HERSHEY, Pa. — For at least 60 minutes, at least 76 times a season, the Hershey Bears test their limits. There's gritty play, a constant grind, plenty of adversity, and the occasional physical disagreement.
"The more important thing that people don't know or really realize, is about the mental battle of how long this season truly is," said Bears forward Mike Sgarbossa.
That's where Hershey Bears Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Wagner comes into play.
"He monitors these guys both pre and post-game to see where they're at," said Hershey coach Scott Allen. "We monitor their sleep, their nutrition, and every aspect, pretty much, that we can try to help them with."
Wagner is not only a key cog in Hershey's support system, he's also a Hershey native.
The Hershey High grad played college football at Bloomsburg, and has had strength and conditioning stints with the University of Maryland, Millersville University, and Villanova University, before making his way back to Chocolatetown in 2016.
"Obviously, I grew up in the area, so I have always known of the Bears. I went to the Bears games with my parents. To be part of such a historic, storied franchise like Hershey, it was great to be back home, and obviously see a different side of the game," said Wagner.
For those that think the strength and conditioning coach responsibilities are limited to the weight room, you could not be more wrong.
"The most important thing that I need to worry about is how good are they on the ice daily," said Wagner. "What can I do from a health and wellness standpoint that's going to help them?"
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to each athlete, and between dealing with a pandemic, and now with so many players going back and forth between D.C., Hershey, and South Carolina, he's also making sure there's constant communication.
"You know, they may have a workout with us, s we need to know what they've done the prior day or two before that, to make sure that it all fits in the best interest of the athlete. It's the same thing if a guy goes up," said Wagner.
Refuel, regenerate, and recover are key for each member of the Bears. What they're putting into their bodies is something that Wagner is always researching.
"You can find anything with the click of a button now and it's making sure that if the players suggest something, I have to do my homework on it to make sure that's ultimately the best thing for them from a health and wellness standpoint," added Wagner. "Nutrition plays an absolute huge component in this whole thing."
Coming off a road-heavy February, Wagner knows that every season requires balance, especially if the team aims to be playing well past their 76-game regular-season schedule.
"What we doing after games and back-to-backs," asks Wagner. "We're making sure all of our players have really good habits and recovery strategies. We're going to do all the nutritional things. How much are they loading themselves on the ice to make sure they're not putting too many miles on the car in practice, because they're going to get those miles on the car in the games."