“Coyotes’ Zbynek Michalek takes time to stretch his career”
Sarah McLellan, azcentral sports 9:26 p.m. MST November 19, 2014
“Eight years ago, when he was still in his early 20s, Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek was the last one to arrive to the rink.
“I took my street clothes off, put my gear on and went on the ice,” he said.
Now as a 31-year-old quickly approaching a Dec. 23 birthday, Michalek is usually sprawled on a yoga mat with a softball massaging his muscles when teammates filter out of the locker room. He added this routine in recent years following a rash of injuries, particularly to his hip area, but the extra attention to his body is no doubt helping him maintain the rugged style the Coyotes need from him.
“He’s a fearless competitor, takes hits, gives hits, blocks shots,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s a guy that will pay the price to win.”
Considering that has always been Michalek’s tag line, it’s somewhat surprising stretching hasn’t been a regular part of Michalek’s career ever since he broke into the league in 2004 with the Wild. He ignored advice from veterans early in his playing days to take the time to warm up before games and implement a cool-down regimen after them.
Even so, Michalek went on to garner a reputation as one of the league’s premier shot blockers. He led NHL rookies in the category in 2005-06 with 166, paced the entire NHL in 2008-09 (271) and has been the leader on the Coyotes for six of his seven seasons.
He ranks second on the team with 41.
“I never paid attention to that, and now I see it,” he said. “Now I do it. It’s probably too late when I started, so I regret it a little bit.”
Michalek devotes about 30 minutes before a game to bring on a sweat, activate his muscles and loosen his joints. He targets areas that usually bite hockey players and have plagued him in the past: legs, groins and hip flexors.
After the game, he spends another half-hour doing stationary stretching.
“I don’t do yoga, but it’s similar,” Michalek said.
Michalek’s career includes three complete 82-game campaigns, but he’s missed games in each of the past five seasons. In 2013-14, he dressed in only 59. He was sidelined much of that time because of a nagging hip injury, which he had surgery on a month before the Coyotes reacquired him in 2012. Michalek’s looked at his stretching routine as a way to help prevent any future hiccups.
“It’s time-consuming, and sometimes you don’t feel like doing it because you’re tired and it gets old,” he said. “But I know my body needs it, and I have to do my best to keep doing it every single day.”
The work has paid off this season. Michalek enters the Coyotes’ three-game road trip, which starts tonight here against the Stars, having appeared in all 19 games. He also hasn’t been bothered by his hip.
That’s important because as the Coyotes continue to steer their play in the direction of close, one-goal games, Michalek’s value skyrockets. And, really, that’s the goal behind all of this.
“It’s a contract year, so you want to play good, obviously, and earn another contract,” Michalek said. “So through the season, I just want to stay healthy and that’s the most important thing for me. I did my best in the summer to prepare myself to be in the best condition I could be.
“I’m pretty happy with how I feel on the ice right now and my game. So I think all the work I’ve put in and the time, I think it’s paying off so far. So I’m happy and satisfied.”
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