Kessel spent much of summer training with former Penguins left winger Gary Roberts
September 10, 2015 11:14 PM
New Penguins winger Phil Kessel shoots during practice Thursday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township.
By Seth Rorabaugh / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After six seasons in hockey-mad Toronto, Phil Kessel already has shouldered the burden of enormous expectations.
Now with the Penguins, Kessel is expected to be the right winger on center Sidney Crosby’s line when the 2015-16 season begins. The expectations might be different, but they still carry a considerable amount of weight.
“I expect to do well here,” Kessel said after an informal workout Thursday.
As far as actual tangible weight or weight loss go, that’s unclear. After Kessel spent time with former Penguins left winger turned training guru Gary Roberts this offseason, it was reported last week by Canadian outlet TSN that Kessel had dropped 13 pounds. Kessel downplayed that figure.
“I didn’t lose any weight, guys,” Kessel told reporters Thursday. “Same as I’ve always been. Maybe a little bit.”
Roberts declined to address specifics.
“Is he lighter?” said Roberts. “I know he’s lighter. We weigh him in. I’m not going to get into if he thinks he lost weight or not. It really doesn’t matter. The fact is he was there. He was part of the program. I think he’s prepared for a good year in Pittsburgh.”
Regardless of what the numbers say when Kessel steps on the scale, its clear he made an off-ice commitment to improve.
“I think Phil is at a stage in his career where he’s 27 years old,” Roberts said. “He realizes that he needs to do more than just be a hockey player to be successful.
“I think everybody in general is seeing that at [age] 30 a decline in players’ performance if they’re not doing the right things off the ice. I think Phil recognizes he needs to do a little more off the ice in order to keep him healthy and to give him [a chance] to be an elite player for a long period of time. I think he’s leaner. I think he’s in better condition than he’s been.”
Kessel’s diet, which was the source of speculation and even ridicule by Toronto media, was a point of focus by Roberts.
“I think I ate a little healthier this summer,” Kessel said. “Training-wise, I don’t think I did anything crazy different or anything like that. Gary’s a great guy, and I had a lot of fun there.”
“Just ate kind of different meals. Nothing really changed that much to be honest.”
After retiring as a player in 2009, Roberts became a trainer. Working with all-stars such as Lightning center Steven Stamkos, Roberts conducts training programs at his Toronto-area home as well as St. Andrews College, a boys’ school in Aurora, Ont. UPMC brought in Roberts to guide its new complex in Cranberry where the Penguins now practice.
Kessel sought Roberts’ guidance before the July 1 trade that brought him to the Penguins.
“Phil Kessel’s agency and the Toronto Maple Leafs reached out to me and said that Phil would be calling me to join the program and that was before he was traded,” said Roberts. “I had been on the phone in touch with Phil by phone about three weeks before he was traded to the Penguins. We started talking about his nutrition, my holistic nutrition that works for me. I was in contact with Phil sending him recipes, sending him nutritional information to try and get his diet in order before he came up to Toronto to join the program.”
Like Kessel, Roberts has immense expectations for his pupil this season.
“I truly believe he’s in a a good place,” said Roberts. “He’ll have a small adjustment period but he’s such a highly-skilled, powerful athlete, I think he’s going to have a great year here.”
NOTE — The Penguins announced that training camp will begin Sept. 18.
Seth Rorabaugh: email@example.com and Twitter @emptynetters.
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