Close-up: Training Ground
Among the strapping professional hockey players working out at Pinnacle Elite Athlete on a hot August morning is a man on a mission.
Shane Pizzey counts numerous NHL players as his clients at Pinnacle, a place that has become a home-away-from-home for several pro hockey players, as well as minor leaguers, elite athletes and young up-and-comers from all walks of sport.
The 33-year-old Pizzey is a trained strength coach, sporting a bachelor of human kinetics degree and a masters in exercise physiology in his education background. He has worked for national sports institutes in Canada and Malaysia, and for the NHL’s Calgary Flames, as well as Hockey Canada.
But it has been since joining Pinnacle three years ago that Pizzey has really come into his own, building a stable of dozens of pro hockey players who he helps to train.
So perhaps one of his biggest skills could be finding a nice way to order a 6-foot-4, 235-pound power-horse like Shea Weber around the gym.
“It was a little bit intimidating when I first started,” admits Pizzey. “Obviously I’m a fan but I’ve gotten to know a lot of the guys quite well on a personal level now so it’s not too intimidating. They’re regular, 25 or 30-year-old guys who just happen to do a different job for a living.”
On this August morning, Pizzey works out a few different groups of players. There is Scott Hannan, Nolan Yonkman and Vern Fiddler, all former Kelowna Rockets getting set for NHL training camps.
It was Fiddler who got the ball rolling for Pizzey and Pinnacle
several years ago. Now a member of the Dallas Stars, Fiddler was back in
Kelowna and looking for a workout when he found Pizzey at what was then Mission Fitness.
“(Fiddler) said he needed someone and that he would give me a try,” said Pizzey of their first meeting. “I think at first it was the good location that got guys coming in. Then I started working with one or two guys and it grew from there by word of mouth.”
At the same time as NHL players are hitting the gym, smaller groups of younger athletes get in workouts, working nearly shoulder to shoulder with the professionals.
Pizzey says having pro athletes training in their building gives everyone a boost.
“They bring a lot of energy, there is a good feel to having them here,” he said. “It helps drive the younger athletes. Some are in junior hockey or other sports, but when they see these NHL guys coming in and working out as hard as they do it helps everybody. It creates that culture of sports that we’re trying to create here.”
Part of the culture of sports in Kelowna has become the fact that it’s a haven for elite athletes to train in. For professional hockey players who train in Kelowna, it’s like the perfect storm. Many of them started their careers with the Kelowna Rockets and return each summer. With Pizzey and Pinnacle Elite providing the training ground and the Capital News Centre able to rent the players ice for skating sessions, the CNC has become a one-stop shop for more than 30 NHL and AHL players.
In late August, the players will be at CNC twice a day. They workout in the morning with Pizzey before heading back in the afternoon to skate in what can only be called the best drop-in hockey in the city.
It’s not hard to figure out why they come here.
“Have you looked outside?” says Scott Hannan, a 12-year NHL veteran who played his first full season with the Rockets when the franchise moved here from Tacoma.
“I moved here in ’95 to play with the Rockets in the old Memorial Arena back in their first days here,” says Hannan, originally from Richmond. “I’ve pretty much been coming back ever since. It’s a great place to be in the summer. Growing up in Vancouver, it’s close to family. I love it up here.”
After awhile Hannan, Fiddler and Yonkman head out and are replaced by a younger generation of pros as Shea Weber, Josh Gorges, Blake Comeau and Wade Redden start a session of testing. The four trade off machines, urging each other on to push harder, jump higher and sprint faster.
“I just like coming in every morning and seeing the guys I played with for years here in Kelowna,” says Weber, a Sicamous native who will head back to Nashville after being awarded a big new contract through arbitration this summer.
“We still keep in contact through the season but in the summer you get a chance to see the guys, workout together and push each other to get better,” says Weber.
Comeau is also sporting a new contract after signing a one-year deal with the New York Islanders. A native of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, Comeau has never left Kelowna after joining the Rockets as a youngster.
“I was going into high school in Grade 11 and I decided I wanted to stay out here,” he recalls. “I met some good friends in high school and some good friends on the hockey team, so it was an easy decision. It’s a nice place for my family to come out here for a vacation. There is not too many reasons why you would want to leave Kelowna in the summer.”
As the calendar gets set to turn to September, the group of NHL players that have made Kelowna their home for the summer months is set to head out to various teams around the league.
Homegrown product Josh Gorges is heading back to Montreal, also with a new deal, while the talk around 6-foot-6 Nolan Yonkman is that he is ready to establish himself as a full-time NHL defenceman with Florida this year after getting into 66 NHL games over a 10-year career spent mostly in the AHL.
Staying behind in Kelowna will be Pizzey, who will have more time to work with athletes both young and old, who are looking to chase careers, dreams and aspirations.
And his connection with the NHL and professional athletes will likely turn into good fortune for kids who can’t afford to play sports.
This summer Pizzey has been holding a fundraiser for KidSport Kelowna, a group that provides registration funding for kids who otherwise can’t afford it.
To help raise awareness Pizzey cut his long flowing hair into what they used to call “hockey hair” and is now known simply as a bad mullet.
“Not everyone is able to compete in the sport they want, let alone train, so my thought was ‘let’s do something,’” he says. “If I can make a little mockery of my hair and all the funds go directly to KidSport, then that’s great. If we can get a couple kids playing sport who would not be able to, that makes me feel good.”
If you want to help Pizzey’s fundraising effort, contact him at 250-764-3189.