It seems like only yesterday that we were putting away the hockey sticks, restringing our tennis racquets and uncoiling that pesky five-iron from the trunk of a nearby cottonwood tree. But aside from a decent tan and fond memories from hockey camp, we’re left wondering: Where did the summer go?
Those dreaded back-to-school shopping trips go down a little easier when you remember the hockey season is just around the corner, and thoughts of Sidney Crosby and pucks dinging off crossbars go dancing through your head. But as nice it is to mentally retreat into all the good stuff, a long hockey season is sure to bring its own set of challenges.
What follows then is a survival guide for players and parents, coaches, officials, administrators and fans outlining a few pointers so that you can make it through the season physically, emotionally, financially and socially intact:
DAY 1: Treat Your Body As A Temple
The hockey season coincides with the cold and flu season, and hockey players can become highly susceptible to illness. And if the smell of a ripe equipment bag fermenting isn’t enough to turn your stomach, the tight quarters of a bus or locker room can serve as incubators for all kinds of ailments should at least give you pause.
Stay ahead of the game by making healthy lifestyle choices.
“A lot of kids are lured to taking supplements or energy drinks, which provide a kind of a fake energy,” said Lincoln Stars trainer Corey Courtney, who is in his 17th season in the United States Hockey League.
“They think they can stay up a couple of extra hours playing PlayStation, pop an energy drink in the morning and be ready to go. But, you’re actually setting yourself up for dehydration, it’s hard on your cardiovascular system and it affects your mental capacity because there are no nutrients in it.”
The approach Courtney advocates is a more natural one. A healthy diet — including plenty of fruits and vegetables and the proper amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and good fats — produces a more natural energy. And there’s no better way to stay hydrated than water and natural fruit juices.
Courtney urges his players to eat fruits and vegetables with the brightest colored skins because they provide the best natural nutrients, anti-inflammatory agents and anti-oxidants to help the immune system fight off sickness.
“Stay ahead of the curve,” Courtney said. “If you’re getting enough sleep, eating the proper foods and staying hydrated, your body’s going to adjust better to exercise and you’re going to stay healthier longer.”
DAY 2: Free Your Mind
John Vanbiesbrouck became the winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history during a 21-year career that ended in 2001-02. The 2007 inductee into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame won 374 games by maintaining an extraordinary focus on the ice and leaving extraneous thoughts back in the locker-room.
“It’s really important to feel mentally free when you’re playing, and that goes beyond just taking some time away from the game from time to time,” said Vanbiesbrouck, who spent the majority of his career with the New York Rangers in the city that never sleeps. “You want to make sure you have everything in order and you’re not leaving your dirty laundry out to dry, so to speak.
“Some of the great psychologists talk about making sure everything’s in order in your life because that’s what keeps you from thinking about silly things that can distract you when you’re in the middle of games. Order creates less distraction.”
In the midst of a hectic season, Vanbiesbrouck enjoyed stepping away from the game for an evening out with his wife and children. He also felt that it was important to interact with people outside of the team’s dressing room.
“Engaging with non-hockey people is a good way to refresh yourself, too, because it helps take your mind off the game for a little while,” he said. “It’s important to be involved in the community and do normal things with the family, like going to church or exercising away from the rink. It’s nice to be able to do things that people with a normal lifestyle do.”
DAY 3: It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Sean Tremblay works around the clock as the head coach of the Eastern Junior Hockey League powerhouse New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, but he knows better than to expect his players to do the same. Because the season is more of a marathon than a sprint, he gradually throws concepts at his players.
“We’re always trying to build from month to month,” Tremblay said. “If you look at us in September as opposed to October or November, you should notice a significant difference in the way we play.
“I make sure I take a half-day or a day off each week because if I don’t, each day after that feels like a week. It’s the same with the players. You don’t want to burn them out. You try to get them into a routine, but you also have to consider their fatigue factor. When we get into January, February or March, we might only practice an hour instead of two but at a little higher pace. It’s important to give them a little extra time for rest and recovery, so they’re fresh when we get to the end of the season and get into the playoffs.”
The same is true at the youth level.
T.C. Lewis, who operates a rink in Houston and serves on USA Hockey’s executive committee, sees too many parents and fans get wrapped up with results in September.
“Too many people leave the sport early because they can stress for two or three years before they realize ‘What in the heck am I doing?’ ” Lewis said. “It’s early. Relax. Give the coach a chance and give the players a chance to figure out what they’re doing. And make sure your expectations are realistic.”
DAY 4: Take It One Day At A Time
Chris Skowron’s day planner is just about as easy to decipher as a full-scale mass transit map for a major metropolitan city. She’s got each of her children’s activities color coded, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cram everything into a 24-hour day.
“I make sure I take a half-day or a day off each week, because, if I don’t, each day after that feels like a week. It’s the same with the players.
— Sean Tremblay, Eastern Junior Hockey League head coach
In addition to serving as the registrar for 375 youth teams in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, she spends many days as a taxi driver for her children’s myriad activities that range in scope from theatre to a wide variety of youth sports.
“I never look at my schedule more than a day in advance, or else I’d drive myself crazy,” Skowron said. “If you start looking too far ahead, you’ll be overwhelmed by everything you have on your plate.
“It’s the age we live in. A lot of parents I talk to say the same thing about their schedules. It’s kind of funny because I always say it’d be nice to just sit at home, doing nothing, but then I think I’d be bored. I’m better when I have more to do.”
Even still, the daily grind can take a toll on overworked parents. So, find healthy release from the day-to-day hockey grind.
“Every once in a while, do something for yourself,” Skowron suggested. “Get your nails done. Get a massage or something. It’ll make you feel a lot better.”
DAY 5: Budget Wisely
Lewis urges first-time hockey parents to do their homework when it comes to making expenditures on equipment and other miscellany, especially when such expenditures are roughly the cost equivalent of a pound of flesh. Chatting up parents who’ve been in an association for a few years can be helpful in determining a ballpark figure of what you should expect.
Another good idea is to keep detailed notes of costs early in the season to get a sense of how much you’ll end up shoveling out for hotel rooms, food, coaches’ expenses, etc., later in the season.
“Just like we tell the kids to plan for their homework so they don’t procrastinate, it’s important for parents to plan ahead so they don’t lose sight of what it’s going to cost long term,” Lewis said.
“The same goes for associations. If they plan ahead, the initial sticker shock might be a little tough, but at least parents won’t feel like they’re going to the rink with their wallets wide open every time.”