One of the first players to commit to Idaho this summer is already beginning his trek back to Boise for his second pro season.
Connor Chatham was the second player announced by the Steelheads this summer, agreeing to terms on a contract back in mid-July. After a couple of months at home in Belleville, Illinois, the 21 year-old is beyond ready to return to his full-time hockey life.
“I think it says it all that I left my house weeks early to come up to Boise and start preparing more,” laughed Chatham, calling in from a pit-stop on his drive west. “It tells you all you need to know about how I was feeling sitting at home.”
“I was pretty fed up with it, I’m ready to go. I told mom and dad, ‘I love you guys, but it’s been enough. I have things to do!”
Chatham describes his summer as the normal life of a 21year-old, enjoying his time off and a Florida vacation with his family. Of course, while many his age may be getting ready for their senior year at college, Chatham is getting ready for a hockey season.
Chatham had six goals and 16 points in his rookie campaign, appearing in 49 games and seeing his role increase as the season went on. His contributions as a checking winger eventually earned him some looks on more up-tempo scoring lines, and he’s someone Head Coach Neil Graham has already mentioned as a player who could take a big step forward this season.
“I expect myself to be a presence on both ends of the ice for 72 games. I’m training in a way to make sure my endurance is going to be there, where three games a week I’ll be ready to go and there won’t be any lulls,” said Chatham. “When I’m playing my best game, I’m a presence at both ends of the ice and in the corners. As long as I can do that every game, the rest will take care of itself.”
Chatham has been skating a couple times each week during his time at home, working on individual skill development while often taking the ice by himself. Working on the fundamentals on an empty 200-foot sheet isn’t always the most fun in the middle of the summer, but it is important.
“It’s a little tedious, but it’s good because you don’t necessarily get a ton of time to work on that stuff during the season. You work more on the team game and all the things that go into game play,” said Chatham. “Doing the individual skill stuff, you know it’s beneficial and you know you have to do it, even when it isn’t the most exciting.”
“I’d say the one main thing I was getting tired of is that it’s hard to find goalies every day that want to get in the nets when you’re doing all these shooting drills. I found myself shooting on empty nets all the time, and that certainly gets old.”
Even during those occasions when he skated alone, Chatham knew the kinds of drills he needed to be doing to ready himself for October. It’s not just a matter of what he needed to work on, but where he needed to work on it.
“Something I’ve always heard about myself is that my strength is a 180-foot game. It’s basically focusing on the hash marks at one end to the hash marks down the other,” said Chatham. “But when it comes to getting in the corners and being in tight areas, that’s where I can improve by being quicker and more agile. I found myself working on a lot of ten-foot drills and tight turns in small areas, both for the offensive zone and defensive zone.”
Off the ice and in the gym, Chatham has also been preparing with a long grind in mind. He has considered how the expectations of a professional training camp are different from the tryout camps he experienced in his youth, including some of the summer assessment camps he attended as a young player when he was aiming for the US National Development Program and was an NHL Draft prospect.
“When you’re in juniors a lot of emphasis in training is put on the camp. If you’re going to a camp, you train for the specific testing that camp might have or you make sure you show up for the week that you’re there,” said Chatham, now readying for his second professional training camp. “So you would ramp up your training to peak at that time. I found that at these camps I’d be gone for a couple of weeks and at the end I’d feel tired. It was like I expended all my energy at camp and now I had a full season to play.”
“So this summer I was more concerned with tapering my workouts and making sure I’m not exhausting myself in the summer when nothing counts. I’m making sure I’m ready for Game 1 to Game 72. I’m keeping my energy up and keeping rested, and making sure I’m not getting hurt.”
Self-improvement wasn’t limited to the rink and the gym for Chatham, who spent some time in the classroom as well. Like many players, Chatham takes college courses during the season online when he can, but in the summer he knocked off a few more classes. That included a biology course that he passed, although he doesn’t consider himself an expert.
“Well I was in a biology class. Whether or not I learned anything is up for debate, but in theory I did learn something.”
At the very least, Chatham knows his own biology just fine.
“I’m in my natural environment when I’m playing hockey. During the summer I feel a little lost. I’m happy to get back to feeling like I have a purpose playing hockey again”