The Coyotes didn’t practice on Sunday. That’s because when Head Coach Wayne Gretzky and his staff met at the end of last season, an area they marked for change was more time off for the players in 2008-09. Thus, they decided on fewer practice days, fewer morning skates before games, reduced off-ice training and more overall rest.
The coaches decided to follow this path to better combat a hectic travel schedule that features many back-to-back games, and to help avoid a second-half breakdown like the one that happened last season.
“We looked at last year and tried to assess and analyze everything that happened with our big meltdown,” Associate Coach Ulf Samuelsson said. “We felt a few more days off would give us more energy towards the end of the year.”
|The Coyotes are practicing less this season due to the increase in travel. (Photo by Norm Hall/Phoenix Coyotes.) |
This season, the Coyotes will travel approximately 51,000 miles to play 41 road games. Only three teams - the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars – will travel more. And thanks to a new schedule this season, the Coyotes will play eight more games against Eastern Conference teams than last season and make an additional two trips to the Eastern Time zone.
“It’s a battle of attrition,” captain Shane Doan
said. “The season is 82 games long and, at times, it is really tough to find those opportunities to give guys a break. When you get them, you have to take advantage of them.”
Last season, the Coyotes had 15 sets of back-to-back games, same as this season, but the occurrence of those sets come at different times this season. Through Dec. 31 of last season, the Coyotes only had six sets of back-to-back games. Through the same period this season, the team had 10 sets.
“It definitely helps us mentally more than anything,” defenseman Derek Morris
said. “Our physical shape is good. It’s just about getting away from the game. It gets a little monotonous at times. It’s nice to get a mental break to get your head cleared for the next day.”
The additional rest also was put in place to help the multiple rookies on the team make the transition to the lengthy NHL season. For example, rookie center Kyle Turris played 36 games total for the University of Wisconsin last season. He already has played 50 games for the Coyotes this season. Rookies Viktor Tikhonov
and Mikkel Boedker
also are on course to play more games this season than they are used to playing. Tikhonov played 43 games for Cherepovets Severstal in Russia last season, while Boedker played 62 regular-season games for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
“It’s sort of a catch-22 with them,” Samuelsson said. “You want a rookie in and have them here working every day. We also want to teach the kids, but you don’t want to overdo it or they are going to be tired at game time.”
The Coyotes went 26-21-2 in the first portion of the season in 2007-08, but they were just 12-16-5 in the second portion of the season. Gretzky doesn’t want that to happen again this season.
“It’s important and imperative for the guys who play a lot of minutes that they are rested physically and mentally,” Gretzky said. “It’s also important for the guys who don’t play as much to be mentally as fresh.”