February 08 2013 09:24AM
This Saturday the Oilers will be in Detroit to take on the Red Wings. The game starts at 2:00 PM Detroit time which is noon here in Edmonton. The Wings are not the team they were a few years ago, age even catches up with legends. With players like Lidstrom, Yzerman and Hull no longer flying around the ice at Joe Louis arena, visiting teams now have a better chance to get a victory but for the Oilers there is still an issue to deal with this trip: afternoon game!
Playing a matinee game is way different then a night time game. Hockey players are machines. They are programmed to prepare and play games at night. They have been playing games at night since they were in junior. These afternoon games really throw a curve ball at the guys.
Morning skates have become a huge part of players’ game day preparations. It is nice to get out on the ice and wheel around for a while. They are usually not really hard skates but players like to be sharp with their passing and shooting. It sets the tone for their game that night.
I always found morning skates got rid of the stiffness that creeps in during the season. A little sweat on the ice and a good stretch limbers a guy up. If you need treatment there is lots of time before and after the skate to get it. Massage? No problem, coming right up. The bottom line is the morning skate takes the edge off an NHL season!
With a matinee, there is no chance of a morning skate. No coach is going to make his players get on the ice at 8 am for a 2 pm game! That would make no sense. So what does a coach do to get his guys up and ready? I have had coaches try all kinds of things. The worst was a brisk 7 am walk! He thought sleep was overrated! I was so mad about the walk I couldn't even look at our coach the whole day!
(We lost that game...we were all so tired we never had a chance!)
Morning skates are also a time for meetings. PP, PK and game plan reviews often get taken care of in the morning so that pregame time at night isn't busy with meetings. With a matinee, coaches must decide between having meetings at the hotel before leaving for the rink or having them at the rink. I preferred them at the hotel so the time at the rink wasn't so busy. Either way, it throws the players out of their normal rhythm.
Nutrition is now a very big deal for NHL players. Knowing what to eat and when is a discussion that occurs often in dressing rooms. For a night game they will eat a big meal around 1 PM, give or take. With early starts confusion with meals is common.
The Oilers bus will leave the hotel likely at 11:30 am Saturday for Joe Louis arena. Some players will just eat once, a big meal at 9 30 or so. But will that meal sustain them until after the games finishes, around 4 30? Probably not. Others will get up early have a big meal around 7 am, then go back to sleep and have a snack just before heading over to the rink. That is what I used to do but it didn't work for everyone.
Another issue is what to eat? Do you have a big breakfast? Are eggs, toast and bacon the answer? How easy is it to force down a huge spaghetti and chicken meal at 8 am? I can tell you it is hard, really hard to eat that meal so early!
The last piece of the puzzle is the sleep factor. Players have been trained to play at night and have a nap somewhere around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. So Saturday, when the Oilers take the ice, their internal clocks will be telling them it is time to nap and not to play. It is hard to get past that.
Imagine if you are a person that is accustomed to working from 9 am to 5 pm. Then one day your boss tells you that your shift is now from 12 am to 9 am. Your internal clock will be telling you it is time to sleep and rest when you are heading to work.
Afternoon games are a good test of a player’s mental strength. Can they tell their body to get going when all these issues above are confusing it? Watch the game Saturday, you will be able to tell who has pushed through and who hasn't!
Old School Hockey
Last night Jamal Mayers fought Raffi Torres in a very early fight when the Hawks played the Coyotes. It was the first time Torres played against the Hawks since he buried Hossa last year. The Hawks wanted revenge for this hit.
I love old school hockey! An eye for an eye! Good job by both players. I love that Mayers went after him right away. I respect Torres for knowing this was coming and accepting it. This is the way more problems should be handled in the NHL.
The Hawks feel like they got some retribution from the fight. The hard feelings may still be there but I doubt they will boil over. If Torres had not fought it would have.
Fight... get it over... and both teams move on. I love it!
Do I sound like Don Cherry?