In a sport full of traditions, one of the NHL’s longest practices is being re-evaluated by some teams.
The morning skate, the tradition of going to the rink on game day mornings and getting players on the ice to skate and shoot, is no longer a must with some teams.
When the Panthers opened the season Friday in Carolina, the Hurricanes worked off ice the morning of the game rather than on ice. Coach Peter Laviolette said, for the time being, he will have his team work off ice rather than skate in the morning. The Devils did the same beginning last November.
For most teams, the morning skate remains a game day tradition. Teams rarely hold mandatory morning skates on the second day of back-to-back games, and, depending on the schedule, many are optional as the season gets more demanding.
But what is best? Skate or not to skate?
“I really think it’s more of a mental thing for players,” said Panther coach Peter DeBoer. “As the season goes on you make it more and more optional, depending on the way guys are feeling. There are some guys that I know feel they have to skate on the morning of a game.”
Case in point: Tomas Vokoun. After arriving in South Florida from Carolina at 1:30 a.m., Saturday morning, Vokoun was at BankAtlantic Center that morning at 8:30.
Count Radek Dvorak as another player who likes the morning skates.
“It’s a nice way to get ready for the game,” said the Panther veteran. “Some guys like it, some don’t. But on a regular basis, I think the morning skate is good.”
GM Jacques Martin said the skate should be “coaches discretion.”
“It’s situational,” he added. “I think it’s a feeling for your team and your players. I can see at times when you haven’t played a lot of games, you’ve had a lot of practice time, you want the players to do whatever it takes to be ready. When you do play a lot of games, you may want some days off. But you may use the pre-game skate to maybe work on the power play or something. That’s something you adapt to during the season.”
Laviolette said he called the morning skates off during training camp and, with the exception of his team’s first preseason game, “liked the energy we had…I liked the jump.”
“The last few years we’ve had pre-game skates I haven’t said a word,” he added. “In the minors, I used to bark and try and make it be perfect and make it hard. I wonder what for? If you can eliminate putting your equipment on with 82 games and the playoffs…It’s a different approach. There’s some who believe that you’re wasting your energy. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, and I’m not telling you that’s the way we’re going to go (for the entire season).”
Andy O’Brien, the Panthers’ strength and conditioning coach, said there’s different purposes for the morning skate.
“It’s not just to get guys stimulated in the morning,” O’Brien said. “Traditionally, that night have been the attitude. But it’s a little bit more. In the NHL you have two or three games a week, so as a coach you don’t have a lot of time for practices. Sometimes it’s just getting the flow and moving the puck around and if there’s something specific you want to work on you can use the time.”
Some have argued, however, the morning skate can lead to wear and tear over an 82 game schedule?
“Before you can make that assumption,” O’Brien said, “you have to understand where the injuries are coming from. Are they coming from overuse? Too much skating? There’s a lot of injuries in the NHL coming from overuse and from going through the same repetitive motion over and over. I can definitely see where there’s some merit, but it’s definitely important to acknowledge the morning skate is to accomplish more than getting the guys out of bed. It’s not so much about that anymore. It’s a variety of things. In my opinion, you probably don’t need to do (the morning skate) every time, but I think there may be some time when it’s necessary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
“It really is hard to say one way or another. You can probably take certain players and say, ‘These guys are really overloaded and they probably don’t need to skate any more than they are.’ They can probably come in and do something dynamic off ice and loosen their bodies up and it would be of more value. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to every guy on the team.”
Like those who might be healthy scratches or backup goaltenders.
Or those who simply want to skate.
“It’s a real individual thing,” DeBoer said. “I think if you have an off day before (a game) it’s nice to get out and work on some things. But we had an optional (after) Carolina and we had about 10 guys skating.
“It’s a mindset. The psychological element plays such a big part in the game today. For me, it’s whatever the players needs to feel good about going into the game that night.”