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It’s no secret most professional athletes are creatures of habit. They have their daily routines — and superstitions — which help prepare them for the task at hand.
Maybe it’s driving the same way to the rink every day. Or wearing a lucky T-shirt or pair of socks. Or taping their stick a certain way.
So it was somewhat surprising to hear Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice say recently the team is considering a fairly dramatic change to its typical pre-game preparations.
The morning skate, a long-standing tradition in the hockey world, may soon go the way of the dodo bird around these parts.
“Given the choice, I’d prefer if we could eventually get into a routine where they didn’t skate in the morning and felt good about their game,” Maurice said Saturday morning in Dallas, where only six regulars hit the ice to get ready for the second game of the season.
They weren’t feeling very good about their game a few hours later as the Stars smoked them 5-1. It’s worth noting everyone was present and accounted for Tuesday morning as the Jets prepared for their home-opener against the Los Angeles Kings.
But Maurice said nothing has changed, and they’ll continue to assess the need for a morning skate on a case-by-case basis. That’s just fine with his players, who welcome the chance to work in some additional rest during the rigours of an 82-game regular season.
“I think you’re regimented. I think no matter what your profession. people will get into routines and things that they’re comfortable with. I think it’s just been a part of what hockey players have done for a long time. Is it ideal? Probably not,” captain Blake Wheeler said Tuesday.
“There’s probably ways around it, and better ways to manage that time. I think that’s something we’re trying to work on, just trying to find that balance of when’s the right time to go out there, when’s the right time to maybe do some things off the ice to obviously be 100 per cent for game time. That’s what your aiming to.”
According to hockey folklore, morning skates were introduced in the 1970s as a means to allow players to shake off the, er, cobwebs, of the previous night. In essence, party all night, then flush it out of your system with a vigorous workout.
But given the peak physical condition most athletes now keep themselves in year-round, it would appear to be an outdated principle.
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella was the first NHL bench boss to wipe out morning skates on a regular basis during the 2016-17 season, when his team went on a run of 16 consecutive victories. The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have also put them on the extinction list.
Jets defenceman Tyler Myers said at least making the skates optional allows players to find the best way to prepare for each game.
“Personally, I think it varies with each guy. Some days I like going out, some days I don’t. Some days you don’t have a choice,” he said Tuesday with a laugh. “It doesn’t affect me either way. I think it depends on each guy on any given night. You know, if guys want to get out there, feel their hands a little bit, that’s fine. If some guys feel like they have to get a little bit more rest in the mornings, for me I don’t really care.”
Teams are trying to find every way to gain an advantage these days, with some bringing in so-called “sleep doctors” to help map out the best times to travel. Wheeler said with advancements in sport science, there shouldn’t be any concern about players not being ready to play even if they don’t hit the ice in the morning.
“There’s other ways to do that. Especially when you’re playing a lot of hockey in a condensed period of time. You know, all of a sudden you add in morning skates and maybe a practice on an off day on top of maybe back-to-back games or three-in-four, and all of a sudden you’re skating four or five extra times outside of the game where maybe you don’t need to,” said Wheeler.
“I think it’s just about trying to look ahead on the schedule, be smart about it. And obviously the aim is when it’s game time, you want to be feeling 100 per cent.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.