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Penguins Weekly: Strength Coach Davidson Works To Ensure Players Perform, Train At Optimal Level

November 6, 2016 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — Penguins strength coach Doug Davidson spent the majority of the offseason right here in Wilkes-Barre, helping out with local athletes who stopped by the Toyota SportsPlex on Coal Street.

More often than not, that meant Davidson would find himself working with fourth-line forward Patrick McGrath.

With McGrath, Davidson soon discovered that there really wasn’t a need to add muscle — at least, not in a traditional sense.

What Davidson wanted to help the Shavertown native — whom he considerers the strongest player on the current Penguins roster — improve was his explosiveness, acceleration and first step.

Davidson tailored a plan for McGrath that wasn’t as much about setting new personal records as it was about training McGrath’s body to be able to react quicker, accelerate faster, and deliver hits with more force.

There were days when Davidson would attach space-age contraptions to McGrath’s squat rack and record the force he generated with each rep.

“A lot of it is looking at the best players (in the world) on the ice and then looking at what qualities they’re good at and then sort of trying to reverse-engineer that,” Davidson said.

As a result, McGrath, 22, made the Penguins out of training camp for the first time in his career.

His physical improvement didn’t go unnoticed, nor did Davidson’s effort.

“He works tremendously hard with these guys,” Penguins coach Clark Donatelli said of Davidson, who grew up 40 minutes outside of Ottawa. “Our guys work just as hard, if not harder, off the ice than they do on it.”

Davidson, who is a rugby player by trade, got his start while at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

It was there the physical education major first got into strength training as a freshman trying to earn playing time.

Four years later, Davidson was helping run the rugby team’s strength program, as well as helping out with the university’s basketball program. He’d also managed to line up a job in Toronto with former Pittsburgh Penguin Gary Roberts, who is widely considered one of the top high-performance trainers in all of hockey.

“Gary is someone that’s done a lot for me,” Davidson said. “I’ve learned a lot from him. When I originally applied, I was planning on getting my master’s degree and kind of wanted to get some experience in the hockey field because being a Canadian, that’s where most of the money is strength and condition-wise. If you want to make a living out of it, you should probably work in hockey.”

Davidson spent the next three offseasons working with Roberts’ junior program, while also aiding many of his professional clients.

Then, one day, his phone rang.

“Gary called me up and asked me if I’d like to move to Wilkes-Barre,” Davidson laughed. “It took a little bit of an adjustment, but I’m enjoying it.”

A typical day for Davidson usually starts around 7:30 a.m., when he arrives at the Penguins’ practice facility. There, he’ll make sure that the players get breakfast, check in on the guys currently rehabbing and run a pre-practice workout.

Once practice begins, he’ll work more closely with those players rehabbing injuries, while also checking in on lunch.

The team meals are new this season and were something that Davidson pushed for this offseason.

“It helps a lot when the parent team wins the Stanley Cup and it boosts the budget, but having breakfast and lunch with the guys every day is huge,” Davidson said. “More than anything, I want guys eating real food. Nothing processed, we’re looking for good quality sources.”

Because of Davidson, the smells of sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and whole grain pasta have started to mask the body odor that normally wafts out of the Penguins locker room.

It’s a luxury few teams in the AHL have.

After practice, Davidson typically runs another workout before getting to paperwork and planning out the menu for the team’s road trips. Then it’s home and to bed before the process repeats.

“He has a quiet demeanor about him, but he’s really good at that stuff, and the guys really like him and they respond well to him,” Donatelli said. “Dougie is a good man; he’s very smart, knows his stuff and we’re lucky to have him.”