In his few hours a day off the ice, Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green is improbably modest, with an improbably modest goal: to preserve a bit of "regular life" from his grueling training schedule. Where the rest of the world struggles to find time to work out, stay fit, eat right, slip over to the gym or yoga class, Green has the opposite problem. Everything is fitness. The trick is slipping in a side of normal life.
At 11 a.m. on a miserably gray Thursday in March, the stands at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington are surprisingly crowded. It's families mostly, kids and parents, diehard Caps fans huddling together alongside the chilly rink, prepping with their team for a home game the following day. The players barely notice the throngs pressed up against the glass, clutching jerseys and Sharpies, hoping for an autograph or a moment.
Green, No. 52, stays on the ice longer than anyone after practice. His signature faux-hawk is drenched in sweat when he takes off his helmet and continues to hit shot after shot into the goal. "He plays with a lot of grit," marvels Jim Collins, a fan from Gaithersburg fan wearing a homemade GREEN MACHINE T-shirt. At only 23 years old, the Canadian is the highest-scoring defenseman in the National Hockey League -- already posting 31 goals this season, a feat not accomplished by a defenseman in 17 years. "I call him the Hulk," says Coach Bruce Boudreau. "He just gets stronger the more he plays."
After the last puck hits its mark, Green skates over to the box and clomps inside, slugging back some Gatorade. For a Calgary native, he says, "I actually started playing hockey late." Late means 9 or 10 when others start hockey at age 5, but Green had been on ice since the moment he could walk. He moved to Saskatoon at age 15 to live with a sponsor family while he finished high school and began training in earnest. After five seasons with the Saskatoon Blades, he was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2004. The following season, he played half for the Hershey Bears, the Caps' American Hockey League affiliate, and half for the Caps.
Training for the season, says Green, is "huge. It's a long season, and it will take a toll on your body." He committed himself to a program when he was 16, he explains, "to crazy workouts and eating properly and sleeping seven hours." That means two hours in the gym in the morning, hitting the weights. (He does a lot of Olympic style-lifting -- Green can "clean" 280 to 300 pounds and can "jerk" 150 pounds.) Then home to sleep for two hours, and then back out for a swim -- 45 minutes to an hour -- or out on a mountain bike, if he's home in Calgary.
"It's a job," he explains. "I eat eight or nine times a day. I eat the same things. It's egg whites in the morning with fruit and yogurt, and then I go to the gym, work out, have a protein shake, then go home, nap for a bit, eat and go back to the gym." Lunch is chicken and rice, another protein shake between workouts, and then fish and veggies for dinner. It's all home-cooked and "not very good." He laughs. "I don't have a girlfriend, so no one is going to cook for me." Plus, who could keep up with the demand? To maintain his energy, Green consumes an average of 4,000 calories a day.
Back in November, Green tore a rotator cuff muscle and cracked a rib smashing into the boards. Staying off the ice for 14 games was brutal. Injuries are a letdown for both himself and the team. But Green's endurance is legendary. "I could skate all day," he says. Boudreau later confirms, "He can play upwards of 27 to 30 minutes a game and not miss a beat." Some players average less than 10 minutes a game. Green's 30 minutes is rare; his stamina puts him among the top endurance athletes in the NHL.
Taking care of himself, though, also means finding the space not to work out. "You know we're always on the ice, in the gym or traveling, and then, on game days we skate twice," Green says. "We skate in the morning, go home, nap and then come back to play the game at night." Maintaining balance means going out to clubs or meeting teammates at restaurants. "It keeps my mind away from hockey, so [I'm fresh] when I come to the rink," he adds. For example, "I wasn't thinking about hockey the whole day yesterday or who we're playing." He spent the day sleeping, and in the evening checked out a new restaurant with friends. "That's how I stay clear."
But as Green becomes more popular, going out in Washington has gotten harder. "It's hard to meet people that ... don't have intentions," he says shyly. He misses home.
"It's weird because when I go back home it's so what I'm used to. It's like I live two lives: Back home is really relaxing and family time, and here it's go-go-go." Fame doesn't drive him. Growing up in Canada, he says, the biggest goal is to "win the Stanley Cup ... which would be, like, the greatest thing in the world." But as for recognition? "I'd rather hang out in the weeds and nobody know me than everybody know." He kicks his skates against the edge of the box and flexes his hands, which are black from the color bleeding off his wet gloves.
"He's like small-town Canada," Boudreau says, "the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to go out with."
Home in Calgary is on a lake, so when Green is not in the gym, he's out on that lake, soaking up some sun, releasing the tension of nine performance months a year. Last summer he tried yoga, both for his mind and his body, "It's amazing," he says. "It was night and day, the way I felt, even on the ice, my strength in the corners and stuff. I felt better."
A Capitals security representative comes up and tells him it's time for a random drug test; all of the players are being tested that day. "See, I'm really not that exciting! A guy will watch me pee. Then I'm going to have lunch. Like I said, I don't do much."
PHOTOS: Timothy Devine