Sun, Jan 15, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Blue Jackets renew morning skate debate

AP

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nick Foligno, right, chases the puck during their game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center in Washington on Friday.

Photo: AFP

After putting on skates for 27 years, Brandon Dubinsky does not mind not having to lace them up twice on game days anymore.

Coach John Tortorella eyed the age-old hockey tradition of morning skates and eliminated them. His Columbus Blue Jackets are atop the NHL standings and they might be leading the charge to kill morning skates for good.

To skate or not to skate has been a question for several years now, but the Blue Jackets’ success and the condensed schedule caused by the World Cup and bye weeks this season have sparked plenty of debate about whether the morning skate is an unnecessary relic of the past.

“The game’s changed,” Dubinsky said. “The morning skate was to kind of skate the booze out of the players from the night before. We don’t have that anymore. Guys prepare the right way, they take care of their bodies, they eat properly, they get their rest properly — they do all the things the right way. It just keeps you fresher for the games to skip it.”

Tortorella called the morning skate routine “wrong” and said that “it doesn’t make sense” to make players exert extra energy on game days.

Understanding how difficult Tortorella’s practices and the grind of an 82-game season are, captain Nick Foligno and other team leaders agreed to skip morning skates and validated the strategy by winning 16 consecutive games and 28 of their first 40.

Throughout the league, people are taking notice.

“We all know that Columbus, the success that they’re having and not morning skating,” Ottawa Senators veteran center Chris Kelly said. “Word travels fast... It’s a copycat league.”

The modern morning skate traces its origins to the Soviet Red Army team that Hall of Fame coach Ray Shero wanted to copy in the early 1970s. Though Toronto Maple Leafs players wanted to work their skate blades out back in the 1940s, the morning skate really became prevalent when Shero’s Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 and other teams followed suit.

Making morning skates optional is a growing trend as coaches let players decide whether to rest or jump on the ice for a quick twirl to handle the puck and get their legs under them. More than a third of NHL teams now make some or all of their morning skates optional.

Of course, these things are fluid. Even the Blue Jackets have had the occasional morning skate to change things up or shake off a long plane ride.

Some teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks, take so many days off between games that morning skates replace practices.

Three-time Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville likes to let his players get loose on game days, because there is less practice time, but is willing to consider morning skates might not be as useful as they were in previous eras.

Blackhawks forward Jordin Tootoo said he likes a morning skate because “it’s good for the body, the soul, the mind just to kind of work your way up to game time. It’s just that whole process of earning your pregame meal.”

Joonas Korpisalo helped Columbus maintain their winning ways on Friday, making 31 saves in his first game of the season, while Nick Foligno had a go-ahead power-play goal in the third period as they defeated Tampa Bay 3-1.

Columbus, 2-3 since ending a 16-game winning streak, also got goals from Josh Anderson and Boone Jenner.

Korpisalo played in place of Sergei Bobrovsky, who also missed Tuesday’s game against Carolina due to illness.

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