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Afternoon Hockey: A Break From The Same Old

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
By Ashlan Williams

While playing a matinee contest requires players and coaches to significantly alter their game day routines, the Predators have had some serious success when hitting the ice before the sun goes down

Wake up, grab a bite to eat, and it’s off to the rink.

This unfamiliar afternoon game schedule is a disruption that usually comes few and far between in a sport embedded with familiar routines surrounding a prime-time puck drop.

But as the Predators headed into this weekend, they prepared for back-to-back afternoon games within a 24-hour span, traveling to Dallas on Saturday for a 1 p.m. contest before returning home to face the Blue Jackets at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Although a seemingly daunting slice of their schedule considering all the necessary adjustments, forward Steve Sullivan said the double dose of adjusting will help the Predators find a good rhythm for the weekend.

“The good part about [this weekend] is that it’s going to be two afternoon games, which is pretty neat,” Sullivan said. “It will give us a good turnaround. We’ll do it the first day, and it’ll almost become, not habit, but we’ll have gotten that in our system after the one game.

“So, it’s different. It’s abnormal, but that’s part of the game. Adjustments are part of the game, and you have to get used to it.”

One major adjustment players must make before an afternoon puck drop is in their diet.

“Your food intake and your time of eating changes quite a bit,” Sullivan said.

With a much earlier game time, defenseman Shea Weber said that only leaves one chance to eat before suiting up.

“You only get the one meal,” Weber said. “I think you wake up, eat and then it’s pretty much right to the rink.”

Another thing missing from the crunched schedule is morning skate. But as the season rolls on, Head Coach Barry Trotz said many players can do without it—a plus heading into this weekend since it’s already February and three-quarters of the way through the season.

“Some guys like morning skates and all that,” Trotz said. “But most guys will tell you that when you get into the February and March part of the schedule they don’t want a game-day skate; they’d rather just play the games and do the meetings.”

But arguably the most crucial adjustment is the change in sleep patterns, and that’s what Trotz emphasizes to his team.

“The biggest thing is just to make sure that your body’s moving, awake and alert,” Trotz said. “Some guys aren’t great morning people. Players get in the routine all the time of you get up early, come to the rink, do the morning skate and the meetings and then at 1:00 or 2:00 they’ll lay down for an hour and go to sleep.

“So, their body clock is going now it’s time to lie down and have a pre-game nap. Well, the game’s started. So, you’ll get up a little later, get down to the rink and get yourself ready to play. That’s the number one thing.”

While all these disruptions in the routine might throw many teams for a loop, Trotz said the Predators seem to embrace the change of pace.

“I think that all the players will tell you they love the afternoon games because you get up, get yourself prepared, get your body moving and then have your meetings on what you want to do and what your opponent does,” Trotz said. “Then, you play the game, and you actually have a normal day.”

But the Predators don’t just like afternoon games.

They win them.

Since the start of the 2006-07 campaign, they’ve posted a 15-5-1 record in games where the puck is dropped before 5:00 p.m., and many of those wins have been crucial games for the Predators.

Two of the Predators’ biggest afternoon wins came in 2010. On Feb. 14, they pulled out a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh over the defending Stanley Cup champions, giving the team a boost of momentum heading into the 14-day Olympic break. Forwards Martin Erat and Cal O’Reilly posted goals in the shootout to record the win.

Forty-eight days later, the Predators defeated the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in an overtime thriller that allowed the Preds to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Defenseman Ryan Suter scored the game-winning goal just 16 seconds into overtime.

As to why they’ve had so much success winning games before the sun goes down, the Predators’ guesses are all over the board.

While Erat projects excitement plays a role in picking up the wins, forward Jerred Smithson thinks the early game time simply doesn’t leave room for over thinking.

Sullivan, on the other hand, took a more light-hearted approach to the inquisition.

“I’m not sure why we would have a good record,” Sullivan said. “Maybe we’re just morning people.”

Even Weber, the team’s captain, seemed stumped by the question.

“I really don’t know,” Weber said. “I just know we like them.”

Trotz, however, had a quick suggestion for the Preds’ overwhelming daytime success.

“Actually, I think we’ve had success in afternoon games because we’ve been on the road,” Trotz said. “We haven’t had that many home afternoon games. I always think of it as an advantage for the road team because they get up – they’re in a hotel – go eat, and it’s all set up. They have their meetings, and they’re ready to go.

“When you’re at home, you have distractions – kids getting up at 7:00 in the morning versus 9:00 and sleeping in. So, I think it’s actually a little bit beneficial from a preparation standpoint for the road team.”

And Trotz has reasonable evidence to support his claim. Fourteen of the Predators’ 15 day-time wins have come on the road, leaving only one afternoon win in Bridgestone Arena since 2006.

While the Predators sought that road team advantage Saturday against the Stars, Trotz said they’ll draw on the home crowd on Sunday to beat the Blue Jackets.

“When you’re the home team, obviously, you’ve got home ice advantage and the crowd,” Trotz said. “Plus, it’s usually loud because you’ve got kids there.”

So far this season, the Preds have only faced one afternoon game, a 5-2 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 26.

After this weekend, they’ll have two more day games remaining before the end of the season, including a March 20 contest in Buffalo and an April 3 match up against the Red Wings at Bridgestone Arena.

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