NHL training pays off for bobsledder

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

WHISTLER, B.C. - When Heather Moyse first showed up at a Toronto gym and began working alongside a group of NHL players, the response was predictable.

With as much testosterone in the room as oxygen, many wondered just who their personal trainer, Matt Nichol, was inviting into the circle.

“Two years ago, when she started training with me they were ‘OK, whose the girl?’” Nichol, the former Maple Leafs strength and conditioning coach, said Thursday. “Then after a while it was ‘that bobsledder chick,’ and now she’s just one of the guys.

“She’s a legitimate athlete, every bit as much as an NHL player and they all recognize it.”

They’ll do so a little more now that she’s an Olympic champion — in part because of the strength she developed working out in Nichol’s makeshift gym.

Moments after Moyse and pilot Kaillie Humphries struck gold in women’s bobsled Wednesday night, Nichol’s cellphone was buzzing. At least a dozen players were checking in to share in the celebration.

Pushing off to a track-record start, the Canada 1 brakeman then went along for the ride as Humphries guided them to a gold medal.

“They’ve adopted her as their Olympic athlete,” Nichol said of the NHL players who got to know the bobsledder best. “I’m sure they were pretty proud of it.”

Moyse first teamed up with Nichol a couple of years ago when she was recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in her other sporting pursuit, as a member of Canada’s national rugby team. Nichol, who was fired by Leafs coach Ron Wilson last season, was immediately captivated by the Summerside, P.E.I. native, who he calls “one of the most incredible athletes and people I have ever had the privilege to work with.”

There was plenty of praise from her NHL training partners, too.

“Ah, my hockey guys,” Moyse said at a reception Thursday to honour the four Canadian women who won bobsledding silver and gold. “The funny thing is, I wasn’t a hockey fan at all before I started working out with them. I walked in there and I met them as normal people. They realized I wasn’t there for an autograph, I wasn’t there for a date.

“And once I started to train, they realized how serious I was.”

So much so that Nichol said some players were in awe of Moyse’s leg strength. Nichol quickly recognized how similar the physical demands of hockey and bobsledding are. Soon, Nichol began to focus on the specific needs of bobsled — namely the 10-step burst of speed at the start.

“It’s not that dissimilar, that’s where I had my falling out with Ron Wilson over how I train my guys,” Nichol said. “What you need in hockey — and you need to do it over and over again — is starting speed and acceleration.

“She has the same type of explosiveness you see in Alex Ovechkin, one of the most dynamic players in all of hockey. That explosiveness is what separates average bobsledders from being medallists. Heather is special, unique and gifted.”

Moyse hasn’t seen her training buddies in a while, with the world cup circuit having taken her abroad for the past several months.

But she knows she has been missed.

“I got a call from Matt just before the Olympics,” Moyse said, smiling at the memory. “He said ‘We miss you at the gym, we can really sense the lack of estrogen here.’”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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