Devils’ coach John Hynes previews the game against the Washington Capitals following the morning skate at Prudential Center.
Abbey Mastracco, Staff Writer, @AbbeyMastracco
NEWARK — The allure of a professional sports lifestyle can be a strong one, but it’s not as glitzy as it may seem from the outside. A big part of that lifestyle is the travel, which can open up a whole new world for many players but can also be demanding as well.
Charter planes and five-star and resort-like accommodations help ease the difficulty of getting from city-to-city. You’ll rarely hear anyone complaining about the manner in which they travel. But for those who haven’t been there before, going from long bus rides to luxury sure can make you feel as if you’ve arrived in the NHL.
“It’s eye-opening, it’s awesome,” said Devils’ forward Michael McLeod, one of several prospects who will finish the season with the NHL team. “It’s sort of an NHL moment whenever you first get on that plane. Usually I’d be doubled up on a bus.”
But the turnaround in the NHL and NBA is so quick that teams end up on an eight-hour flight just to touch down in a city for about 24 hours, sometimes less. More games are played in a shorter amount of time in the NHL which can be a difficult transition for some even without travel and the comfort of the jet can’t prevent jet lag, altitude sickness or even make up for a loss of sleep.
It can be a grind for every player at every age and experience level, so the Devils are doing their best to ease that by showing players how to manage their energy off the ice.
“We provide guidance and then it comes down to the player having all of those components in their life ready to be able to play at a high level,” coach John Hynes said Tuesday at Prudential Center after the team took a morning skate ahead of their game against the Washington Capitals. “That’s what makes the NHL so hard.”
This last road trip was particularly taxing. They played six games away from New Jersey with a brief respite coming with two days at home in between games against the Rangers and the Calgary Flames. Travel from Calgary and Vancouver is relatively easy but the time changes are still difficult for some to get used to. After a third game in Edmonton, the team immediately departed for Denver, where they arrived around midnight, waited to clear customs and then finally took a bus downtown to the team hotel. A few players said they were in bed around 5 a.m.
The guidance comes during these trips and after, when trainers, nutritionists and sports performance specialists help players structure their days, but Hynes notes that it’s on the players to utilize the advice.
“Travel, rest, when they should sleep, how they should sleep, what they should eat,” Hynes said. “You provide them with the information from our coaches and doctors that gives them the best chance to perform. A self-starter says, ‘Ok, I have all of this information, now it comes back to the doing factor.’”
The Devils took Monday off after traveling from Denver but were given instructions on how to structure the day. Sleep was a priority, but players were told not to sleep too late and instead take a nap after a light workout of some sort. There were also suggestions for what to eat and when.
“The most important thing is getting back on the eastern time zone,” Hynes said.
Of course, that’s easier said than done for some. Veteran Drew Stafford has young kids around who often wake him up early. Stafford said he was still feeling the effects of the trip and the time zones during the morning skate.
But players like McLeod, Joey Anderson and Colton White, who are all first-year NHL players, live in a hotel nearby, free from many distractions.
Some might still be adjusting to the increased demands of an NHL schedule, but the young ones tend to have more energy to begin with. They all want to do what they can to continue living an NHL lifestyle.
“Me being a young guy and excited to be here, the adrenaline kind of takes over,” McLeod said. “It’s not at all hard to get up for an NHL game.”
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