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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Jocelyn Thibault (Photo: Getty Images)
Strength and conditioning coach Doug McKenney is not worried about rain at the NHL Winter Classic, but he is concerned about the water.

His apprehension comes with good reason.

The level of hydration that each member of the Buffalo Sabres maintain have the potential to affect the game- not unlike the wet weather conditions that threaten the outdoor event Jan 1.

“When you are outside a lot of times you don’t feel like you are sweating as much or as thirsty,” McKenney said. “In many cases [players] won’t drink the same amount that they would if they were on the ice here [at HSBC Arena]. What we are going to have to get them to understand is that they will be losing the same kind of fluid.”

As injuries could occur due to unfavorable outdoor conditions, other problems could arise from not replenishing water properly. It is an aspect that players tend to overlook.

“Musculoskeletal strains, tears and pulls are a direct reflection of dehydration,” McKenney said. “It doesn’t always fall into that category, but I think it has an impact certainly.”

McKenney estimated that an athlete typically consumes 70 fluid ounces in a given game to replenish water lost from sweating, although the amount fluctuates from player to player. In the process they lose sodium, potassium chloride and electrolytes needed to perform.

The extent of how large a factor hydration will play in the NHL Winter Classic depends on how seriously each player takes the matter.

“I think over the years they have seen enough of where you are dehydrated or you haven’t repleted your stores of energy, and they see a guy get hurt or see him cramp,” McKenney said. “I think sometimes, just like with anything else in a job, you can get complacent, and that’s my role is to make sure that they don’t.”

McKenney’s responsibilities also include stretching and conditioning. While he admits the importance of pre-game exercises will increase the day of the event to prevent the cold-related injuries, he insists the routine will not change.

“We will do the same things we always do,” McKenney said. “We will do a warm-up and a stretch in the room before we go out there, they will do their warm-up skate and go through that whole process, it won’t change at all.

“As long as we are consistent with what we’ve done in the past and bring it out there, I don’t think we’ll have any problems with it.”

There are some elements, however, that McKenney acknowledges will be unpredictable.

It may not be the rain he is worried about, but the byproducts of any precipitation.

“I think if it was windy that might be more of an issue,” McKenney said. “If you are skating into the wind, you are going to have to battle and work and really explode a little bit more. And if you aren’t hydrated and your muscles aren’t prepared for that I think that would be an issue.”

For now, research will take the place of experience for the Sabres as they battle the Penguins New Year’s Day.

“Following that last game against Pittsburgh (Dec. 29) during our team stretch, I’m going to give them quite a bit of information, sit down, talk to them and explain the importance of doing the things that we think that will lead to a really effective performance,” McKenney said. “Over the years, we have talked to several different people about the things that they utilized in terms of hydration, in terms of glycogen repletion, getting the energy stores back in the muscle.

“I think we’re pretty well covered.”
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