were the idea of St. Joe's assistant coach Bob Newton. Kelly said he knew of speedskater and 1980 Olympic gold medalist Eric Heiden using them for workouts, so the Crusaders, guided by Kelly and assistants Nicole Cote and Dan MacWhinnie, use three of them for both speed and form workouts.
"They simulate the kids' stride," Cote said. "It slows it down for us, and we can really look at their skating gait and pick it apart."
Perry, who had never seen dry-land practices before playing for St. Joe's, finds his form and his speed have improved from the use of the sliding boards.
"We've been using them for three years now," he said. "I think we've gotten faster from them."
The coaching staff also uses the time to go over Xs and Os. While they're not breaking down game film, they are having chalk-talk sessions that normally would be expendable in 90-minute on-ice sessions.
"It gives us time to go over our systems, in a different situation, to talk about them and really go through them," Cote said.
It's not the perfect situation for a hockey team. The Crusaders know that. But most of them seem to like the unique situation of getting in a workout and burning calories in a lunch room where you'd normally take in calories.
"It's almost like we're in a dungeon when we're down here moving tables to work out," Leitch said. "It feels like an environment that's gritty."
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