Fitness key to John Tripp's success

John Tripp has some advice for young hockey players. Work on your off-ice strength and fitness training at an early age – it will improve your game and support your mental health during the ups and downs of  your career.

“I had a real passion for hard work,” Tripp told the Original Hockey Hall of Fame. Growing up in Kingston, he was not the fastest skater or the best player, but he had size and fitness on his side.

Although he was drafted by two NHL teams, it would be a long road before he actually stepped onto the ice at a league arena. His workout routine helped him to stay resilient.

Eventually, Tripp would play for both the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings, skate professionally in Germany and to take part in the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010, as well as six world championships.

At the age of 15, he was cut from the Kingston AAA team but the following year he made Junior B with the St. Mary’s Lincolns in southwestern Ontario. With the Junior B squad in 1993-94, he notched more than a point a game.

“I was a bigger kid and loved working out in the gym,” he recalls. Indeed, at 6 ft 3 he weighed in at a bruising 229 pounds by the time he reached adulthood. “My summer training regimen was the one thing that helped me stick with it through the ups and downs.”

His success in St. Mary’s resulted in his being drafted by the Oshawa Generals. He had an outstanding three years there, culminating in a trip to the Memorial Cup in 1997. He had a solid 48 points in the regular season, but his playoffs were even better. In 18 post-season games, he collected 26 points.

In 1995, Tripp was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, the team that had moved from Quebec City that same year. “The team was so new that they didn’t even have jerseys yet. So, after I was selected by Colorado, I wore an NHL all-star jersey for the photos,” he recalls.

In that era, if a player did not sign a contract within two years, he could re-enter the NHL draft and be selected by any team. In 1997, Tripp was drafted again by Calgary. He was assigned to the St. John Flames of the American Hockey League, but only managed to garner 12 points in 61 games. Injuries were taking their toll and he was being hit mentally. Fortunately, working out in the gym helped him to recover and keep his confidence.

It would take five years of playing in the minor pro leagues before he cracked the NHL. In 2002, he was with the New York Rangers and had a great training camp thanks to his superb conditioning. While he didn’t make the team at camp, just before Christmas he got the call to Madison Square Garden.

“I had a couple of tears,” he says of his debut. “Madison Square Garden is such a special spot for hockey. It was amazing playing with stars like Mark Messier and Eric Lindros,” he recalls. “I got a couple of assists with them on the power play.”

Tripp played nine games with the Rangers before being sent back to the minors. In 2003, he joined the Los Angeles Kings for 34 games, tallying four points.

Then in 2004 the NHL was hit by a labour dispute and the league locked out the players. Tripp decided to pack his bags for Germany. It was a natural move since his grandparents were from there and he spoke the language. For the next decade, he would skate with teams like the Hamburg Freezers and the Cologne Sharks.

As a member of the German national team, he played in six world championships and the 2010 Olympics. Just to get to Vancouver, Germany had to play a qualification round, beating out Austria, Japan and Slovenia. “I was thrilled to get the game-winning goal to send Germany to the Olympics,” he recalls.

While Germany didn’t win any games in Vancouver, he describes it as an incredible experience and the highlight of his career. He had the opportunity to spend time with Jayna Hefford, the Kingston-born star of the Canadian women’s team.

“As I reached my mid-30s, I was just grateful that I could play each year,” he says. At the age of 39, he decided to hang up his skates and return to Canada. Now, he coaches hockey and runs an employee benefits company. He has 13-year-old twins – his son is a competitive hockey player while his daughter is a swimmer.

And he’s giving back to the community. Last month, he participated in a tournament called Hockey Helps the Homeless to raise funds for that cause. At the Invista Centre, players like Doug Gilmour, Jayna Hefford and Tripp took part in the one-day tournament.

From Kingston to New York to Los Angeles to Germany and back to Kingston, it has been quite the journey.