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Eliminating morning skates is NHL's version of load management

Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Hockey

LOS ANGELES -- Todd McLellan was raised in a different hockey generation.

When goalie pads looked half their current size, and scoring didn't seem half as hard. When enforcers roamed the ice, and fighting was a form of currency. When the Kings were the NHL's only Sun Belt team, and the league's divisions were named after people instead of regions.

And, of course, the 52-year-old Kings coach, who enjoyed a three-year professional career before moving behind the bench in the mid-1990s, remembers when morning skates were a staple of the sport's pregame ritual, a forum for players to get loose and sweat out sins from the late night before.

"Back in my day, when players were around, they lived a little differently," McLellan said with a sly smile. "(Morning skates) were instilled for a different reason."

Now, morning skates often aren't instilled at all -- a new trend for a new time.

Athletes across all sports are not only better-conditioned these days, but more cautiously cared for too. Football has adopted veterans days off. Basketball has agreed to load management. And hockey has embraced the elimination of mandatory morning skates.

 

"I used to believe in them a lot," McLellan said. "I'm certainly getting further away from them now."

Not long ago, the Kings and Ducks were holdovers of the sport's old habit. Under new coaches this season, however, they have charged toward the forefront of change.

"(Players) use up so much energy on a nightly basis -- even the players that play six or seven minutes, they're hard, heavy minutes -- that rest is sometimes important," McLellan said.

This season, McLellan has often opted for optional skates. He still has a team of veterans who have grown accustomed to the routine. But the more young prospects matriculate into the Kings locker room, the more he might have to tweak pregame plans.

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