The morning skate is an NHL tradition that has been around since the 1970’s. With the 16 game winning streak that the Columbus Blue Jackets displayed this season, the morning skate is a hockey tradition that could soon end. The Columbus Blue Jackets and head coach John Tortorella have abandoned morning skates in an effort to keep the team as fresh as possible. But how did the morning skate tradition start to begin with?
The morning skate is similar to the “morning shoot around” in the NBA. On the morning of a home game, the home team will take the ice for thirty minutes or so to get loose and go through a series of drills in preparation for that evening’s game. They’ll then conduct interviews with the press before going back to the hotel to eat and rest for the game that evening. Morning skates usually take place at 9-10 AM at either the team’s home arena or practice facility. The home team skates first and the visiting team then follows with a morning skate of their own.
There are two former NHL head coaches that often receive credit for creating the morning skate; Fred Shero of the Philadelphia Flyers and Scotty Bowman of the Montreal Canadiens. Head coach Fred Shero begin implementing morning skates when he saw that the Soviet Red Army team was conducting them during the 1970's. After the Philadelphia Flyers won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, other NHL teams began holding morning skates.
In a more humorous fashion, legend has it that head coach Scott Bowman created morning skates to prevent his Montreal Canadien players from going out and partying the night before a game. If players did happen to go out drinking on the town, the morning skate gave them an opportunity to sweat out the alcohol and get hungry and then tired for a nap. This, however, was during a period when NHL players didn’t have as much of an incentive to take care of themselves and didn’t make as much money. As the popularity of the league grew, NHL organizations began to agree that players should begin thinking about that evening’s game as soon as they wake up. Today, film sessions and team meetings may also supplement or replace morning skates on game day depending on the team.
Morning skates also give NHL players the opportunity to get out of the hotel and more active during the day in order to get the blood flowing. Sitting around in the hotel all day could make players feel sluggish come game time. However, for older players that wish to prolong their career, seeking extra rest could go a long way in helping them prevent injury and keep fresh legs.
The National Hockey League is changing. Teams are built for speed and endurance these days. The age of the “goon” and the “enforcer” are all but extinct. With grueling 82 game seasons and the marathon Stanley Cup Playoffs, more and more teams are finding an incentive to cut out morning skates on game days. However, like all hockey traditions, this one will die slowly if at all.
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