On Wednesday, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan gave his troops the day off to rest and recuperate. McLellan and other members of the staff made appearances at Sharks Ice at San Jose to do homework for Friday’s Philadelphia game and players who needed to do so reported for treatments. Outside of that, it was a day off for the men in teal.
Finding time to give players a break is an important part of handling a modern NHL team. In an ideal setting, there could be one day a week away from the physicality of the sport. McLellan has shown in his time at the helm that rest is important, but it is not always possible.
“You just want to do what’s best for the team and to help you win,” said Assistant Coach Matt Shaw.
It’s not like NHL players work only Monday through Friday. Saturdays and Sundays are big dates around the league for people to head out and watch games and there is a physical pounding that goes with the average day at work.
McLellan makes the final decision on when the club checks out for a day, but he works with everyone from the players, to the training staff, to his fellow coaches to find format what will work for everyone. It can be a tough debate as to whether a club needs time on the ice to improve what isn’t working or if they are better served resting themselves.
“You look at the schedule and say this could be a day off,” said Shaw. “You look to see how the group thinks. You try to include the appropriate people at the appropriate time. Some times you’ll go with someone else. Now they have a vested interest in the decision.”
Physically, hockey is considered to have the most difficult regular season of the major team sports when you combine the rough and tumble nature of the game with the grueling 82-game schedule.
“You want to be physically and mentally fresh,” said Shaw.
If not a complete day off, there are many times where the staff will have the players get a bit of exercise in without having them strap on the gear.
“Sometime you want to exercise the body and you have a gym day,” said Shaw. “Other days we’ll challenge their minds and not have anything physical.”
“The mental wear down is a lot,” said Sharks Captain Rob Blake. “Some players will do a leg workout (on off days), but when you’re older, you might take a day away.
What might seem like a good time for a day off may not always be just that. The general assumption from the outside is winning would always be rewarded with time away from the ice and that a club losing would necessitate more work. That assumption does not always ring true.
“When you are winning, you don’t want to lose your edge,” said Shaw. “Sometimes fatigue is the reason you are not playing well. You try to weigh everything.”
Playing on the west coast makes the travel more difficult than Atlantic Division clubs who can bus to and from games, but it’s not just on the road where rest is a necessity.
“The travel is a factor, no question,” said Shaw. “Conversely, it allows for a greater routine.”
The players are grateful for the down time when it comes.
“Rest is important,” said Sharks Captain Rob Blake. “I think nowadays, with Ray (Tufts, Sharks Head Athletic Trainer) and the training staff, and with the coaches, they know the guys’ fatigue level.”
Sometimes the day off is not exactly a day off though.
“They try to do a day a week, but some days it’s a travel day,” said Blake.
Different times of the year allow for different times to rest. With the bulk of the early season on the road, McLellan has had to work hard to find time off for his players.
In January from the ninth through the 23rd, the Sharks will play nine games in 15 days and there is not a stretch where there are two days off between games. Whether there will be a day off in the more than two week period will depend on numerous factors. Or it may work out where there is not a complete day off.
The grind of the regular season is simply part of being in the NHL.
As of Wednesday, the Sharks had played in an NHL leading 23 games, while three clubs had played just 17. There could be a few more rest days down the road as the schedule evens out, and when they come, the players will take advantage of them.
SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK On Wednesday afternoon, employees from the Sharks front offices took time to help sort food at the Second Harvest Food Bank.
NEXT GAME The Sharks will host Philadelphia on Friday at 7:00 p.m. and the game will be available on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office or at www.ticketmaster.com.