DARIEN -- It's safe to say Fairfield County is a bit of a hotbed for budding hockey stars.
From standout high school players to Stanley Cup Champions, many accomplished players first laced up their skates in the region. Over the last 14 years, many of those players have found their way to Ben Prentiss at Bodytuning in Darien.
"It's more scientific. Ben's a very knowledgeable guy when it comes to training," said New Canaan's Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens, who is in his fifth summer of training with Prentiss. "He knows what different players need and what strengths people use in their game, and I think it translates onto the ice for everybody."
Prentiss has worked with a laundry list of current and past NHL stars including Martin St. Louis of Tampa, Pacioretty, Greenwich's Cam Atkinson, Milford's Jonathan Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe winner with the Kings, Darien's Ryan Shannon, Matt Moulson of the Islanders, Brad Richards of the Rangers, Carolina's Nathan Gerbe, six-time All-Star and Hart Trophy winner Chris Pronger, two time All-Star Jason Arnott, Washington's Mike Green and four-time All-Star Doug Weight.
Prentiss and his training program, Prentiss Hockey Performance, operate out of his 2,000-square foot gym and have earned the reputation as the best around. At least five of Prentiss' clients -- St. Louis and Richards with the Lightning, Arnott with the New Jersey Devils, Pronger with the Anaheim Ducks and Weight with the Carolina Hurricanes -- have lifted the Stanley Cup.
"I started with NHL guys like Ryan Shannon and Martin St. Louis," Prentiss said. "We don't do any advertising per se, so especially with the pro athlete market it's based on performance only. It's not whether they like you; it's all results driven. If we don't produce, we won't get more guys."
Prentiss trains a diverse crowd, from St. Louis, the 2013 NHL point leader, to relatively un-established players who are looking to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL and stay there.
"At any time you have 20-plus guys in the summer who are all at different degrees in their career," Prentiss said. "Some are trying to resurrect their career, some have had success, some are trying to gain success, some are trying to go from AHL to NHL. There are challenges in any scenario."
Word of Prentiss' rigorous training program, which includes Olympic weight lifting, soft tissue work, acupuncture, track work, a full nutritional scale, plyometrics, isometrics and strong man training, has been passed from one player to the next.
"Growing up in the area, I knew Ryan Shannon and Marty (St. Louis) were already here, and skating with them, they kind of opened my eyes to Ben. Obviously you kind of follow guys like that and they paved the way," Pacioretty said. "It's translated a lot into my game. Improving my size and speed is important for my game and I think I've been able to get bigger and stronger here."
Atkinson, of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who worked out in Westport during his high school years and during his first year at Boston College, also got word of Prentiss from Shannon and hasn't looked back.
"I made the change and it's the best training I've ever had, and he gets me into the best shape I can possibly be in every year," said Atkinson, who is now in his second year of training with Prentiss. "I would just say my overall quickness and my strength have improved the most. I just wanted to work on explosiveness and that's what Ben's been doing since Day 1. My philosophy is that if you want to be in the best shape, you've got to train with the best, and Ben's the best around."
Pacioretty and St. Louis both stopped by for an afternoon session on Wednesday, and Prentiss indicated St. Louis is the guy who "sets the pace."
"He was the scoring leader last year, and he was the oldest in the history of the NHL. It's pretty rewarding to see," Prentiss said. "He's a super hard-working guy. The mantra they have in this gym is to keep your head down, train hard and good things will happen. They see a guy who's 38-years old working five or six days a week. They see that and they see what he's achieved. And they see that he wants more."
Getting through the summer sessions with Prentiss might be beyond challenging at times, but the results are undeniable.
"It's definitely the hardest," Atkinson said without hesitation. "With Ben it's a whole different animal. He knows exactly what he needs to do to push you. I've already seen a lot of progress."
Prentiss got his start while working in Arizona under Charles Poloquin, who trained many world class athletes, including several Olympic Gold Medalists and players from the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA.
In addition to pro players, Prentiss also works with several Blue Wave teams, including the Darien boys hockey team and the boys and girls lacrosse teams.
No matter who he's training, Prentiss' main goal is straight to the point.
"It's similar to the players. My goal is to continue to provide them with the greatest services possible," Prentiss said. "I want to give them the best service so they can achieve their best performance."