By Doug McIntyre
Special to Page 3
Hockey's finally back after a 16-month hiatus that robbed hockey fans of their winter fix. But the lockout gave idle NHL players a rare chance to pursue other endeavors while they cooled their heels away from the ice.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier went swimming with sharks in South Africa. The Detroit Red Wings' Chris Chelios and Chris Therien of the Philadelphia Flyers started a moving company. Toronto's Eric Lindros got his master's degree, and Travis Green of the Boston Bruins qualified for the World Series of Poker.
There were lots of stories to choose from, but we've highlighted what the following five locked-out puckheads did to maintain their sanity during the longest summer of their lives.
Before calling his 16-year career quits two days before the start of the new NHL season, Avalanche defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn already had started training for his next competitive endeavor. The former Stanley Cup champ has been an avid road racer, a la Lance, since falling in love with cycling two years ago. In fact, he traveled to France last year to cheer on Armstrong and company at Le Tour and actually rode along some of the race's most treacherous stretches.
Last season's lockout gave Leschyshyn the perfect chance to really take his hobby to the next level.
"I wanted to get outdoors and enjoy Colorado's beauty," Leschyshyn said.
Leschyshyn, 36, ended up riding alongside Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton and won a state time trial for his age group. Now that he has retired, Leschyshyn plans to take his hobby up a notch.
"I'm going to start training on Monday, drop some weight and get in the best shape I possibly can for this spring's race season," he said.
"Maybe I'll join a team so I don't have to work out alone. It's going to be a very important competitive outlet for me. I want to win every time I go out there."
Ever since he watched his dad cook up Chinese stir-fry in a wok as a youngster in Ottawa, Coyotes blueliner Sean O'Donnell has been fascinated by the culinary arts.
In fact, he looked into enrolling in cooking schools as far back as the mid-'90s when he played for the L.A. Kings. However, the term of the programs that he preferred conflicted with his annual 4-6 month offseason schedule. So, there was no way O'Donnell could whet his appetite for cooking.
But after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the season in February, O'Donnell took the opportunity to enroll at the New School of Cooking in Culver City, Calif., which offered a 20-week introductory course. Game on.
At each four-hour session, students learned classic French techniques that involve using stocks to make sauces and working with different ingredients every week (such as beef, fish, poultry, starches, etc.).
The closed-book final exam reviewed 20 different cooking techniques. Students had to prepare dishes using recipes they had memorized to graduate with a Level I professional certificate. Timing was a very important component of the final.
O'Donnell prepared steamed asparagus and a filet mignon in a reduced red wine sauce as part of his test. His favorite specialty is making sauces.
"I like to try everything -- to use different ingredients, see how they all react to each other and find out what works best," he said. His grades during the course were always above the 95 percentile, according to Carol Cotner, one of O'Donnell's instructors.
And while he concedes that the kitchen isn't quite as treacherous as the corners of NHL rinks, he had a few hairy moments in the classroom.
"A couple of times I picked up a pan that had been in the oven and burned my fingers," the NHL chef said.
Donald Brashear has been one of the NHL's most fearsome enforcers throughout his decade-long career. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Flyer has racked up more than 2,000 penalty minutes in 698 games with Montreal, Vancouver and Philly. So you'd think that if anyone could make the transition from the hockey rink to the boxing ring, it'd be Brashear -- especially under the watchful eye of former world heavyweight champ Joe Frazier.
"Joe was giving me tips the whole time," Brashear says of his summer training session with Smokin' Joe.
But before linking up with Frazier, Brashear fought three amateur bouts in his native Quebec earlier this year and found the transition more difficult than he anticipated.
"It's definitely a lot harder than I thought it was," he says. "On the ice, a fight's over in 10 seconds. In boxing, there are so many things to learn -- it's so technical. Defense is the biggest part of it, and physically it's very demanding. In hockey, you're conditioned for a 45-second shift but in [amateur] boxing, a round lasts two minutes and it's all-out."
As a lifelong boxing fan, Brashear dreamed of being a ring legend while growing up in the mostly French-speaking Canadian province. Although he won't train during the NHL season and has no ambitions of entering the pro ranks when he eventually hangs up his skates, he'll step onto the canvas again next summer.
"It's just a hobby. I'm having fun and making a dream come true."
And how does the tough guy explain that blemish on his 2-1 record?
"You can't lose focus for one second. That's what happened. I lost my focus for a little bit and he gave me a combination in the second round and I got a standing eight count. That's pretty much where he won the fight -- the rest of the time, I had the advantage. I'm pretty certain if I fought the guy again, I'd beat him."
He sounds like a boxer already.
Like many veteran athletes, Anson Carter already had pondered life after retirement before the lockout and started working on various ventures. The lockout gave him the perfect opportunity to work full time with Big Up Entertainment, the record label/production company he started in 2003. It didn't hurt that he had begun to form relationships with some of hip-hop's major players when he skated in top media markets in L.A. (with the Kings) and New York (the Rangers in 2003-04).
As CEO, Carter spent his hockey-less days scouting for new hip-hop talent and visiting radio DJs from coast to coast. Recently, he signed Virginia rappers Main and Merc. He also has attended events like the Mixtape Power Summit in Puerto Rico.
"In New York and Edmonton, hip-hop was all we played in the dressing room," the NHL's Diddy fan said.
Carter's own musical influences include rap legends Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G., and he has seen signs that his traditionally urban-resistant sport is changing. With Carter's help, hockey is earning some street cred, too.
"Some DJs I've met are starting to follow hockey now," Carter said. "Even if I can get a few to put down Madden and play hockey games on PlayStation, it's a step in the right direction."
Carter also has hung out with hip-hop's founding mogul, Russell Simmons (look for their exchange in an upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine). And Big Up also is expanding into different types of media. The company is working on a film with a $20 million budget that is poised to debut at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
Kings legend and future Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille can credit the length of his 18-year, relatively injury-free NHL career to good fortune and a regular, hockey-specific training regimen. So when Lucky Luc saw an opportunity to offer similar workout guidance to young athletes and weekend warriors alike during the hockey hiatus, he jumped at the chance.
The wheels inside Robitaille's head began turning when he saw the instruction youngsters on the Omaha Lancers, a junior team he owns along with Mario Lemieux and others, were receiving day in and day out. Robitaille thought there was a way to make the same information and progress tracking available en masse via the Web.
He found his answer with Players Edge, a performance center started in Virginia by Craig Pippin (former baseball player with the Royals, Indians and Pirates organizations). Pippin approached Robitaille through a mutual acquaintance.
"Basically, what we're going to do is give the opportunity from kids to adults to get their own personalized training at a fraction of the cost. If a kid comes in and wants to be a hockey player, he gets to do a little testing. We have a skating treadmill. We have a shooting simulator with a computerized goalie," Robitaille said. "And after testing, we'll give them their own personalized program. Two to three times a week, they'll have their own program and start working out with it."
The programs are set up for football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and soccer, as well. And for the first time, these tests are available online, a groundbreaking step in the digital age to help develop a performance program for every athlete at any age and skill level.
Andy and Brian Kamenetzky contributed to this report.