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Mile High Adjustments

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
DENVER, Colorado -- The Penguins are in the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. Where the Rocky Mountains are vast and the air is thinner.

One problem for visiting teams to the city that sits 5,280 feet above sea level is adjusting to the thin-aired atmosphere.

“The key is to stay hydrated and keep your shifts short,” strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar said. “It affects everyone differently.“

While teams may differ in how they deal with the high altitude, there is no denying that there is a noticeable difference in this city.

“There’s certainly an effect of getting off the plane and going out and playing a game in this altitude versus other parts,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think it’s a little bit overblown, but there certainly is an effect on players.”

The altitude has different effects on different players. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek said that the higher altitude is easily recognizable.

“You notice the altitude and thinner air,” he said. “It’s harder to breathe. It’s something you have to be careful about.”

And for other players, the effects are minimal.

“It is what it is, you don’t put too much thought into it,” said forward Richard Park, who played a seven-game playoff series against the Avalanche in 2003. “I remember playing the playoffs here. It really wasn’t that much of a factor.”

That being said, all the players are taking extra precautions to be safe.

“You try to keep your shifts a little shorter and try not to get stuck out there for a really long shift so that you can recover better,” Park said. “I think we’re all in pretty good shape. You just make a little note to stay fresher so you can recover.”

Michalek agreed:

“During the game I’ve noticed it’s better to take short shifts at the beginning of the first period, then you get used to it. Usually after the first period, at least for me, I feel better.”

Typically the Penguins would only be in Denver for less than 48 hours. However, with the way the schedule worked out this season, the team will spend three full days in Denver.

And there seems to be a discrepancy as to whether the extra few days will be helpful or hurtful as the team adapts to its environment.

“Some people say it’s better to play the game and leave, some people say it’s better to get acclimated after a couple of days,” Michalek said. “I don’t really know what’s better. I’ve done both. I never really had any issues in the game and playing games. I don’t know what’s really better. I’m not an expert so it’s hard to say for me.”

Either way, the Penguins coaches will monitor their players and make sure they keep them on a short leash.

“We’ve practiced now two days here and will play (Saturday) with that altitude,” Bylsma said. “I think the players are well aware that their shifts are going to be shorter and you don’t’ want to deal with being out there too long. We have to manage the game a little bit differently.”
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