It’s really that simple. Why does hockey continue the habit of conducting a practice on the day of a GAME?
Is it necessary? Really? Or is it merely, ‘what we’ve always done’?
First let’s explore the origin of the morning skate. I believe these practices on a game day are the brainchild of the Soviet Red Army and were then adopted in North America by coaches who wanted to ensure that players who may have imbibed the night before were up and moving. With the prospect of having to get up, suit up, and skate in the morning they felt perhaps it would act as a deterrent to the late night carousing.
The European or Soviet influence is worth peeling a layer back and understanding a little deeper too. They only played 40-some odd games in their leagues, plus some exhibitions, instead of the 70-plus in the 1970s NHL and the 80-plus since the 1980s, so it wasn't as grueling
Since there was only a head coach and maybe (maybe) an assistant back then, the morning skates were simple and brief. (Nowadays, with as many as six coaches on staff, these morning skates are anything but simple and brief)
Just for your edification, here's how a typical Game Day unfolds in the NHL:
1)Home team players arrive at the arena at least 90 minutes before the scheduled Morning Skate time (usually 10:15)
2)Goalies hit the ice fifteen minutes before the skaters. Why? Because it's the most over coached position in the sport...and also the most important.
3)The coaches conduct a practice that is anywhere from 20-45 minutes in length.
4)The media converges on the dressing room for availability (This usually consists of a few people actually talking to players and the rest of the media talking to other members of the media).
5)At about 11:20 the head coach is made available to the masses.
6)The road team has the ice at 11:30 and the players have been at the rink since 9:30-10.
7)The road team goes for the same 20-45 minutes and then faces the media (Which has now dwindled in numbers considerably).
8)Road team players and coaches scramble to board buses back to the hotel at
12:30-1:00. At the hotel, they'll eat pregame meal, (an incredible spread that would gag a 17th century noble) then nap before returning to the rink at 4:30-5 for the 7 or 7:30 game.
9)Meantime, the home team players have navigated traffic to and from the morning skate, then back to the game in the late afternoon before finally returning home after the tilt and post-game meals at around midnight or later.
10)Mixed in are morning video meetings and pre-scout meetings in the evening.
11)It's a long, bloody taxing day.
In summation: It's two trips to a rink, two times donning gear and skates, three separate on-ice exertions on the body (including the 15 minute warmup just prior to the game), two or more bouts with the media, and as many as 4 showers. (Holy alligator skin!)
Maybe they feel they need to make the players work for their money?
The average salary is $2 million so this is no longer a simple vocation choice or 'love of the game', it’s a serious money opportunity, one that today’s players aren’t about to jeopardize with suspect living habits the night before games, or the day of.
Team training facilities are now better than any top end fitness facility (or spa). A player can use cardio equipment, cold and warm tubs, weights, or use active-stretching apparatus.
They can also get on the table and have the team’s Full-Time Masseuse do his thing.
There is also a Chef on staff.
The technology available allows the modern athlete access to a myriad of stats and video, both team-oriented and individually tailored.
Every team has a Video Coach.
Players Lounges are a thing now. At their most opulent they resemble high-end sports bars; full of comfortable male seating, team artwork/pictures on the walls and state of the art video screens.
Pampered? I’d just call it, serviced.
And on game days, I would think it would be more beneficial to have a ‘drop-in’ at the team training facility in the A.M. (optional ice for those who want to test skates, sticks, or just ‘go for a twirl’), then have the team come to the home rink for the actual game at the specified time that night.
If this scenario were adopted the six/seven month season would seem way less taxing on EVERYONE: Players, Coaches, Trainers, Media…everyone. Currently we turn 82 game schedules into 150.
Maybe the change in Training Camp protocol is the best example of changing with the times.
Thirty years ago training camp was two weeks long and the number of preseason games (they were called 'exhibition games' back then) was in the teens, not the 5 or 6 they play now. Thirty years ago they had to get guys into shape. Thirty years ago they had to pick the team. In 2014, every single athlete invited to camp is in prime condition and teams are all but set because of contracts, salary caps, and CBA rules. So training camp in 2014 is merely a long weekend - it evolved. Teams should consider this when scheduling morning skate after morning skate.
No doubt some in the media would bitch and grouse about the lack of availability but that argument is archaic to me.
Every team now employs a battalion of PR and Media Relations flunkies along with
team-hired videographers and blogger/writers. They collectively produce 'quotes' and that seems to be about 90% of what newspaper writers and broadcasters want. (That, and tweeting the line combinations and defense pairs, which has somehow become meth to beat reporters.)
If a reporter wants a specific player, why not hook them up electronically? That's how they do it when trades are made. Why not go next-level and have a 'media room' set up where a player or coach can sit and answer questions through Skype or whatever. (This could also provide sponsorship opportunities.) Have reporters and broadcasters submit a list before 9 AM and then facilitate the requests. If they can't do all the requests then maybe make those individuals that couldn't do it available a couple hours before the game. And use email too. Think outside the 30 year old box.
Until change arrives I'll cling to my utopian Game Day in the modern NHL: The 5:00 start.
The 5:00 start is early enough that coaches feel they cannot drag their players to the rink for a skate in the morning and still have turnaround/recovery time for the actual game. Plus, it's late enough that nobody; not players, coaches nor media are cramming for the contest. Everybody feels fresher and yet fully prepared. The coach is made available to the media two hours before the game and the media has had all day to read, review and parse the torrent of information and data that NHL hockey now spews forth. Trainers would add 10 years to their lives if all games were at 5:00.
I call my vision Intelligent Gameday Necessary Operationalization and Rapid Execution or, I.G.N.O.R.E.
You pretend I didn't just write that last line and acronym. I'll continue to fantasize about a morning skate free NHL.