December 24, 2010
Every hockey season, college hockey players, junior hockey players, and even some pro teams get a little break around the holidays. There's a three day gap in the NHL schedule this year, where in college it can be more like three weeks.
Coaches loathe this - I'm not sure how the holidays happen at your house, but for me, it involves shovelling ungodly portions of food into my gullet and chasing it with enough vodka to drown a Russian.
The time off is supposed to be a time of rest, but there's nothing restful about going out with your old high school friends and swimming through the chaos of a Christmas at home. You usually end up crawling back into the dressing room, dying for a break from all the "rest."
I only recall feeling one thing upon my return to the dressing room after the Holidays: dread.
The post-Christmas bag skate is looming, and it's not going to be pretty.
You're about to sweat 40 proof gravy. It happens every year upon the return of the players -- it's not enough to make you, y'know, take care of yourself over the holidays, but it's still worthy of a good amount of fear.
Coach knows what everyone has been up to (because he's been doing it too, but "do as I say, not as I do" and so on), and has somehow convinced himself that a few days of indulgence has turned his entire team into a pack of sloths. Time to revert to the ‘ol default setting in the coaches manual: skate the team.
Pucks? Those don't seem necessary.
It's amazing how quickly you lose stamina, and given that you haven't taken care of your body for a few days (or a few weeks), it can feel like you're slogging through quicksand for the entirety of the skate.
Blueline and back. Red line and back. Far blueline and back.
Much like getting to ride in the back of one of those top gun planes, the goal of the coach is essentially to make someone puke, which is always hilarious, and surprisingly common (I've never thrown up from a skate, I'm proud to say).
All you ask from your teammates is that whoever chucks makes it to the bench, or better, a garbage can. Nobody wants to skate through frozen puke. (I had a teammate who would legitimately "pull the trigger" early so coach would think we've been through enough. Now that's good hustle.)
The goal for players is to get through practice without antagonizing coach. Far too often when the pucks do make an appearance, missed passes, poor execution and other failures are enough to make sure your next practice is a bag skate too. You just have to keep it simple and endure - that shouldn't be too much to ask from yourself, but man is hard after the holiday break.
It feels great when it's all over, but as any hockey player will tell you, there's no shape like game shape. You can work as so hard in practice, so the only way to get into game shape is by playing actual games.
For that reason, be sure to set your DVR for "anything but NHL hockey" on the Dec. 26 and 27. If you catch a close game with a good finish on those days, it's just two teams playing down to the same pathetic level. Don't be too impressed.
In retrospect, it was a good deal -- you could eat and drink like a manimal, and somebody made you drop those pounds. Cause let's face it -- most of us are going to treat out bodies the same way this holiday season, only the lbs. are going to hang around.
But whatever ... let's get to it already, I'm thirsty. Happy holidays!