Conditioning Important Role In Cassels' GameJan 4, 2017
For Utica Comets' Cole Cassels, availability is his most important talent.
Minutes after a mid-week home game with conference rival Providence Bruins, Cassels emerges from the Comets' dressing room slowly. The bag of ice strapped around one of his legs resembles a small pillow.
Already, the first line in injury prevention has been implemented. Earlier in the evening, Cassels sacrificed his body to block a shot. Payback has begun.
"It (hockey) takes a toll on your body," says Cassels, a third-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2013. "You just push through it."
Tonight's ice bag represents what they say in the game - a "lower body" injury. Earlier in the season, Cassels was out for a seven-game stretch. "Upper body", was the official tag put on his absence from work.
Spending eight months a year banging bodies at high speeds into one another, involving one-on-one collisions takes its toll on players. Preparing and preventing are two important stages during a player's time off-ice, to keep them in the line-up.
"I don't like time off," declares Cassels.
Much of what fans seated inside The AUD don't see is as vital to Utica's success in league play, as compared to the 60 minutes on game nights.
For Cassels, and you could line up his Comets' teammates directly behind him, preparation and prevention for upcoming opponents’ rests on the shoulders of strength coach Ken Hetzel.
"Credit has to be given to Ken. He's the one who keeps my body in top shape with exercises," explains Cassels.
Averaging 60 games of ice time during four years of juniors with the Oshawa Generals, Cassels grew a reputation early on in his quest to the NHL as a skater who can be counted on. The trend has continued with the Comets.
67 games were logged during last season, his first as a pro. Already, Cassels has laced up his skates in 24 contests. A strong work ethic has influenced the second-generation pro on taking care of his body.
"I worked hard over the summer. I got my strength up," tells Cassels. My speed, too, is up."
Athletes are used to operating with pain. Where and how much it hurts, that's the difference between being on the bench or scratched from the line-up on game night.
Once the puck drops, Cassels offers no limitations on what he can offer. Playing a two-way game, and throw-in having a propensity for blocking shots, "upper" and or "lower" body injuries, or at the very least soreness will result.
Games played, goals, assists, all the actions taken by Cassels throughout this AHL season, accumulate only while part of a line sent out onto the ice by coach Travis Green. As of late, a combination of Darren Archibald, Michael Carcone, and Mike Zalewski have been Cassels' line mates.
Each day by 8:30 a.m., the first wave of Comets makes their way to Hetzel's "office" located on the lower level of The AUD. Hours prior to a scheduled morning on-ice practice session, Cassels is amongst those eager to rejuvenate their most important piece of hockey equipment - their bodies.
"He's (Cassels) a hard worker, and open to trying new things to keep himself in the best shape," offers strength coach Hetzel.
Reducing time spent in the penalty box, too, has been a way for Cassels to remain in the line-up, and cut down on the pain factor. In juniors, 70 minutes per season, including a 100-minute season in 54 games, was Cassels’ average in penalty minutes. This statistic, in a season-and-a-half with the Comets, has been squeezed to just 42 minutes combined.
As 2017 is welcomed in, the Comets' transactions log hovered around 40. Through persistent care of his body and working to improve on his hockey skills, Cole Cassels remains in Comets' games - by design.
Written by Don Laible