Carolina Hurricanes: Game Day
By Alec Hardy
For Caniacs, preparations for a trip to the RBC Center typically involve picking up ice, cold beverages, and something to go on the grill for some pre-game tailgating. For the players, pre-game preparations start before game day and continue right up until the puck drops.
“It starts the night before,” says Hurricanes’ center Tim Brent. “Dinner the night before fuels you for most of the next day. You hydrate as much as you can. I’m more of a protein guy the night before games and then carbs on game day.”
On game days, the players hit the ice for a skate around mid-morning. This became common practice in the NHL following the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. The Soviets, who pushed Team Canada’s NHL stars to the brink of defeat, were seen as gaining an advantage from their 60 or 90 minute long skates on the morning of games. In the years since, there has been a simmering debate about whether or not they really help. Among the Hurricanes players, there are mixed feelings about the benefits of the morning skate. According to goalie Brian Boucher, the purpose of the morning skate “is to get a sweat and feel the puck. It’s not much of a workout really. We are just trying to get warmed up and loosened up for the day.” Tim Brent, however, would probably prefer to avoid them if he could. “If it were up to me I wouldn’t have it. I don’t think that is energy that you can get back. There is not enough time between the morning skate and games to get that energy back. Guys are so disciplined. Hockey’s not the way it used to be, there’s a lot of money on the table. Guys work very hard all summer long and guys are disciplined during the season where they probably don’t need the morning skate.”
After the morning skate, the players typically return home. Following their afternoon nap, it is back to the rink by 4:45 PM. The first order of business? Taping sticks and getting their gear ready. Next up, the team meeting. Tim Brent says that in the meeting “we do video, we do blurbs on each player about what kind of player they are, and for a centerman what hand they shoot. Then, it’s a matter of focusing on the things that you need to do in order to help the team win.” That includes going over the Hurricanes’ power play and penalty kill systems and what to expect from the other team’s systems. For Boucher, the pre-game meeting does not necessarily provide specific information about the tendencies of the other team’s shooters. “If you have played against guys long enough you kind of know some guys’ tendencies but the game is really just a game of reaction. It’s important to know for the power plays where the one-timers are (going to come from), what hand they shoot and know where they want to shoot from. Aside from that, it’s a reaction game,” he said.
Pre-game meals are typically a combination of carbs and protein. For Boucher, his favorite is spaghetti, chicken and broccoli. For Tim Brent, it is chicken and pasta. For Jeff Skinner, chicken and rice.
Hockey players are well known for their pre-game superstitions. Tales of lore from across the league include a slumping scorer dipping his hockey stick blade in the toilet bowl to teach the stick some respect or baby powder sprinkled on sticks because of its magical qualities. When Brian Boucher is asked about what rituals he has seen around the league, he shakes his head and grins. “I have seen guys that do crazy stretches and hand gestures – guys who play with their fingers the same way – some weird things that you see from guys but whatever it takes,” he said. Tim Brent does not hesitate when asked about the strangest superstition he has seen. “I won’t give a name because I don’t want to embarrass them, but I’ve seen a guy drink a Coke and then eat a whole pack of Sour Patch Kids before every game – and he’s a heck of a player.”
So does sticking to a routine make a difference in how a player performs once the game starts? Different players have different perspectives on that. Some players feel that unexpected things are bound to pop up on game day and the players need to be able to adjust without getting rattled. Others crave a set schedule. Jeff Skinner echoes both of those viewpoints in saying that ”it’s all personal and a lot of it is mental obviously. You do whatever you can to feel good. For guys who have 82 games to play it is good to get a routine down so that you are not thinking about what you have to do to get ready – all you have to think about is going out and playing.”