The floor shakes as another weight hits the ground with an all-encompassing mix of a clang and a thud. With steely eyes and folded arms, Sean Skahan observes the Boston University men’s hockey team as the players make use of the weight room.
Music fills the enclosed space, lined with windows on one side that look out into the pristine hallway encircling the ice and mirrors along the other. Underneath the more public parts of Agganis Arena’s interior, the Terriers take advantage of all sorts of exercise equipment to be in the best shape they can be. Skahan is there to help them do just that.
The new strength and conditioning coach of the Boston University men’s ice hockey team has spent the past 13 seasons with the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL, but he returned to his native Massachusetts this summer to take a job with the Terriers.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for BU hockey,” Skahan said. “I get to work in one of the nicest facilities in the country. I’m also from here, I love this city. It’s a city that’s passionate about their sports, and I actually started here as an intern a long time ago … but I’m excited to be back and back home and trying to help these young men.”
BU coach David Quinn added that Skahan’s resume made him a prime candidate for the job.
“We’re a program that aspires to recruit people that are going to play in the National Hockey League,” he said. “When you can get a strength coach who is from the area, who has been a strength coach in the NHL for 13 years and has the respect and the background and the knowledge that Sean has, to me it was really a no-brainer.”
Skahan replaced Anthony Morando and brought with him professional knowledge that he can and aims to pass onto the team. There’s a difference in his approaches and some of his philosophies but nothing drastic, Quinn said, as is to be expected from strength coach to strength coach. The basics remain the same, since there’s only so much that can be altered in terms of what athletes this age need to do.
Now, with the regular season just days away, Skahan is settling into a rhythm with the team. Minimally he’ll see the guys twice a week. They spend time stretching, warming up properly and going through corrective exercises. Then it’s core strengthening, followed by lifting. Conditioning takes place too, but it’s mostly on the ice, save for some extra work that can be taken care of in the weight room.
But Skahan also keeps an eye on how things are going away from the rink. He follows the team through the use of heart rate monitors and determining their load based on how hard they work, but he also has them check in with him regarding how they feel on a daily basis. He surveys their mood, stress levels and just how everything affects them.
It’s not quite the same as working with the pros.
“Because of the fact that these guys are students first, they have a lot going on in their lives, which is different from a professional who might be, could be a single guy, could be a married guy with children, it’s a big difference,” Skahan said.
Among those differences are that younger players can be worked harder than some of the older NHLers. Skahan noted that college-age athletes can handle more stress put on them, whereas veteran professionals may need to have some improvised exercises since they can’t handle the same types of workouts.
At this age, and with BU being one of the youngest teams in college hockey this season, Skahan pointed out that getting these players in their late teens and early 20s can have a positive impact on how they develop going forward.
He had experience with that as some of the players drafted by the Ducks stuck around the organization. Though it’s not necessarily the majority of athletes he’s worked with, he’s been in that position before and is certainly in it now.
“I think that’s the reason he wanted to come back, because he knows the impact a strength coach can make at our level,” Quinn said. “It’s so different at the NHL level, so I think he was looking forward to the challenge and making a difference with guys here.”
That experience has had him around players drafted by Anaheim that became superstars, like scoring juggernauts Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and will aid him in helping the Terriers out too.
“I really think that I can benefit them by having some real world experience in what it takes to be in the NHL,” Skahan said.
The biggest focus for Skahan is doing his best to make sure the areas of the body being used in hockey are strong so that all measures can be taken to prevent injury. He said it’s important to break things down on an individualized basis and provide the players with the necessary exercises for them specifically.
Part of that is customizing some workouts by position. There’s not a huge separation between what forwards and defensemen might need to do, but goalies are prone to different injuries than the other skaters are, so Skahan spends time helping the netminders avoid those injuries. He added that, for forwards and defensemen, he looks more at what injuries the players might have already had.
“We’re trying to work through that, work around that and get them better,” he said. “But for the most part, in my opinion, skaters are skaters. There’s not that big of a difference, but again it goes back to kind of everyone being different. That’s the main key.”
Conditioning comes into play when Skahan takes the players’ ice time into account. Some guys get more than others, but those who log fewer minutes still need to be in that same kind of game shape.
“We have to maintain their fitness, and we’ll do that by providing extra conditioning and, again, going back to the monitoring situation, seeing what they need versus other guys who might not need as much or might need more,” he said.
Ultimately, Skahan’s goal is to help each member of the team achieve his individual goals and get BU to Tampa in April to win just one more game than it did last year.
“That’s what I want to do,” he said. “I want to help them win a national championship and help them feel confident about themselves and help them be healthy and strong and resilient.”