It has become the most commonplace routine in hockey. Every team does it. Well, almost.
The morning skate is as much a part of the NHL as sticks and pucks.
Fred Shero is generally credited as being the first coach in the NHL to make it a part of his daily routine on gamedays.
Prior to him, morning skates were hit or miss. Mostly nonexistent.
When Ken Hitchcock coached the Flyers, he never held skates during the playoffs. Sometimes, even during the regular season.
“I’d rather the players get rest and save it for the game,” Hitchcock always said.
In Washington, coach Barry Trotz decided last week to cut his skates down to a minimum, something he did previously when he coached in Nashville.
This season, Columbus coach John Tortorella was 7-1-1 when not holding a morning skate. Tortorella said he’d rather have fresh, healthy players than hold 30-40 minute skates the day of a game.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Tortorella told reporters recently. “With our schedule coming up the way it is, we are trying to get our guys out of the building as much as we can.
“These guys are creatures of habit and the routine, but that routine in our league, I think, is wrong as far as these pregame skates and all of the over-coaching that goes on with that stuff.”
What does Flyers coach Dave Hakstol think about morning skates?
“Everyone is probably looking at different ways to manage the schedule this year,” Hakstol said. “It’s a busy schedule. It’s tighter and more demanding on the players than last year’s schedule was.
“From my standpoint, we look at every day. How do we manage our energy, where is our energy best spent, where can we rest our bodies and get away from things mentally, a bit?”
Some of the Flyers' morning skates are optional. Hakstol, like most coaches, doesn’t skate his team when the Flyers play back-to-back games, although he did just that at the very beginning of last year. He was a rookie coach then.
It didn’t last long as Hakstol realized the grind of back-to-back games takes its toll on players.
“There are guys, you can make every day optional and they are going to be out there, anyway,” Hakstol said. “It’s part of their routine. This schedule is different than last year’s schedule. We have to educate ourselves on what is really best.”
The Flyers play their sixth set of back-to-back games starting Tuesday night in Sunrise, Florida against the Panthers. They won’t have a morning skate on Wednesday, although players who don’t play the night before often are required to skate the next morning, anyway.
Many younger players in the NHL see morning skates as part of their job. They don’t know anything different.
And on days when the Flyers don’t skate, they often still convene for a team meeting in the morning to plot strategy and watch video.
“It’s all part of the gameday process for me,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I’m kind of impartial. It’s part of our job and I like them. Some players don’t.”
Players such as Mark Streit.
Streit has been in the NHL 11 seasons and before that, played in Europe for nine years, where such a thing as a morning skate is uncommon.
“I’m not a fan of it,” Streit said. “I think it’s just a habit in the NHL. Everybody does it. But I don’t think it is necessary. I know a lot of guys like going out there because they feel better after.
“But for me, if I have the option of going or not, I won’t go. If there is no practice the day before, then you've got to skate. Other than that, I don’t see a need for it.”
When Hakstol makes his morning skate optional, Streit never skates. The same for Jakub Voracek.
“I don’t mind them,” Voracek said. “If I feel tired or can use the bike or stretching, I can use that instead of the skate.”
Hakstol has been very careful this season with his players given the cramped schedule at the start with the back-to-backs and travel. The Flyers played 10 games over 16 days in October and had three back-to-back situations.
That’s an insane schedule.
In Chicago, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn’t hold practices during the second half of the season in two of the years the club won the Stanley Cup. He felt his team had fresher legs during the playoffs as a result.
Many teams, including the Flyers, adjust their second-half schedules with fewer practice sessions.
Would Hakstol ever consider not practicing most or all of the second half of the season?
“We’ll do whatever is best for our team,” Hakstol replied. “I don’t take anything off the table. I will do whatever is best to keep our team physically and mentally fresh. That’s the combination you look for.”