After losing 6-5 to the New York Rangers Dec. 2, the Islanders lost again to their rivals Dec. 3, 2-0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Most hockey players are aware of the phenomenon that is the inability to sleep after a game. The only thing different in rec leagues is that there’s usually one or 30 more cans of beer left in the dressing room.
For professionals, back-to-back games are common and getting a decent night’s sleep can be essential to playing well the second night. Since you play in less than 24 hours, things like sleeping pills and alcohol aren’t exactly the greatest idea. You’re forced to just deal with it as best you can, which usually means staring at the ceiling and re-hashing the wide open net you missed in the first period.
A light spin on the bike, a big meal and maybe a single beer are usually a decent start towards being ready to sleep – still, it’s going to take until well after one in the morning for those things to kick in. Because of that reality, you have to be sure to take extra care of the other factors that affect whether you feel fresh or not.
If you’re not diligent in following your routine, you risk looking like the New York Islanders did Friday night in the second game of their home-and-home with the Rangers – flat.
The light spin on the bike, while great for unwinding after the game, also provides a nice flush of lactic acid so your legs don’t feel like cement the next day. If you’re really hardcore, you can sit in the 50-degree Farenheit cold tub for eight-to-12 minutes, which, while painful, is incredibly effective (it’s not so good for helping you fall asleep, however).
Most high-level pro teams will have a hot tub as well, so players have the option to do the contrast between hot and cold tubs. That’s another solid way to help your legs feel light on Day 2.
From wake-up call to puck drop, it’s all about resetting your body. You have to start with a solid breakfast, get to the rink early and take it from the top.
If you need to spend time with the trainers (by mid-season, most guys do), you want to arrive even earlier – it’s one of the best parts of being a hockey player.
You can pour yourself a nice cup of coffee, get hooked up to the stimulation machine – or whatever it is that needs tending to – and read the paper. You can stretch, you can chat – I’d say the morning after a win when you play a game that night is the most fun and social part of being a hockey player.
That morning skate is usually an absolute breeze, but you can’t go through the motions if you hope to feel good that night. You need to push yourself at least hard enough to get a good sweat going and to shake those legs out.
I’d say this is one of the biggest differences between athletes and non-athletes – as a hockey player, I learned you don’t necessarily need more rest to feel energetic. Sure, you don’t want to be lacking sleep, but in order to feel fresher, sometimes you have to go harder.
The pre-game meal that day isn’t as important – you basically play on what you ate the night before (which makes your post-game meal choice key), so it’s a decent day to mix up the pasta/chicken monotony. I preferred to jam a few slices of pizza down my gullet.
After a decent, not-too-long nap, you should be ready to go. It’s the hardest day to make yourself get out of bed from a nap, given the previous night’s sleep wasn’t all that great, but you have to make yourself do it.
By the time you have a cool wake-up shower and put that suit on, you’re usually feeling brand new – sometimes even better than the night before.
If you’re committed and taking preparation seriously, there’s no reason you shouldn’t feel as good as you did on Night 1.
Devoting your entire day to feeling as fresh as possible at a certain time is a crazy thing, but it’s healthy and a great part of the job. Really, anytime your routine involves meals, naps and hockey, it’s kind of tough to complain.
Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. Justin will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.