The New York Rangers are headed to the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, and 24-year-old Swedish sensation Henrik Lundqvist is a key part of the turnaround. The rookie goalie and recent Olympic gold-medalist has been part of the team for less than a year, but he’s played the position since he was 8 years old, when he skated on a frozen lake in Are, Sweden. As hockey’s postseason approaches, Lundqvist explains his workout, which is different from his teammates’—no other position requires the same level of stamina and staccato activity. “As a goalie,” he explains, “you almost play a different sport. I’m supposed to be more flexible.” Learning yoga, he admits, is on his summer agenda, but right now, Lundqvist is trying to stay “light,” as he puts it, yet maintain enough mass to carry home one very large silver cup.
Fast blasts. Since the Rangers typically play every second day, Lundqvist gets plenty of in-game conditioning. When backup Kevin Weekes starts, Lundqvist adds high-intensity sprints to his morning skate. “We train a goaltender in short bursts,” says Rangers strength-and-conditioning coach Reg Grant. “In games, most of the work they do takes from fifteen to twenty seconds.” When training off the ice, Lundqvist substitutes quick hits of cycling, with five to ten seconds between each interval.
Legs, legs, legs. “The best goalies are the most explosive,” says Grant, and all of the force should come from the lower body. While holding a set of free weights, Lundqvist runs through a sequence of ten to fifteen lunges, squats, and one-legged squats with no rest in between. “The repair process from a strength workout takes 48 hours,” adds Grant, so Lundqvist does his muscle-building right after games for maximum rest time.
Playing at work. Grant believes that goalies should train in the same positions they use on the ice. So he fashions drills to mimic Lundqvist’s three stances: standing at the net, a “butterfly” position on both knees with feet out to the sides, and a “kick save,” where Lundqvist leans on one knee with his other leg out to the side. “When I’m down in butterfly or pushing some weights on the sides, I get my stomach, back, groin—the whole package in one drill,” says Lundqvist.
Medicine-ball toss. Lundqvist trains harder in the off-season, adding extra drills like this one. As he moves through the three stances, Grant hurls a weighted ball just out of the goalie’s reach. Lundqvist is forced to rotate his torso to catch the ball, stabilize himself with his core, and then use his upper-body strength to toss it back.
Cable pulls. Lundqvist gets into a kick-save stance four to six feet to the side of a Cybex machine, holding its weighted cables straight out in front of him. Then he stabilizes himself while rotating from an upright position to fully bent over his outstretched leg, working his lats and abs.
Side-to-side hurdles. Another off-season favorite. Grant sets up a six-, twelve-, or eighteen-inch plastic hurdle and has Lundqvist jump over it laterally. Next, he’ll stand in front of a two-foot-high box and spring onto the top with both feet, then step down, repeating this eight times. This improves his ability to make lightning-fast movements from a standing start.
The empty mind. The Rangers have a mental-skills coach who works with them on exercises like visualizing successful plays. But Lundqvist believes that simply not thinking about hockey helps him focus when he returns to the ice. So, before games, he plugs in his iPod for a motivating power-punk block of Sum 41 or Blink 182. After the games, “when I try to relax, it’s more Swedish rock, softer music,” he says. “And I go out and do fun stuff. I play guitar, but it doesn’t matter really what it is—just something that keeps you away from hockey.”
Nine to ten hours minimum. “I like to sleep,” says Lundqvist. On game days, he even fits in a siesta. “I’ll go to the hotel around 2 p.m. and sleep for two hours,” he says. “When we play in New York, everybody stays at the Affinia Manhattan, across from the Garden.”
Carbo-loading. A typical breakfast is oatmeal and a bagel; lunch is pasta with meat sauce. It’s a game-day tradition to gather for an all-you-can eat buffet of pasta, rice, potatoes, fish, and meat. Hydration is essential, which means liters of yellow Powerade during games. “Sometimes it just feels like the only thing you do is play hockey and eat,” Lundqvist says.