The routine for most adult hockey players on days during which they don’t have games might go something like this: early alarm clock; get yourself to work and possibly get kids ready for school; work a full day; come home and eat dinner; take care of household tasks; plop down in front of the television by around 8 p.m., exhausted from the day and ready to sleep within a couple of hours.
As such, the routine on days with games can throw a major curveball into that schedule – particularly when you factor in the possibility of late start times to accommodate limited ice time.
As an example, games in Dallas’ adult hockey program, an offshoot of the NHL’s Stars, generally start between 9:30 and 10:45 p.m. on weekdays. They can start as late as 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, says Keith Andresen, who helps run the leagues.
That’s not uncommon across the country, and those late-night games bring about some unique challenges when it comes to being mentally and physically prepared to play. Here are some tips on how to not only survive but also thrive on the ice even as the clock strikes midnight.
One of the biggest challenges is making sure you have the right amount of fuel, as a player, to make it through a hockey game at a time when you might often be comfortably sleeping.
Sean Cromarty, a former NCAA Division I player at Colorado College and currently both the owner of Competitive Advantage Training and the coach of a junior team, said he advises players of all ages to consider bringing small portable meals to the rink.
He said that something like a six-pack fitness backpack, designed to fit six small meals, such as protein shakes and sandwiches, can be a great tool to stay fueled on gameday. If that sounds excessive, at least consider the time you’re eating your big meal of the night. Eating four hours before the game, while adding an energy snack leading up to game time, is a good guideline.
Postgame, Cromarty offered advice about protein shakes. If that’s your recovery meal of choice – with or without a postgame beer or two – he suggests having a shake that uses casein protein instead of whey protein.
“It absorbs in your body slower than whey protein,” Cromarty says. “Even if you use whey during the day, it’s good to use casein at night because it’s better as you sleep.”
Warm-up Exercises Are Key
A good warmup is important no matter when your game begins, but it’s particularly important when your body is about to be pushed at times when it might normally be at rest – particularly if much of your day is spent at a sedentary activity like deskwork.
“It’s really about developing a consistent routine,” Cromarty says. “It doesn’t have to be really detail-oriented, just something where your body knows, ‘This is what I do before I play.’”
Cromarty suggests stretching and working with a foam roller before putting gear on. Adding in some light hand-eye coordination work – something as simple as kicking around a soccer ball or working on some quick stickhandling drills with a weighted ball – can also help.
Get Your Head in the Game
The real grind of a late-night start is mental. While late night adult hockey isn’t quite the pressure cooker that NCAA hockey was when Cromarty was in college, some of the same rules apply.
“If you’re a little more mentally engaged than the guy next to you, you’re already winning,” Cromarty says.
That means doing the mind work necessary to normalize an activity such as playing hockey late at night that really isn’t normal for your body.
“Visualize the rink. Visualize the time of day, how the game is going to go,” Cromarty says. “The more you mentally rehearse it, the more it’s second nature and you can react and let your natural athleticism take over.”
The consequences of not being mentally prepared to play that late can be as simple as poor play, but the effects can be even more troubling than just letting in a goal.
“You’re potentially more prone to injury if you’re more mentally tired,” Cromarty says.
Nobody wants that. Few people want 11:30 p.m. ice time, either, but at the end of the day, hockey is hockey – and we want to play.