NHL

Canucks' Brandon Sutter leaning on Pilates to stay on the ice

Frustrated by what he considers a lost season last year, veteran Vancouver Canucks Brandon Sutter decided to take a different approach to training over the summer.

Injuries sidelined Vancouver centre for 56 games last season

Vancouver Canucks centre Brandon Sutter adopted Pilates in the off-season to help stay healthy over an 82-game NHL schedule. So far, the decision has paid off. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Frustrated by what he considers a lost season last year, Brandon Sutter decided to take a different approach to training over the summer.

The veteran Vancouver Canucks centre missed 30 games at the start of last season with a right-shoulder sprain suffered in October. He returned to the lineup only to be knocked out again in February with a lower-body injury. That led to a hernia surgery on his right side that sidelined him for the final 26 games.

"When you miss too much time it feels like you miss out on a lot," said Sutter, who had four goals and two assists in the 26 games he did play. "I remember last year when I found out I was having the surgery in March I was pretty upset.

"At the same time, I was already kind of motivated to come back for this year. I was looking forward to what this year would bring."

As part of his summer training regime, Sutter, 30, spent one day a week with a Pilates instructor.

"I just wanted to try something different," said the 12-year NHL veteran. "Doing the same things every summer ... I was getting tired of doing the same five days in the gym every week. I wanted to find a way to switch it up a little bit.

"After having a couple of hernia surgeries I kind of felt my lower core and my groin were things I needed to work on to stay healthy."

Sutter previously had sports hernia surgery on his left side in 2015.

Emphasis on balance

Pilates was developed by physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century.

It's a method of exercise that consists of low-impact flexibility, muscular strength and endurance movements. Pilates emphasizes proper postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance.

Mairin Wilde is the owner of Vancouver Pilates Centre. She's worked with recreational and competitive athletes including swimmers, gymnasts, figure skaters, tennis players, skiers and snowboarders, plus Cirque du Soleil performers.

"It's about the whole body," said Wilde, who has instructed Pilates for over 30 years. "It's very good for balancing the body.

Sutter leans on one leg to let a shot fly in a game against the New York Rangers. (Kathy Willens/The Associated Press)

"A lot of sports, especially once you get up to high levels of competition, there is so much repetition, very particular movements, so it will build imbalances in the body. Over time, those are the things that can really get athletes in trouble."

Traditional weight training can cause wear and tear on the joint structure.

"The way Pilates works is to reduce the compression in the joints by training your muscles in systems and doing the movements accurately, so your co-ordination is better, your focus is better, as well as strength and flexibility," said Wilde.

"It works for all activities because it's based on how the human body is designed to move. You can apply it to anything where you are moving."

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Sutter's wife had been doing Pilates for years and he quickly realized the benefits.

"It's just a whole different way to work out," he said. "It's very specific to what we need. It's not the traditional, you're not throwing a whole bunch of weight around.

"It's so good for your joints and flexibility. It's helped me a lot and so far everything feels pretty good."

Lineup pliability

In nine games this season Sutter has two goals and three assists. He logged a season-high 17 minutes, 21 seconds of ice time in Vancouver's 5-2, come-from-behind win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

Sutter resembles the Canucks version of a Swiss Army knife. He's often deployed in a defensive role and plays on the penalty kill.

A third-line centre, Sutter often works with a rotating cast. In Tuesday's game, he had Micheal Ferland and Josh Leivo on his wings. In Sunday's 3-2 win over the New York Rangers, Jake Virtanen replaced Leivo.

Sutter is effective at both centre and wing, sometimes swapping positions on the same shift.

"It's a nice option to have," said head coach Travis Green. "I know I can put him in either spot. He's a natural centre and he'd probably say that's where he wants to play. He's also a good team player and all he wants is to win."

Sutter chipped in with a fight against the Devils, to go along with five points in nine games this season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Sutter doesn't mind moving from the centre to wing.

"I don't really feel like I'm out of place," he said. "I have centreman tendencies, sometimes I'm back [in the defensive zone] differently than some other guys would be."

With the NHL season underway, Sutter can't devote the same amount of time to Pilates as he did during the off-season. Looking ahead to next summer, he hopes to have two Pilates sessions per week.

"It's nice to have a day where you stretch things out," Sutter said. "It kind of takes the load off your body a bit and more focuses on your breathing. It really helped me."

About the Author

Jim has written about sports in Canada for more than 40 years for The Canadian Press, CBC Sports, CFL.ca and Swimming Canada. He has covered eight Olympic Games and three Paralympics. He was there the night the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup and has covered 12 Grey Cups.