As mandated by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the NHL and the league’s Player’s Association, no team business can be conducted over a two-day break comprising Dec. 24th and 25th. That means the players are completely off - there is no practice, no off-ice training, no studying video, leaving them free to enjoy the Christmas holiday like everyone else.
It’s a special time that enables players to focus on enjoying time with their families, which doesn’t happen all that often over of the course of what is at minimum an eight-month season.
“We play on the 23rd and we play again on the 26th, so it’ll be pretty quiet,” noted Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas
, who has missed the past two games with a foot injury but is listed as day-to-day. “It’ll be good just having time to spend with the two kids and the wife. We might have a few (teammates) that are alone over at the house, but it will be very relaxed. We’ve done that the last couple of years, and to me, it’s time to re-energize, get back and refuel, and at the same time, it’s a good time to spend with the family, and that’s what Christmas is all about - it’s family time, so it’ll be good.”
“Just sit around, watch a little basketball maybe, have some turkey, open gifts,” revealed captain Brenden Morrow
regarding his Christmas plans. “I got the in-laws in town and have a little family time and get a little break from the pressures of the hockey season.”
Morrow is one of several Stars who will be hosting extended family coming in from out of town, which for some guys, means relatives are traveling considerable distances.
“I have some family coming in for Christmas, so it’s really good,” noted Swedish defenseman Nicklas Grossman. “You see them only about one time per season, one time in 10 months, so it’s always fun to catch up, whether it’s Christmas or not. It’s fun for Christmas and fun for them to get away from the cold weather back home a little bit. We try to have a little Swedish Christmas on the 24th, just keep the tradition going, like you’ve been doing since you were a little kid. It’s real fun to have them here, a little two-day break, but it’s always fun to have good times with your family.”
“We have some family coming in, from New York and from Minneapolis, so we’ll be entertaining a little bit,” said American forward Toby Petersen
, who has two young sons. “It’s a short break for us, so it will be pretty low-key, I think. The kids are full-bore, they’re excited for Santa to hopefully pay a visit, so it will be fun.”
Not everyone will be able to celebrate the holiday with family, although they will still enjoy Christmas and the two-day escape from the pressures of an intense playoff race that it brings.
“Nothing, I’m going to stay here,” said winger Adam Burish
, who is single, of his Christmas plans. “My family’s coming for New Year’s, so for Christmas I’m just going to hang out. I think there’s another guy or two who’s just going to hang out, so we’ll probably go out for dinner, have a beer and chill out. And then my family will be here for New Year’s, so I’ll put my entertaining face on then.”
“It’ll be a little different,” admitted blueliner Alex Goligoski
, who is spending his first Christmas in Dallas after his acquisition from Pittsburgh last season. “My fiancée doesn’t get in until the 27th, so I’ll be solo, I’ll be tagging along with the other guys. And no snow this year, it’ll be a little weird, but it’ll be good to get a couple of days to ourselves.”
Maintaining a low profile for Christmas without being surrounded by loved ones can get a little lonely, but that’s just one by-product of the NHL lifestyle.
“I’ve done it before, it’s kind of the life that we have,” Goligoski said of being separated from family on Christmas. “I’ve been in a hotel room on Christmas before, it’s not that bad. We usually have Christmas in July, that’s what my family has, a big party in July.”
“For me in Chicago, it was just a two-hour drive, so I got to get home usually, whether it was a day off or not,” noted Burish, a Madison, Wisc. native now in his second season with the Stars after three-plus years with the Blackhawks. “But in different times, other places playing, I didn’t get a Christmas. Last year, I didn’t go home for Christmas. If I had kids or a wife, maybe it would be a bigger deal, but I’m single so I’ve got nothing to worry about. I’m just fine with it.”
Even the players who will have a typical Christmas celebration acknowledge that the holiday doesn’t quite hold the same allure as it did when they were younger and could enjoy it more. Now, there are several restrictions they have to observe, although it doesn’t really limit their enjoyment of the festivities.
“It’s not a whole week or two season like it used to be when you were 14, 15, 16, and hockey wasn’t the biggest priority in your life,” Morrow said. “There was snow and Christmas trees and turkey and desserts and all that good stuff that comes with the holidays. You may not be able to indulge in all of it, but we do get a day or two, so that’s still pretty nice.”
“It’s totally different. When I was a kid, my mom’s side, they have 11 and my dad’s side is nine, so there was a big, big party and we wouldn’t sleep,” recalled Robidas, who grew up in Sherbrooke, Quebec. “I remember on the 24th, we’d go to the Christmas Eve mass at midnight, then we’d go to my dad’s side until like two or three in the morning and then at three in the morning, we’d go to my mom’s side. And all the kids, the cousins in the same house and everybody would be sleeping everywhere, the uncle dancing - it would just be like a big, big party. So now it’s more quiet. I can’t go to bed at seven or eight in the morning, you can’t do that, not with our schedule.”
And as Morrow pointed out, the players can’t really stuff themselves with all the delicious Christmas cuisine that is usually available.
“That was another thing,” said Robidas. “Especially on my dad’s side, my grandmother was cooking all this unbelievable food. But sometimes I’ll go back in the summer and she’ll cook a Christmas meal, and the heartburn, I can’t do it. You get used to eating healthy food (as an athlete) - when I was younger, I didn’t really notice, but now, it’s tough on the liver.”
“I miss having someone else cook a big dinner for me,” admitted Burish. “Now I guess I got to go out and scrounge for my own food or find a restaurant that’s open.”
Overall, though, hockey players are regular people, no different from the rest of us. We’ve all been looking forward to spending time with family and enjoying the holiday spirit before having to return to the humdrum, everyday routine. With a game in St. Louis the day after Christmas, Monday night (6:30 pm start, VERSUS), reality resumes quickly for the Stars, so they will enjoy the time off while it lasts.
“We’ve got a couple days to recover and just eat and spend time with your family and then it’s back on the horse again,” Grossman said. “You’ve got to make the most of it and there’s not a better way to do it than with your family.”