No cellphones on the practice ice. Healthy meals on road trips.
Along with an obviously talented core of players and coaches, those sorts of initiatives are being lauded by Ottawa 67's head coach André Tourigny as reasons the Ontario Hockey League club has been so successful this year.
The team finished the regular season with a league-best 50 wins, tying a club record, and set a team record with 106 points.
Tourigny said it's the product of commitment and hard work from his players, but also making a space where good players can succeed — including an education consultant, a skills coach, monthly leadership workshops and a fitness trainer.
"The last two years [since I was hired] we worked on the environment and culture and made sure the players had everything they needed to perform," he said.
"We give them all the tools and then we hold them accountable."
'We want to make stronger athletes'
Team owners Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, who also own the Ottawa Redblacks and Ottawa Fury FC, spent a "significant" amount of money on these efforts, said general manager James Boyd, without getting into specific costs.
As part of the strategy, the team has balanced meals delivered after practices, with head strength and conditioning coach Sean Young's fiancée finding restaurants with healthy menus when the team is on the road.
The food is "standardized for every player," Young said.
"We want to make stronger athletes, we want to make mobile athletes, and [we want to] keep the weight on them — during the season they can lose quite a bit of weight," he said.
"You have a big guy like Kevin Bahl, he's 6-6, he might need two or three chicken breasts, he might want more protein versus carbohydrates because he's trying to cut weight. I might have a kid like [6-0, 175-pound] Mitch Hoelscher eat lots more carbohydrates."
Building a 'family'
The club's player development and performance director, Derek Miller, has also helped create a personalized skill-boosting plan for each player, which they work on at least twice a week after practice to improve their stickhandling, shooting and skating.
"The mandate [when I was hired] was to change the culture and to give the players what they need to succeed, to develop and become the athletes they want to be," said Miller.
Tourigny said the players have really lived up to those expectations, noting they do 90-minute workouts followed by 90-minute practices.
The team, mostly made of teenagers, also has a policy where they turn their cellphones in at the coach's office when they get to the arena.
"The principle is simple. The 67's are a family," Tourigny said.
"When you come across the door, what's important is your family … If you're not able to focus on your teammates [for three hours], there's a problem."
Playoffs start Friday
Tourigny also credited the rest of his coaching staff for encouraging the team.
"My coaching staff are fantastic people, they have energy every day," he said. "They are happy to show up at the rink every day and I think that is contagious."
"They kind of eliminate all the excuses. It's similar to Hockey Canada. You can just go play." said 67's goalie Mike DiPietro, who has spent time with the Vancouver Canucks and world junior team this season.
Forward Sasha Chmelevski said he has seen no other team perform at this level in his four seasons in the league.
The OHL playoffs kick off later this week, with the Ottawa 67's facing a rematch against their first-round opponent from last year, the Hamilton Bulldogs.
This time around, the tables have turned, with Ottawa as the top seed and Hamilton earning the final playoff spot.
Game 1 is Friday night and Game 2 Sunday afternoon in Ottawa before a pair of midweek games in Hamilton.