Kirby Dach had a solid, yet unspectacular rookie season with the Blackhawks. Auston Matthews won the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL’s top rookie, with the Maple Leafs and has emerged as one of the league’s biggest stars in his fourth season.
No one could possibly compare the at this point, right?
Well, renowned Chicago trainer Ian Mack will.
“[Dach is] 19, and then Auston Matthews — another one of our guys — he’s 22,” Mack said. “I would say those two guys are light years ahead of most people their age, just from a maturity level and what they’re willing to focus their time and attention on. They’re head and shoulders above everyone else I’ve met their age.”
That’s high praise for Dach from Mack, who may not be well known by NHL fans but who has become one of hockey’s fastest-rising and most recognized private trainers behind the scenes.
Mack’s work with Patrick Kane — keeping Kane an elite offensive producer as he approaches age 32 — has gained the most attention, but Mack also trains Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook.
Seabrook, who had Dach stay at his house this past season, brought the rookie center to meet Mack in February, and the trainer was immediately impressed by Dach’s maturity.
Dach, too, was impressed by Mack’s expertise.
“I just saw the way that Kane moved out there on the ice,” Dach said during his end-of-year interview. “I wanted to learn what this guy is all about, and I went and saw him, and I really liked the stuff he’s doing. He’s really, really helped me out.”
Mack worked closely with Dach during the NHL shutdown, sending him pre-recorded workouts and instructing him through FaceTime.
That routine continued into training camp in July and the playoffs, during which Dach was one of the most improved and impressive players on the Hawks.
“For him, this was a mini opportunity for him to get a lot of things in line that sometimes you don’t have enough time to do when you’re younger,” Mack said. “This gave him a little bit of an opportunity to get square with himself, find good habits, find better routines, start working on his individual development.”
The biggest priorities are as follows:
First, Dach needs to add weight onto his 6-4 frame in a smart, effective way.
Second, he needs to increase his mobility in spite of the added weight.
“He was concerned that everybody wanted him to just bulk up, and he was going to be really big, and he was going to lose some speed or agility,” Mack said. “We’re teaching him how to be strong and stable while still being able to move through his full range, and then being able to explode quickly out of it. We wanted to make sure we were building up for his sport as opposed to him just gaining weight.”
This fall, Dach is still going to gain some weight — Mack said he’s still working to determine his ideal number for next season. Dach weighed in at 198 pounds this past season.
But there’s a detailed science to that weight gain.
“You just want to make sure he’s gaining weight in the right areas,” Mack said. “A lot of people’s mobility comes from having trunk stability, or having a stronger lower body or a stronger core. Then, from those stable positions, they should be able to move around pretty well.”
That lower body strength will help Dach protect the puck and claim it back from opponents and in board battles. It’s a crucial part of his emergence as an elite two-way center.
Even beyond the workouts, Mack has reformed Dach’s lifestyle to further accelerate his hockey development.
When the two first paired up in February, Dach was staying up late while playing video games. Now, he’s going to sleep earlier and longer, tracking his daily sleep schedule and metrics in a log for Mack to review.
“He’s pretty data-driven and success-driven, so if you show him a road map and ‘game-ify’ it a little bit, he’s all in,” Mack said. “If you can show him, ‘Hey, look, when you sleep more, you’ll perform better,’ he’ll sleep more. For him, it’s not sacrifice.”
While Mack and his company, Tomahawk Science, are technically not affiliated with any NHL team, the Hawks do provide some input for his work with their players.
In this situation, the Hawks asked Mack to prepare Dach — conditioning-wise — to play 20 or more minutes per game next season.
Based on Dach’s remarkable progression since being drafted 15 months ago, that request and projected role isn’t particularly surprising. But for Hawks fans already drooling over Dach’s seemingly limitless potential, it’s exciting news nonetheless.
And after Dach finishes what will basically be a second 2020 offseason under Mack’s guidance, he should be ready to excel.
“He wants to be stronger on the puck, be more aggressive and shoot more,” Mack said. “So if we can keep him strong, stable and able to move quickly from those positions, he should be able to create enough space to get that shot off.”