Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Leaner Stewart ready to embrace new season

Blues' power forward used summer diet program,
training regimen to get in shape; coach impressed

Chris Stewart - Anaheim Ducks v St Louis Blues
(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart arrived in St. Louis Tuesday leaner,
in better shape than when he left in May.
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Chris Stewart understood a change was necessary.

The Blues' power forward, on the heels of a sweep with the rest of his teammates against the Los Angeles Kings, had just completed the most challenging season of his brief four-year career.

After back-to-back 28-goal seasons, there were some that projected that Stewart, 25, could become the NHL's next 40-goal scorer. And why not? He displayed the ability to bulldoze his way to the net and power goals into the net. He also displayed soft hands with a deft touch in delicate areas. He was fast, strong and only getting better.

But higher expectations were never lived up to a season ago despite the Blues' rise to the top of a regular season run that had them fall two points short of the Presidents' Trophy. Stewart's numbers fell to 15 goals and 30 points in 79 games, a season that saw him being relegated to third- or fourth-line status, decreased minutes and even a game in which he was a healthy scratch.

The exact words were never used on the record but terms like "out of shape" and "overweight" were tossed around to describe Stewart's conditioning last season.

But Stewart took those challenges in stride and went back home to Toronto with a plan in mind.

Enter Matt Nichol, the
founder and head strength and conditioning coach of Paragenix Systems who was also the former strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was up to Nichol to mold Stewart back into form with a summer-long program that included weight training and a dietary regimen.

"Not really unique. ... We just worked hard and we attacked it from a diet standpoint," Stewart said. "I just really got ahead of the game and I'm on top of that.

"We did a little bit of MMA every Friday and sparring and stuff like that. Nothing too crazy."

Stewart was one of 10 Blues players who departed North America during the lockout and played for Eispiraten Crimmitschau in Germany along with best friend and Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds. Stewart was eager to see his hard work put to the test somewhere since the NHL was involved in a prolonged lockout.

"There's only one way to get in game shape, and that's to go and play games," Stewart said. "That obviously wasn't the opportunity here and so I went over there with my best friend and we played together for two-and-a-half months and we had fun. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

And what did Stewart notice most about his time spent in Germany? A telling sign.

"I especially noticed over there ... last year come third period, I was a little tired," Stewart said. "This year when I was over there, the third period ... that's when I started to get going. I was playing 25-30 minutes a night over there. Not that I'm going to play that over here, but I did get in good shape playing over there."

Stewart was back in St. Louis Tuesday, getting back on the ice with roughly half of his teammates taking part of informal workouts as teams prepare for the upcoming season.

It was obvious that Stewart looked leaner and in prime shape. And the person that matters most noticed himself.

"He's done three things: he's lost weight, he's in great shape and he's focused," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Stewart, who will be a top-six forward. "He's done a heck of a job. The things to get to the next level off-ice as a player, he's done all that.

"He looks great. He looks like a different player on the ice. When you see him skate, it's way more fluid. He looks really good."

Stewart appreciated the vote of confidence, since it was Hitchcock that challenged him through a trying season a year ago.

"He's the captain of this ship here, right," Stewart said of Hitchcock. "It's good to know that he's going to back me 100 percent.

"The biggest thing is just putting last year behind me, learn from your mistakes and come in with a fresh start and just run with it."

Maybe a fresh slate and flying under the radar is what Stewart needs to jump out of the gates flying. He received a one-year, $3 million deal this past summer, in similar fashion that T.J. Oshie got in the summer of 2011. It was basically a prove-yourself type of contract. If Stewart does prove himself in this abbreviated season, it could be the scoring infusion this team will rely heavily on and in the end, security for Stewart next summer in the form of a multi-year contract.

The Blues would love to see the guy that used to terrorize them (15 points in nine career games) on a regular basis when he was with Colorado.

"This is the leanest I've ever been in my life," Stewart said. "I'm excited to put the training into results and help this team win the Stanley Cup."

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