If the Vancouver Canucks had won the Stanley Cup they could chalk it up in part to science and a good night’s sleep. Since they lost the hard-fought final series in seven games, they can chalk it up to the nightmares caused by Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas.
The Canucks, who have historically endured the most grueling travel schedule in the NHL, looked to solve some of their sleep issues by employing the services of a small device designed to monitor the amount of rest players received during the season.
“I get cranky and tired like anyone else when I don’t get rest. But I definitely feel energized, feel good,
The ReadiBand, a lightweight wristband produced by the Honolulu, Hawaii-based technology company Fatigue Science, monitors a player’s sleep and activity patterns. The data is then used to predict how sleep problems will affect a player’s reaction time and game performance.
Of course, it doesn’t help much when resourceful players slip off their bands and give them to a sleepy teammate so they could hit the town for a little fun.
Sleep is a precious commodity over the long haul of an NHL season. That’s why the mantra for every hockey player remains the same – proper rest produces peak performance.
During the season, players experience two sides of the spectrum – the exuberance over playing competitively and winning a game, and the crushing blow of dropping a close game and not putting their best skate forward.
“After games is probably the toughest time for guys to sleep,” said Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard, a product of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
“It’s tough to unwind with all that emotion. After a good game, you’re excited and the emotions are a bit higher, and after a bad game, you’re thinking about what you should have done or what you could have done in different situations.”
Los Angeles Kings defenseman and Team USA veteran Jack Johnson agrees. He said the key to maintaining the proper rest comes through mental discipline.
“I’ve learned that once the game’s over, you’ve got to move on immediately,” Johnson said. “I’ll maybe think about the game for an hour or two, but after that, I like to think I’m pretty good at cleaning the slate and getting ready for the next one.”
While a variety of elements impact a player’s performance, there is one common thread that can mean the difference between winning and losing at every level of the game.
“Sleep should be considered as important as a diet, regular practice and studying the game plan in advance of the game,” said Dr. Erik K. St. Louis, associate professor of neurology and senior associate consultant at the Mayo Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, Minn.
“Feelings of tiredness or fatigue, poor energy or motivation levels, reduced exercise tolerance or poorer workout and game performance, feeling sleepy and persisting soreness after a workout, are a few possible symptoms of insufficient sleep.”
For Cam Fowler, an NTDP alumnus who is now with the Anaheim Ducks, sleep has always been emphasized since his youth hockey days.
“My parents put me to bed at a pretty good time,” said Fowler, a member of the 2010 gold-medal winning U.S. National Junior Team. “I mean, I was one of those kids where I didn’t really have as much freedom as some other kids. My parents were right on top of me to get upstairs, get to bed. They tried to make sure I got enough sleep.”
It should never be underestimated that getting sleep is another training mechanism that must be learned, just like skating.
Cheryl Callin, a teacher and mother of two Bantam- and Midget-aged players in travel hockey and a daughter that travels for diving, found that sleep plays a vital role in the family’s survival.
“There are time and travel commitments that make it vital that you get the right amount of rest,” she said. “They understand that, if they’re going to make the commitment, they have to be prepared.”
But, she admitted, “Being at hotels it’s tough to get kids to sleep and not stay up visiting, but we’re usually the family that’s not as much fun. My husband Greg and I stress to the kids that the fun part is playing and getting themselves ready for the game.”
A “hockey dad” and banker, Greg Callin shared a family analogy that helps them stay disciplined: “We’ve always talked about three legs on the stool and those have been food and nutrition, practice and training, and rest and sleep is a leg by itself. That’s what gets you into a position to perform and play well. We approach it as just a part of your lifestyle.”
Whether it’s travel hockey, with its packed weekend schedules, or the need to balance academics and athletics at the collegiate level, or the demands of coast-to-coast travel in the NHL, there is seldom room to “make up” sleep.
Now in his fifth season in Los Angeles, Johnson knows this all too well. Like other NHL teams located on the West Coast, the Kings log more than their fair share of frequent flier miles. And getting the proper rest can be the difference between going deep into the playoffs and an early tee time on the links.
“I like to think I sleep a lot. I enjoy my sleep, definitely,” said Johnson. “I try to get eight hours a night, and if it doesn’t happen on travel days or we get in late, I’ll try and take a nap so that, at some point, I’ve gotten my amount of sleep. That’s kind of my rule of thumb to survive.
“I get cranky and tired like anyone else when I don’t get rest. But I definitely feel energized, feel good, feel sharp mentally when I get a lot of sleep.”
For a player who has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed and aggressive blueliner, nobody wants to face off against a cranky Jack Johnson.