Justin Bourne has played parts of three ECHL season with Alaska, Utah, Reading and Idaho. (Photo by Allen Picard)
If the recent photos of Patrick Kane and his Blackhawk buddies enjoying a night on the town taught us anything, it’s that sometimes the boys like to go out and blow off a little steam.
For hockey players, their schedule is rarely conducive to fun. Most weekend nights, you earn your paycheck instead of spending it – even a good chunk of your Sundays. Mix in some travel and weekday games and your potential-night-out list looks pretty pathetic.
Worse still are the nights everyone else is having fun: Halloween, Super Bowl, New Year’s Eve – I went nine straight New Years without being at a party during my playing days.
The point is, sometimes you have to pick some less-than-perfect nights to have a couple cocktails. Nights where you practice the next morning at the usual time, but you think it might be an easy day: a power play practice, a ‘skill day’ (code for no contact) or even a day-before-a-game practice (code for very minimal contact).
You certainly can’t play or practice at your best if you go out too often – plenty of careers went sideways at the bar. But it’s one of the places real friendships are formed on a team. Men don’t open up all that easily, so a little social lubricant helps form bonds beyond the jersey.
I was always amazed when I started playing pro hockey at how the old dogs got through practice the morning after they rolled the dice on a few too many. There was a way they did it…it was just…how? The coach never called them out and sometimes I think those guys were still half-cut.
Don’t get me wrong – if you’re as committed to gin and tonic as you are to your conditioning, you will fail. I’m just saying, as I moved through my years of hockey, I learned a few desperate, borderline silly tricks from those guys to get through practice on the occasional painful morning. I thought I’d pass them down, just like they were passed to me.
1) Start by showing up for practice earlier, not later. Sacrificing 15 minutes of sleep seems like a horrific idea in the morning, but it does a couple things for you. It lets coach see you there early, so you’re starting on the right foot. It gives you an excuse to look like death (“Ugh, it’s so early”) and it gives you time to prepare accordingly.
2) Shower at the rink. Drink vats of coffee and water and get something in your gut. Lay on the training room table with a magazine and your coffee and just regroup.
3) Hate some people. The guys you went out with, the one that ordered a round of shots, the weird backup goalie who looks so fresh because nobody called him. Do the hating in your head, of course. But trust me, the hating just feels right.
4) Grab a handful of Halls cough drops (preferably cherry, the original ones unfortunately smell like booze without your help) from the training staff. Have one in your mouth at all times – it’s OK to be sick, it’s not OK to be a mobile vodka humidifier for the rest of the room. Actually, put some Vicks VapoRub on, too. There’s no way coach isn’t going to smell you, dude. Dude, do not stand anywhere near coach. “What’d you guys do last night?”
Although I use the term loosely, I would have been known as a ‘skill guy’ when I played. In thinking back about how I would get through practice in bad shape, I remembered to always pass the puck (eerily close to ‘pass the buck’). The last thing you want is to miss the net by nine feet, or worse, score. Either way, you draw attention to yourself.
I contacted a buddy who is up and down between the American League and the ECHL – a buddy who plays a different style of game than me – for any tips I missed. I got back two of the most fun, informative paragraphs of all-time:
“Visine is a must. Don't breathe near coach. Stand in the back when they’re drawing up drills. If you know you’re going out, take GatorLytes from the rink so you have them on hand to drink before bed. Mix those in equal parts with Gatorade G2 and coconut water, with a scoop of Endurox, a couple shakes of salt and three Advil Liqui-Gels. That should take care of the physical part.
Depending on the level of hangover, coffee can be a killer or a best friend. Coffee breath can somewhat mask booze if there is a close encounter with coach, so go for it. I, personally, would say pass less. Simple hockey is always a safe copout. I think it’s way more obvious when a skill guy is hungover (or still drunk). A Patron-induced backhand-sauce-turnover through the middle of the D-zone would even get a guy like Sidney Crosby an eyebrow raise. So if you’re a skill guy, just practice like a grinder (pucks deep; middle-lane drive; hard, low shots from the outside). Grinders, like myself, luck out in this department. I haven't thrown a backhand sauce through the D-zone since ball-hockey-in-the-cul-de-sac days.”
So there ya have it, friends. Feel free to use those on the way to work tomorrow (although, if you use my friend’s method, you may need some supplies).
Those nights out are a huge part of team building, so it’s always good for a laugh when you walk by a buddy who reeks of Vicks, halls and coffee.
Steve Yzerman once said to me, beer in hand: “moderation in everything.” But Stevie Y was a savvy veteran by that point and he had long since found out the best cure for a hangover is to just not drink that much. It takes some time, but us young punks will get there, too. In the meantime, let me drop my own sage, captainly proverb on you:
Just like winning, fun takes planning and preparation. Stick to the program and you’ll have success when you need it most.
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. He will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.