Playoff conditioning can be paramount to Komets’ success Playoffs endurance means more than regular season.
Just like the regular season is about teams positioning for the playoffs, it’s also about players trying to get into peak physical condition just in time for the postseason to start. As much as they try, though, there’s not much any athlete can do with a schedule that gets busier as the season winds down.
Coaches try to cut down on practice time and rest veterans more in the last month of the season, but there’s really only so much they can do. There are simply too many games, and the players with more serious injuries have to sit out, meaning those with lesser dings must play. The Komets finished with 11 games in 18 days, and after 61 games already, no player is completely healthy. They are all dealing with one or two so-called minor injuries.
“It’s more about just taking care of your body away from the rink,” veteran forward Shawn Szydlowski said. “We’re still practicing, but we’re playing so many games that practices are almost hurting you in recovery at this point. All these guys are in good shape so it’s about making sure you get to the gym when you can.”
As professional athletes, their bodies are their tools. They work hard throughout the summers to gain muscle which is often burned away by the long season. They try to eat healthy and get to the gym one or two times a week, depending on the schedule, to try maintaining body mass. That’s even more important heading into the playoffs because players can lose up to 10 pounds per game in weight. That’s almost impossible to get back before the next game.
“You try not to eat out and cook good healthy food,” veteran Mike Embach said. “Whenever we’re home, you have to make sure you are eating three meals we can control and stay hydrated. If we’re going to the gym, it’s not so much about building strength now as it is stretching and recovery and making sure everything feels good. You have to push the fluids.”
Another key factor is that playoff games last as long as necessary to find the winner. There’s no five-minute overtime period before a shootout, meaning over a long postseason a player can play what amounts to an extra game or two because of overtimes. The schedule is also consistently busier, playing at the very least every other day over a long series so there’s less recovery time. The games are also significantly different than in the regular season.
“Playoffs are always gritty and 100 percent do or die, so everybody is sacrificing everything and giving all they can,” forward Garrett Thompson said. “Its a different element, too, because it’s all its own season. It’s a lot harder on the body, a lot more grinding, blocking shots and being in front of the net more so it takes more out of your body. You have to listen to your body more.
“Those games are just so much more intense than regular-season games, and they have such a quick turnaround. There’s just so much more on the line.”
The point is, defenseman Jason Binkley said, you can’t do anything to improve your conditioning now. You must have put the work in earlier during the season.
Despite that, it’s not uncommon to see players jump on a stationary bike immediately after playoff games, even after long overtime games. They aren’t pushing for more endurance, though it doesn’t hurt, as much as trying to help their legs cool down.
“It’s just to flush things out of your system a little bit,” Thompson said. “Going that hard non-stop for that long, you just want to do whatever you can to help your body recover.”
There’s a lot more post-game stretching and players dunking into ice baths to help deal with lactic acid.
“These guys are all pros and they understand all of this,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “They know they have to get to the gym and try to maintain as much as possible. At this point in the season, they are the best critics of their own bodies and what they need. What I want from them is optimal energy at gametime.”
But every player knows this time of the year is going to be very difficult for their bodies, no matter how well prepared they are.
“You’re just not going to feel good,” Szydlowski said. “That’s really just part of this, it’s more mental strength than anything. It’s about being prepared not to feel good and doing whatever you can to fix bumps and bruises. When you get to the rink, you just have to battle through things. It’s just part of the playoffs.” <br>
<i> For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring. </i><br>
<center> Up next </center><br>
ECHL Division Semifinals
Quad City at Fort Wayne
Faceoff: 8 p.m. Friday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM