Good coaches help make great hockey players. T.R. Goodman builds great hockey players.
For more than two decades, Goodman has been the go-to summer trainer for some of the National Hockey League’s biggest stars. Players such as 2013 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee defenseman Chris Chelios, Hall of Fame forward Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Rob Blake, and former All-Star forwards Rick Tocchet and Jeremy Roenick routinely made the post-season pilgrimage to Venice Beach, California, for weeks of physical recouperation and insanely intense low-impact workouts under Goodman – a regimen that several credited with prolonging their careers.
“When I first started, at first I thought my goal was to make guys bigger, faster, stronger,” Goodman told me recently. “What I found was that was a great thing and I was able to do that, but if guys got injured during the year it didn’t make a difference if they were bigger, faster stronger. Then I changed my goal to make sure guys didn’t get hurt. My main core nucleus of guys, not one of them retired before they were 40 years old…if you don’t get injured, you have longevity.”
The 2013 summer class at Goodman’s Pro Camp Sports included Anaheim Ducks right wing Emerson Etem and Brett Beebe, a right wing from Western Michigan University who signed a contract to play this season for the ECHL’s Ontario Reign, a Los Angeles Kings farm club. Both Etem and Beebe are among the growing number of professional hockey players who are born, raised, and began playing the game in the Golden State.
Etem’s desire and dedication to train with Goodman has already become legend. The two have worked together since Etem was barely 14 and too young to drive. So to get from his Long Beach home to Goodman’s Venice Beach gym, Etem would wake up at 6 a.m., rollerblade to a nearby train station, hop a train, transfer to a bus, then put back on his rollerblades and skate the last mile of the 2 1/2-hour journey to the gym. Then he would work out.
“It was a humbling experience to go there and train with old vets who have been in the league for so long and you can learn so much from,” Etem told ESPN in 2010. “I did it Monday-Saturday in the summertime and it made me the player I am today.”
Etem’s effort to get to Goodman’s gym may be why the 52-year-old Connecticut native considers the 21-year-old California kid one of his all-time favorite clients.
Etem, the 29th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, scored 3 goals and 7 assists in 38 games for the Ducks last season. He registered 3 goals and 2 asists in seven playoff games for Anaheim. In 2011-12, he scored 61 goals and 46 assists in 65 games for the Medicine Hat Tigers, a major junior team in the Western Hockey League. Goodman believes Etem is on the cusp of stardom.
“I think Emerson is going to be a real superstar in the game,” said Goodman, who once made The Hockey News’ list of 100 People of Power and Influence. “It’s been really rejuvenating for me to be able to work with him. He still has a lot of humility, he has a good work ethic. He’s kind of like my little brother now. I helped Emerson come up as if he were my own son or little brother. Everything that I’ve had him to do, if I had my own son, I would ask my own son to do.”
What Goodman asks Etem and other clients to do is endure a rigorous three-phase workout program that begins after the NHL season ends and ends before training camp starts in September. The phases focus on repairing the physical trauma and injuries incurred during the long hockey season, strenthening core muscles, and concentrating on muscular growth and endurance.
“In Mario Lemieux’s case, Mario is so tall and so long that his back problems came because of problems he had in his hip core muscles. That started to make certain other muscles over-compensate for the weakness he had in his hip core,” Goodman said. “So the first thing we do is we get rid of all that crap that’s accumulated in their body. Then we kind of rebuild it. Then we improve their muscular endurance, increase their strength. Then we do the high-intensity, high performance, but low impact, training. I don’t feel the body needs to get beat up in the summer: it needs to get refreshed, rejuvenated and rebuilt.”
That’s done through a series of low-impact exercises repeatedly performed at a non-stop pace for 60 minutes. Even for the best-conditioned athlete, Goodman’s workout can be a vomit-inducing, knee-wobbling, muscle-burning experience. But the outcome is a strong, well-defined but flexible body able to withstand the rigors of an 82-game NHL season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Goodman once had NHL aspirations himself. He was a team captain for the Trinity College Bantams hockey team in the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons. He scored 35 goals and a career-high 60 assists in 1982-83 for the small Hartford, Conn., college – good numbers but not good enough to draw attention from NHL teams.
“At that time there weren’t really any Americans in the NHL,” Goodman said. “It was kind of like a taboo thing to think that an American player could make it in the NHL.”
And being African-American, “I had like two strikes against me,” Goodman added with chuckle. By the 1982-83 season, only one U.S.-born black player had reached the NHL – puglistic left wing Val James of the Buffalo Sabres. In all, six black players had logged time with NHL teams by the time Goodman completed college: forward Willie O’Ree of the Boston Bruins, left wing Mike Marson and right wing Bill Riley of the Washington Capitals, right wing Ray Neufeld of the Hartford Whalers, Tony McKegney of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo’s James. Quebec Nordiques right wing Bernie Saunders, brother of ESPN broadcaster John Saunders, and Los Angeles Sharks wing/center Alton White, played in the rival World Hockey Association during that time.
So Goodman took his degree in economics and hockey gear and headed West.
“After college, I didn’t skate for 10 years,” he told me. “I came out here and I wanted to test the workouts I was doing, I wanted to feel how it would affect the skating and playing. So I came back and played in some of the recreational leagues out here for a while.”
Goodman got his first workout client in 1992: Washington Capitals left Wing Alan May.
“If you weren’t doing what he asked, he’d pick you up and throw you out of the gym because he didn’t want to just go through the motions,” May, now a Capitals broadcast anaylst, told NHL.com’s Impact! online magazine. “He’s 24 hours a day and all he thinks about is what he does and how to make you better. He looks at you and figures out how he can fix you. It’s just amazing.”
Word of Goodman’s handiwork hit the NHL player grapevine and more players signed up to be tortured – er, trained – by him.
“Rick Tocchet probably the largest quantity of guys…he was an influential leader-type guy,” he said. “He had guys from the Flyers come, from t he Kings to come, from the Phoenix Coyotes to come, that’s how J.R. came and (current Montreal Canadiens forward) Danny Briere.”
During the NHL season, Goodman finds himself glued to the television monitoring how his clients are doing and studying whether they are keeping up with their exercise regimen.
“It’s like I have a sports bar in my house, I had two TV’s here, always watching games,” he said. “A lot of times I could tell if (clients) were or weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing during the season by how their bodies would move when they were skating. Yeah, I pay attention to what’s going on.”