January 13, 2011
Throughout the course of a hockey season, the length and style of practice changes considerably - given that we just blew past the schedule's halfway point, it's about time for that evolution to take place.
When a team first gets together, there's obviously a lot to learn.
If repetition is the father of learning, then Dad is in the house constantly those first few months. And, he won't go away until players aren't just getting to the right areas of the ice 100% of the time, but getting there on autopilot. Most coaches refuse to be happy with your progress until you can shotgun a beer, put your head on a bat, spin ten times, and still end up with decent coverage on that d-man sneaking to the back door.
So ... tweet. To quote Herb Brooks in Miracle (and I presume real life) "....again."
There's just a lot to take in, especially if your team has a new coach or an abundance of new players. Power play, penalty kill, even strength options A, B, and C - it can take months before a team is up on all their options, and that's just fine. Most coaches adopt the "marathon not a sprint" mentality, start their team with the basics, and work towards being a well-oiled machine in playoffs. That's all that matters.
Combine that with players needing to get their cardio up to an acceptable level after a summer of focusing on essential hockey muscles like biceps, and practices can regularly push two hours. Ambitious players may squeeze in a lift after that (no more biceps), given that they know a reality - it's a long season, and if you hope to stay healthy, you have to keep your strength up.
But you just can't go balls-to-the-wall like that all year when you've got to sprinkle in the type of travel and body abuse that comes with an 82-game schedule.
As players get to know the systems and reach game shape, the duration of practice starts to back off.
Unfortunately, right around the time that happens (now), injuries begin to pile up and the wear and tear of the season starts to erode your roster, providing your coach with even less incentive to bust out his "agains."
By the time playoffs roll around, you're usually doing a 35-45 minute brisk skate, then coach is out of there. With those injuries, more guys take days off to rest, meaning the number of guys actually practicing can get fairly sparse. When coach tries to do a real, high pace drill, players find themselves at the front of the line the second after they've just done the drill, so it'd be insane to put guys through anything near an hour.
We've reached that turning point for this in the NHL - players are getting hurt mid-game, meaning other players pick up the minutes, meaning they need more ice time on their non-game days like they need escrow to go up.
Introduce winter weather and sicknesses, and practice starts to feel like you're only doing it out of habit, not necessity.
If you're healthy, this is the most fun part of the year - you're asked to do your job when it counts, you're trusted to get extra cardio workouts in on your own time, and practice goes from being a highly-evaluated, physically taxing exercise to a slightly longer morning skate. It's easy to put on a happy face.
The focus is switching to video work and body maintenance - it's time to get to know your opponents, since you finally know yours.
It's about managing your roster to be at 100% when the second half of the year ends, not during it.
Playoffs are on the horizon, and you want to be galloping into the field of battle, not limping.