Corey Webster has trained a number of professional fighters in his coaching career. His knowledge of boxing, kick boxing and mixed martial arts has given him the opportunity to work with other athletes looking for a different type of offseason workout.
But he wasn’t quite expecting what happened one day in the early summer.
“I was teaching classes one day and this giant man came walking in,” Webster said. “To be honest, I wasn’t a hockey guy and I didn’t really know who he was. He said he played for the Sabres. He wanted to get some training in.”
The giant man was Buffalo Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner.
And while he’s still giant at 6-foot-5, Lehner is a leaner version of himself as he prepares for his second year with the Sabres.
Lehner spent the summer in Buffalo and was looking for a place to work out. He had done some MMA workouts in the past, but never on a consistent basis. After checking out a few facilities, he and a friend from Sweden ended up at Webster’s gym, WNY MMA, in North Buffalo.
“We just got a really good vibe going in,” Lehner said. “Very nice facility. We went and met Corey and he’s a fantastic guy. I’ve got huge respect for that guy and we made a deal and he trained me with my friend the whole summer.
“I just told him, I want to get better cardio, I want to lose weight and I want to gain speed. And you know what, he built programs around that. I had my heart rate monitor on and did my stuff with him. I burned between 1,500 and 2,000 calories with him per session. I did all the different aspects that I wanted. Just got me good results and it’s really helped me.”
Lehner worked out for 90 minutes to two hours five days a week. Six days some weeks. He’d work out seven if Webster would let him, but the coach was insistent upon recovery days.
The 13,500-square-foot gym has a grappling mat, MMA cage, boxing ring, striking area and a fitness room.
Workouts would start with a warmup, ladder drills and light pad work. Then came a heavy pad workout using the focus mitts to improve reaction time, distance and eye-hand coordination. All those aspects are key to fighting, but they’re also key to a goaltender stopping a puck, including head movements around big bodies piled in front of the net.
The last part of the workout was conditioning. For that part, Webster had Lehner working on the heavy bag, or outside flipping tires, or doing circuits with rope drills, kettle balls and medicine balls.
“With him I focused a lot on core strength,” Webster said. “The goal wasn’t to make him any bulkier. We don’t need big muscles. Like he said, goalies don’t need to be strong, they need to fast, so we focused more on his core strength, his coordination and get him a little quicker.”
Webster has worked with professional athletes before, mostly fighters, but he’s never quite worked with an athlete like Lehner.
The goalie was all business in the gym. His work ethic was tireless. And he picked up hard-to-learn defensive skills quickly.
“He definitely is fast and he’s got a natural power about him as well, but he moves quick and he moves smart," Webster said. "He’s intelligent in the way he approaches things. One thing I noticed, I guess kind of surprised me, was his ability to pick things up, specifically defensive movements which most people have a hard time with in the beginning -- making a punch miss or your distance. Right away he had no problems with that.
“I’ve worked with a lot of fighters and professional athletes over the years and even amongst that breed of people, Robin stood out as one of the guys that works the hardest. It’s never enough. At the end of workouts I have to be ‘Listen, man, we gotta stop. That’s enough.’ “
But Lehner didn’t always want to stop. He loved the workout. It left him tired, much more than if he had just been doing a traditional power-lifting circuit of squats and bench presses, and he felt less pounding on his joints.
His new workout regime was fueled by a new nutrition plan. Lehner worked with Project Lean Nation, a company founded by trainer Tim Dougherty in Rochester, which opened a location in Williamsville. Each week Lehner would get prepared meals tailored to his needs with tweaks made throughout the summer adjusting the plan for his athletic and weight-loss goals along with his personal taste preferences.
The combination created a leaner Lehner. He was quick to point out at the beginning of training camp that he’s played well at a higher weight. He was listed as 240 when he won the Calder Cup with the Binghamton Senators in 2011.
Still, after two seasons of injuries – a concussion then a high-ankle sprain – he wanted to bring more consistency to his game. He thinks this offseason may be the ticket.
“I am faster on the ice, you know,” Lehner said. “Before you kind of cut certain ways. You read a play a little more. If you’re a little slower you try to compensate a bit and now I can be a little more patient now and still be at the same spot if they pass it laterally. This is a lot better. And I’m not done. I’m getting better and I’m getting in better shape every day.”
And his improvement all came while staying in Buffalo.
“You know what, since moving to the city I really, really like the people here in the city,” Lehner said. “Everyone here is working class, very humble-type people. Working with Corey has been a hell of an experience."