John Odgers knew at a young age he wanted to work in the world of professional hockey.
After all, the 26-year-old native of Spy Hill, Sask., and son of NHL veteran Jeff Odgers is what one might call a “hockey brat.”
“I lived in locker rooms from September to April growing up and on the family farm from May through August,” the Iowa Wild’s strength and conditioning coach said. “We lived in San Jose, Boston, Colorado, almost in Minnesota, but then finally in Atlanta.”
Odgers’ experiences and family travels with a father who played more than 800 games in the NHL speaks volumes about how someone of his age could become the first full-time strength and conditioning coach for Iowa.
“We got along right away when we met in development camp,” Iowa head coach Tim Army recalled. “He came highly recommended by the Minnesota staff. It was an easy decision to make.”
Odgers, known as “Odgie” around the Wild weight room in the basement of Wells Fargo Arena, already has received a lot of credit for helping several Wild players, whether it was Mason Shaw’s rehabilitation of his third knee surgery or providing a weight loss regimen for forward Dmitry Sokolov and defenseman Matt Register.
“He’s been great for me,” said Shaw, who only recently returned to playing after an eight-month recovery from a knee injury sustained in last year’s playoffs. “I’m really happy with the work he did with me to get where I am. He brings a great attitude every day. He’s very fun to be around and we’re very lucky to have him.”
Similarly, Register, who recently signed his first standard AHL contract after seven seasons in the ECHL, gave a lot of credit to Odgers to get him to lose weight and improve his overall conditioning to land the contract.
“He helped me a lot,” Register said. “It’s a process and he worked with me to stay on it. He had my back throughout all of it and he helped me get to that level and goal where I wanted to be.”
While some players came to the team in need of weight loss, others require Odgers’ services to keep weight on.
“With players like Reggie or Sokolov, we work hard at improving the ability to move more quickly and to have better stamina by losing weight,” Odgers said. “Someone like Sam Anas, however, we are trying to get him to stay where is or gain weight.”
Odgers oversees the daily workout routines of each Wild player from his desk positioned right inside the weight room. Workout sessions differ throughout the season with more of an emphasis on increasing strength in the offseason and early season to maintenance of strength and muscle recovery as the year progresses. He also works with Wild head athletic trainer Masa Takaiwa on all rehabilitation exercises for injured players.
He also monitors the players’ nutritional needs, including the ordering of food for breakfast and lunch for practices and morning skates.
Odgers’ interest in strength training and conditioning began when playing junior hockey for Yorkton Terriers in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
“I was somebody who always enjoyed being in the weight room and working out during the season,” he said. “And then, as I got into it more, I discovered that I liked reading about it and learning more about it.”
As his junior hockey career ended, Odgers understood his playing career didn’t hold much promise, but a career combining hockey and strength training and conditioning did.
“I wanted to have a career that combined the two things that I enjoyed the most, which is hockey. And then the other side of it was strength conditioning, lifting weights, health and fitness,” he said.
Odgers received a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Regina and just completed his master’s degree in November at the same school.
Ironically, the biggest problem for Odgers in deciding to study kinesiology was having to explain to his grandfather that he didn’t want to work on the family farm – a nearly 2,500-acre spread that raises cattle and grows wheat and flax.
The farm, located about a 2.5-hour drive southeast of Regina, is a century farm this year and has had five generations of the Odgers family work and own it.
Odgers said his brother, Dakota, will be the one to take over the farm once he decides to stop playing hockey. He currently plays for Carlton University located in Ottawa.
“I always joke that I’m lucky that he wanted to take over the farm because I would have to tell my grandpa that I didn’t want to farm,” Odgers laughed.
His decision to get a master’s degree came as a result of a four-month internship with one of his father’s old teams, the San Jose Sharks, under the direction of Mike Potenza, the Sharks’ strength and conditioning coordinator.
The hiring of a full-time strength and conditioning coach – a position filled as a part-time post until this season, was a “huge priority” for Army, who emphasizes how the AHL team must replicate the Minnesota Wild as much as possible.
Army said he talked with Tom Kurvers, Iowa’s general manager, about establishing a full-time position strength and conditioning position beginning in 2019-20.
“We needed to hire a full-time strength coach here; that was a huge priority. It doesn’t matter who the player is. They all need this kind of attention,” Army said. “It’s an important piece of their ability to be able to play to their full strength.”
Army added young players are the ones who likely need it the most, making it even more important to establish a full-time coach in Iowa.
“Our younger players need somebody because they don’t know this process,” he said. “They need some oversight on what they’re doing.”
Army said Odgers won the job while working with Minnesota Wild staff during last summer’s development camp. Ever since, he’s been a valuable part of the Wild staff.
“I just took to him right away. I really liked him,” Army said. “He worked well with all of the players and got a high recommendation from the Minnesota staff. It’s been a good fit.”