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Eliminating morning skates is NHL's version of load management

Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Hockey

Before facing the Vancouver Canucks last month, McLellan canceled the morning session for extra video work. He expects such days to become more common.

"We're trying to please a lot of people from different eras," McLellan said. "I'm not sure the young player that's coming out of junior or college needs them or even wants them or understands why they exist yet there are some older players that it triggers their day, it gets them in a routine, it starts the rhythm of a game.

"You see basketball teams -- fewer shootarounds in the morning, and soccer teams that aren't using it as much. So, it'll eventually go away, but we're still caught in between different generations."

In Anaheim, new Ducks coach Dallas Eakins has been far more aggressive in abolishing the tradition. During his first NHL job with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14, Eakins was one of the first coaches to phase out the familiar practice. This year -- especially given his team's hectic schedule over the first month of play -- Eakins has only held a morning skate if the Ducks didn't practice the day before.

"It's wasted energy unless you're going out there to accomplish something," Eakins said. "Those days of players being out all night before a game are long gone.

"If there was something really meaningful that I thought we just had to practice, then we'll do it. But to just go out there and skate around on this whole premise of, 'Hey we want to get a sweat,' I'd rather them just sweat at night. I just think it's wasted energy."

It is the same broad reasoning behind the increasing number of NBA stars sitting out regular-season games, and why more NFL training camps are seeing veterans practice less.

As technology has advanced this decade, so too has the tendency for teams to work their athletes less. On the ice, both the Kings and Ducks use player-tracking software that measures everything from speed to workload. Fatigue management has literally become an exact science. Like myriad other old norms, morning skates are struggling to fit into that equation.

 

"I kind of like it," Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg said Tuesday morning, standing in a locker surrounded by stalls adorned with gear that wouldn't be touched until that night.

The only empty space in the room belonged to defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who arrived in a trade last week and stepped on the ice for a quick solo skate.

"I don't think he's quite used to it yet," Silfverberg said with a laugh. "For me, I think it's great. You save your energy. You're mentally more excited to step on the ice tonight."

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