TORONTO - Jarome Iginla was near tears over his ability to sleep.
During his rookie season, the Calgary Flames captain was readying to face Wayne Gretzky and the New York Rangers at the Saddledome. Even amidst that excitement, he was able to have a game-day nap.
A long game-day nap.
“I went to bed, took my pre-game nap, somewhere around 1 or 1:30,” Iginla recalled. “The game was at 7:30, and we were supposed to be at the rink at 5:30. I woke up at 6:08. Four or five hours of straight sleeping in the afternoon. I have to admit, I was a little quick getting to the rink.
“I was almost crying. It was the first chance I was going to get to play Wayne Gretzky. I don’t know if we had injuries or what, but I got to play that game. It was a huge thrill, but I was devastated when I woke up.
“And I wasn’t out the night before. I was a deep sleeper.”
Iginla admittedly has no problem getting his 40 winks, but not everyone in the NHL is in the same boat.
Oh, sure, the players bunk in five-star hotels and fly around on chartered planes — with every seat what you find in first class on commercial flights — but it’s not easy to get the necessary rest for peak performance.
That’s why the Flames have adjusted their travel schedule this season based on advice from Dr. Charles Samuels of the University of Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance.
For example, instead of flying out of the city after every game, the Flames will stay overnight when they can and it’s most beneficial.
They did after Monday’s game in St. Louis, and the plan is to remain overnight in Toronto after Saturday’s clash with the Maple Leafs.
Normally, they immediately hit the skies following a game.
“The travel is a challenge.” said Flames GM Jay Feaster. “It’s true we are in charters and stay in top-rated hotels, but the fact of the matter is these guys play at night and it’s the winding-down process. They have to get rehydrated. They have to eat.
“Not everybody is able to just fall asleep on the plane. You don’t always get the quality sleep on the plane. That’s something we have to take into account.”
On a normal gameday on the road, players will awake for breakfast, have an 11:30 a.m. practice, return to the hotel for lunch, nap, awake and have another bite to eat, arrive at the rink around 5 p.m. and play the game.
For years, the general rule was to quickly get the airport and fly to the next city, often arriving at a hotel in the dead of night.
Iginla said he’ll be awake until 2 a.m. after every game and can rest on the plane, but if he’s not in an actual bed before 4 a.m. or worse, he feels the affects.
“If you’re going east and losing hours, it’s tough,” Iginla said. “The times when you get to sleep (at the hotel) at four or five in the morning, those are the hard ones to recover from.”
And he’s one of the luckier ones who doesn’t have difficulty sleeping on planes.
“I can’t sleep well on planes,” admitted Flames forward Tom Kostopoulos. “But the argument was to get the flight out of the way because you’ll be up for a bit, get the meal on the plane and get there.
“I don’t know what the answer is as to which one’s better — flying out or staying over — but I’m excited to try it.”
Over the season, the team will study results, not just on the ice but also from feedback with the players.
Other teams in the NHL have done the same. The Vancouver Canucks even had players wearing monitors which collected data of how much they slept.
Feaster said the Flames may do that, too, but want to take the first few steps and see what transpires.
“It’s more than just the travel,” Feaster said. “The centre is able to do testing. If guys aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep or if guys are having problems with sleep, they’re able to diagnose. There’s a medical component in addition to the whole travel thing.
“Like a lot of things we’re doing, it’s another resource.
“It’s to maximize the sleep. The more sleep they get, the better their recovery. And the better their recovery, the better their mental sharpness and the better their performance.”
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