Sign in with your NHL account:
  • Submit
  • Or
  • Sign in with Google

Simple steps will keep Hawks, Wings warm at Wrigley

Wednesday, 12.31.2008 / 10:00 AM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

CHICAGO -- Les Stroud's specialty might be survival skills, but don't sell his hockey knowledge short.

Because of that dichotomy, Stroud, the star of the Discovery Channel series "Survivorman," is in a unique position to understand many of the hardships that could be endured by members of the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Black Hawks as they play in Thursday's Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic '09 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio) at Wrigley Field.

Stroud calls Huntsville, Ont., a small town almost three hours due north of Toronto, home. Huntsville is also the home of the Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships. Naturally, then, pond hockey has been a part of Stroud's life for as far back as he can recall.

"I have tons of memories of playing outdoor hockey," Stroud says.

This year, the ponds have been slow to freeze. Too much snow, not global warming, has been the culprit, though. Stroud says the ponds around his house are starting to develop a thick enough ice base to allow for skating. And when that happens, Stroud will once again be out with his snowplow, clearing off an area to serve as an ice rink for him and his son, Logan.

"My son is 11 now and he is playing serious hockey," Stroud says proudly. Stroud's serious hockey days are behind him, but he still hits the pond whenever he can. After all, he needs to stay in game shape for the occasional charity game that comes his way.

So, there is no question that Stroud can discuss playing outdoors from both an emotional viewpoint and a clinical viewpoint. That dichotomy will be the same encountered by the players when they skate onto the Wrigley Field ice Thursday afternoon. Those players will be caught up in the childhood excitement of playing outdoors, but they will also be looking to maximize performance under adverse conditions as they play a regular-season game worth two important points in the standings.

One of the most pressing issues for the players Thursday will be keeping their feet warm. Thursday's forecast call for a temperature right around 32 degrees Fahrenheit with a slight southerly breeze and a small chance of snow.

Every outdoor player -- be it a pro or an ankle bender, knows that cold feet can derail a player's performance faster than anything else.

"Only those of us that spend the whole day on the toboggan hill or outside skating on the pond know that feeling (of frozen toes) and the pain that can go along with it," he says. "It's unique."

We're talking numbness followed by a painful pins and needles situation as the toes are warmed after the removal of the skates. The numbness is the body's way of fighting the cold and trying to stave off hypothermia.

"Out on the ice, you're in a stage of hypothermia where you are in a cold situation and you have all these cold things around you," Stroud says. "In that situation, the body draws the blood away from the extremities and concentrates it around the body's core to protect the major organs. In effect, the body is saying, 'you don't need those fingers, you need that kidney; you don't need those toes, you need that liver."

Bringing the body back up to the proper temperature is often accompanied by the painful pins-and-needles sensation in the toes that is synonymous with the outdoor game.

"Getting warm: no matter how you look at it, it's going to hurt," Stroud says. "Basically, you're forcing blood into the nerves. It's funny that such pain can be such a pleasant memory, but it is."

But, the NHL players taking part in the Winter Classic aren't interested in those types of pleasant memories as much as they are in winning and performing at the top of their games.

Stroud suggests that, when it comes to cold feet, the players go against the grain in their thinking. Most players in the NHL wear their skates as tight as possible -- often going down a size or two -- in the belief that the snugness of the skate boot provides better control on the ice.

That may be true, but Stroud says it is not as important when dealing with extreme cold.

"It's probably best to have a little more room in your skate," he says. "Maybe go with a lighter sock so you can have more room so you can scrunch your toes and keep them moving to keep the blood flowing."

While cold feet might be the biggest problem the players face, there will be others.

Stroud knows it will be hard for some players to stay warm if they are forced to spend long periods of time on the bench between shifts.

"For most of the players, the adrenaline will keep them warm," Stroud says. "But for some players that won't be seeing a lot of ice time, it could be harder to stay warm.

"There's a trick I use when I am in the wild and I need to stay warm while under a snow enclosure or whatever. It's kind of 'yoga-ish' and a mantra, but it works. Basically, it is the tensing and relaxing of all your muscles in succession. I start by tensing my toes and then relaxing them, then my calf, then my thigh, then my back, shoulders, arms and so on. Do that five times and you'll be warm."
-- Les Stroud

"There's a trick I use when I am in the wild and I need to stay warm while under a snow enclosure or whatever. It's kind of 'yoga-ish' and a mantra, but it works. Basically, it is the tensing and relaxing of all your muscles in succession. I start by tensing my toes and then relaxing them, then my calf, then my thigh, then my back, shoulders, arms and so on. Do that five times and you'll be warm."

Stroud also says the players must pay attention to hydration needs. When it is cold, there is less of a drive to replenish fluids, but the process is as important as ever.

"You have to stay hydrated," he says. "The cold fools you. You can dehydrate quite quickly in the cold because your body is working so hard to keep you warm. You have to drink a lot of water."

Stroud even suggests the players rely more heavily on sugar-based drinks because they will provide both heat and energy.

"Sugar is going to warm you up," he says. "In a hypothermic situation in the real world, one of the first things you try to do is give the person something sugary to drink if they can drink. The sugar will help warm the person up as the body burns it."

Finally, he says the players should rely on whatever tricks they used when they played outside as kids to push on until the sun set and the puck was no longer visible, forcing even the hardiest of competitors off the ice until the next day.

"There's a lot to be said for psychological comfort when you are cold," Stroud said.