USA Hockey Magazine is celebrating USA Hockey’s 75th anniversary with stories from the last 75 years. Check back for more features about the people and teams that have shaped the history of hockey in America.

Origins of Off-Ice Training

Following the 1971 IIHF Men’s World Championships, the “Father of Russian Hockey” Anatoly Tarasov, whose USSR hockey teams had dominated the world for nearly two decades, invited Murray Williamson, head coach of the 1972 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, to the Soviet Union. For Williamson, it was a whirlwind excursion to witness how the Soviet Union coach trained his elite team during a period of world history when the “Cold War” raged between the two superpowers.

Many up-and-coming players in the late 1970s and early ‘80s were unfamiliar with what “off-ice” training truly was, and many did not understand that U.S. Olympic and National Teams were beginning to add this into their standard training regimens. We learned of off-ice training because our coach, Pete Sears, who was a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic silver medal-winning team, told us it would help improve our game for the winter. That’s all we needed to know.

Ideas such as “Fartlek Training,” which is a middle- and long-distance runner’s training approach developed in the 1930s in Sweden, or circuit training were still somewhat uncommon. Over time, though, hockey players began to run long distances, partake in sprints and hill climbs, lifted weights, did wall sits, duck-walked, crab-walked, wheelbarrow raced and stretched. We either played European handball—a mix of soccer, rugby, basketball and football—or street hockey at the end of our 90-minute workout thanks to Sears. 

Many coaches in the United States felt comfortable embracing “off-ice” training thanks to Williamson, who also was the 1968 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team coach. Williamson was a mastermind and innovator of what is common practice today from youth hockey to the pros. It is no stretch to say that Williamson is responsible for introducing and revolutionizing USA Hockey and its affiliates to this type of off-season training.

“Tarasov set the standard,” Williamson explained. “The Russian dryland training program was very primitive. I watched in awe as he would get his guys like (Vladislav) Tretiak, (Valeri) Kharlamov and (Boris) Mikhailov tossing medicine balls back and forth, doing wheelbarrow races and drills on piggyback all with enthusiasm. Tarasov insisted it be done at a rapid pace and rhythm. Tempo was an important part of all his dryland training. He built timing into his on-ice and off-ice program.

“I picked it up from Tarasov, brought it back and adapted it to our program, which also was primitive. We didn’t have a lot of access to weight rooms. We did a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, jogging, running, stretching, basketball and tennis.  It really paid off. Herbie (Brooks) took it and trained his 1980 team hard on and  off the ice. Lou Vairo also was intrigued by the Russian’s training, picked it up and expanded on it very quickly.”

Today, many players train off the ice with personal trainers. They do all their dryland training so when they begin their seasons, they are ready and conditioned to peak capacity. 

As the summer days continue to fade away this month, young American hockey players of all levels begin to think about lacing up their skates for a winter full of on-ice competition and fun. Until then, they are most likely still in the midst of what has now become standard practice for hockey players—off-ice training.

Tom & Jerry Caraccioli are the authors of  STRIKING SILVER: The Untold Story of America’s Forgotten Hockey Team.




Who is your favorite 2023/2024 NHL Rookie?
Connor Bedard
Matthew Knies
Brock Faber
Logan Stankoven
Logan Cooley
Total votes: 3