The alarm clock goes off at Matt Niskanen’s summer home on Lake Vermilion around 8 a.m. – some days maybe closer to 8:30. After a grueling 94-game season that included a push into the playoffs, the highly anticipated free agent deserves to enjoy the first few weeks of his offseason and sleep in.
Just like all youth players, even NHLers need a break from hockey. But it’s not just TV marathons and afternoon naps for the 27-year-old rising star. Niskanen was a multisport athlete all through high school, so it’s easy to find outdoor activities to keep him active while he reenergizes the batteries for next season.
“A whole lot hasn’t changed (from when I was younger to now), except now I have just hockey to focus on,” said Niskanen, a product of the Virginia Amateur Hockey Association and former UMD Bulldog. “In high school, and when I was younger, I played several sports in the summer. The offseason was getting ready for high school football and I was playing on a summer baseball team so I was constantly on the move.
“Now I just have hockey-specific training and any other kind of free time is for whatever you want to do, like visit family and friends.”
So what does an NHL defenseman do in a day during the summer? Niskanen shared with us.
8:00 a.m. Rise and Shine – I have a 10-month-old golden retriever named Griffin, so I will play with him in the yard and get him, and myself, a little bit of exercise right away in the morning. I usually throw the ball around the yard or toss a stick in the lake, whatever gets him going. It’s a great way to get me awake and going in the morning.
8:45 a.m. Fuel Up – Breakfast is fairly consistent, offseason or in season. I’m a big eggs and toast kind of guy, so I’ll do that. Sometimes I’ll add a little Greek yogurt or sometimes a bowl of cereal or oatmeal.
9:30 a.m. Weights and Racquetball – I drive into town for my workout. Right now, it’s mostly strength training this early in the summer. I do a lot of weights, maybe a little bit of conditioning on a treadmill, but I mix it up as the season progresses.
Four times a week I am doing something for 60-90 minutes. One of those days, usually Wednesdays, I’ll do an activity day. I’ll grab my buddy and we go play tennis or racquetball. This early in the summer, when you’re hitting the weights hard, I get pretty sore, so in the middle of the week it’s good to do just an activity day.
When I was younger, before all of my buddies got full-time jobs, we’d go play a game of pickup baseball or anything just to move around so you’re not sitting around being sore or bored. It’s good to get yourself working up a good sweat and get some agility playing those different types of things and not just hockey.
11:00 a.m. Rink Rat – Not every day, but once in a while when the season gets closer, I will try make it to the rink for 30 minutes or so. There’s a nice setup at the high school rink where I can shoot pucks and train. There are usually a few kids that are playing, most are post-high school hockey, a couple kids playing college hockey, some junior hockey or others in high school or younger. Sometimes I coordinate where I go shoot pucks with them. They also have a summer off-ice program up here where they have kids of all ages, all the way down to 7 and 8 years old, so I get to see them a bit. We’re all using the same facility with the same goal of working on our game.
12:00 p.m. Refuel – There’s nothing too specific for lunch. After a workout, I’ll grab a lunch to get as much protein in as I can and try to get a healthy lunch at a local place here in town, maybe at a sandwich shop or going to get a chicken salad somewhere. If I’m in a rush to get back up to the lake, then I’ll just have something up there to make.
12:45 p.m. Relaxation and Family Time – I’m getting married so we’ve been busy with that. My fiancée and I are doing lots of things planning with that. Plus, we have house projects we like to get done now, too. My parents still live in Mountain Iron, which is only 30 minutes from Vermilion, so I will head down there once in a while. They also have a small cabin on the lake here where I live so I get to see them here sometimes, too. Relaxing with them is something I like to do while I can before the season starts and I’m on the road.
2:00 p.m. Fore! – I like to golf, so once my buddies get done with work we’ll try sneak out and get some rounds in. If it’s not that, then we’re back on the lake. Just spending some time relaxing is nice in the summer. You need to take that time while you can before training kicks into full gear later in the summer.
5:00 p.m. BBQ – We put in a nice patio this last fall that we like to BBQ steaks, burgers, whatever we can. Dinner’s nothing too crazy really, but in the summer you can’t beat food off the grill.
7:00 p.m. Fish On –I’m a fisherman, so I don’t get to do it all the time, but every now and then I go out and fish just an hour or two or go for a boat ride. So far this summer I’ve taken two (fishing) trips. I took one trip to the Boundary Waters on Memorial Day weekend. We did really well – caught some nice walleyes. Then I went on a trip up to Lake of the Woods and we did well there. Even here on Lake Vermilion, where I try to get most of my fishing in, we’ve been catching fish. Nothing spectacular as far as size, but we’ve been getting a bunch of walleyes and a couple northern.
That pretty much sums up my days so far this summer. As the summer progresses, I’ll do more plyometrics – jumping and short sprints – and increase the conditioning days along with strength and power training as I get closer to time back on the ice. Right now, it’s spending time at the lake, relaxing and training.