Penguins to undertake different kind of basic training
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It's not likely anyone is going to scream at Sidney Crosby and call him a maggot, but the Penguins' young star and his teammates will be pushed in unaccustomed ways when the team spends part of its training camp at West Point, N.Y.
For three days later this month, only about a week before the season starts, the Penguins will participate in a custom-tailored program designed to promote team-building and leadership.
"It's both physical and mental, all with a military approach. It will be a variety of military-type tasks," J.B. Spisso, first sergeant of the New York Army National Guard and founder and CEO of Elite Leadership Training, said yesterday.
Spisso doesn't want to give away the itinerary, but he said a typical day in the program might start with physical training, followed by regular hockey practice, followed by a team-building exercise or classroom time devoted to motivational speaking.
It's not boot camp, exactly, but it's not the routine fare of NHL training camp, either.
"It's a luxury to be able to bring your team there," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "After the season, I was thinking about team-bonding. When Ray [Shero, the new general manager] got on board, he came up with the idea, and we put all those things together.
"I like the discipline. I like the leadership. I like the team-bonding. We have a lot of new players and a lot of new people."
Therrien won't be admiring it from afar. He said the staff will participate in the program, which will be between the team's Sept. 24 preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers in London, Ontario, and its home preseason game Sept. 29 against Buffalo.
"I recommended they involve everybody -- trainers, equipment managers, even writers," Spisso said.
"I think with their makeup of a lot of young players and a few veterans on the team like John LeClair and Mark Recchi, this is a great chance to help mold the team."
Spisso was with the Elite Army Rangers for 10 years, was a drill instructor at Fort Benning, served in Panama and Haiti, and works with the corps at the United States Military Academy. With Elite Leadership Training, he employs other National Guardsmen who work in areas such as public safety.
"I draw on my experience," Spisso said. "You really have to build bonds and rely on people. It's the best of the best, which is what a professional athlete is.
"I tell them that everybody's allowed to have a bad day, but, if you have a lot of bad days [in military action], someone could get killed. In their case, you could lose games."
Spisso said some of the exercise missions could help bridge age, language or personality differences.
"I might find a Russian-born player and give him the mission card for that task," Spisso said, a not-so-subtle reference to touted prospect Evgeni Malkin. "Then he has to find a buddy to read it to him or translate it."
The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers have gone through the program. Spisso said the Rangers' participation a year ago helped them exceed expectations by racking up 100 points to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference and make the playoffs.
"Other teams that got this chance, it was a huge benefit to go there," Therrien said. "The Rangers went there and then started the season really well.
"I'm convinced when we leave West Point, we're going to be more of a family."
Asked if the leadership training might help him choose a captain for the 2006-07 season, Therrien said, "No doubt," but he declined to say whether Crosby, the second-year center who was an alternate captain last season, had the inside track.
First Published September 1, 2006 12:00 am