Afternoon start time 'foreign' to Ward

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Hockey games traditionally are played at night, and hockey players tend to be creatures of habit.

So the fact the Eastern Conference final series opener today between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres starts at 2 p.m. draws mixed reviews from the Carolina players.

Some like it. Most hate it.

Defenceman Aaron Ward is one of the latter group. But at the same time, he's quite willing to accept the change.

"I'm not complaining," he said. "At this point of the season they can start the game at 8 in the morning. I'm still happy to be in the conference championship.

"It's just that as an athlete, you condition your body and your mind to prepare a certain way. Then you throw a 2 o'clock game in there, and you don't have that sense of normalcy.

"There is something about it that is just foreign."

The players realize that the situation is the same for both teams, and they realize that, given the state of today's National Hockey League, they have to follow the dictates of television. The game will start at 2 p.m. because that's when NBC wants it to start.

Nevertheless, these games represent a significant departure from the norm. For eight months, almost every game they played started at 7 p.m. or later.

"You get used to following a certain routine," said Hurricanes forward Ray Whitney, one of those opposed to early starts. "You don't get a pre-game meal. It just throws me off.

"Once you get on the ice, it doesn't matter. What I don't like about it is the time leading up to the game. The game itself, I'm fine with it."

But veteran Mark Recchi has no such concerns. In fact, he loves the afternoon games.

"I think it's awesome," he said. "You get up and play. It's great. I could do it all the time. Just get up and play."

NHL players like to eat their pre-game meal about six hours before a game. And, in normal circumstances, they nap in the afternoon.

So for an afternoon game, they're faced with an unusual set of circumstances. Some get up early and have a morning nap. But most don't bother.

"A 2 o'clock start is better than noon, that's for sure," forward Doug Weight said. "The noon games (more likely to be played in the west) are tough. You have to get up at 6 to have your normal six-hour gap."


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