NEW YORK, N.Y. — As days off go, this one was a bit of a dud.
Members of the Winnipeg Jets hoping to take in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple and surrounding area Wednesday, were instead greeting by a major late-winter storm that included pouring rain, heavy snow, thunder, lightning and the inevitable traffic mayhem and gridlock that comes with it.
Perhaps that was for the best, as it allowed for some rest and recovery that will be crucial down the stretch. It will be back to business today as the Jets hit the midway point of their longest road trip of the season by facing the red-hot Taylor Hall and his New Jersey Devils. After that it’s on to Philadelphia, Washington and Nashville.
Winnipeg seems locked in these days, winners of three straight games including Tuesday night’s 3-0 triumph over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. They are comfortably in second place in the Central Division, six points ahead of the Minnesota Wild but six points behind the Predators, who have won nine straight. It’s looking increasingly likely the Jets won’t just make the playoffs for only the second time in seven seasons, but that they’ll open up the spring dance at Bell MTS Place with home-ice advantage.
Ask any player about the key to consistency and they’ll talk about the importance of preparation. It’s clear this particular group has been ready at puck drop more nights than not, judging by their strong overall play this season.
The Free Press spoke with several Jets players in New York earlier this week, looking to gain some insight into what a typical game day looks like for them. After all, it’s no secret many professional athletes are creatures of habit, following a dedicated training and dietary schedule that allows for peak performance.
So just how rigorous are these guys with their routine?
Veteran Matt Hendricks was quick to confess that he used to be THAT guy — the player who had so many quirks that he began to lose track. When something would go well at night, he’d often try to repeat what he’d done in the day leading up to it, believing it contributed to his on-ice success.
"And then as the season progressed, I just found that you’re doing so many things by the end of the year you’ve got 10, 15 things that you have to do every day. You start getting tired," he said. "Your going to a gas station to pick up a Gatorade and it’s gotta be yellow. Next thing you know you’ve got seven things to do like that on game day and it wears you out."
Hendricks said he’s deliberately toned that down as he’s gotten older.
"My only superstition is to not be superstitious. I just try to get into a routine, something that I’m comfortable with," he said.
Defenceman Tyler Myers said he’s seen some strange things during his time in the NHL. But nothing compares to his experience playing midget hockey.
"I had a teammate who had to spit in a garbage can 50 times. Exactly 50 times before games. If he would miss a couple he would have to go back and start over. That’s the worst I’ve seen," said Myers.
No such traditions for Myers, although the big blue liner said he is a "big nap guy" who needs as much afternoon shut-eye as possible. That can be a bit more challenging on the road like this week, as the visiting team always has their pre-game skate at 11:30 local time for a 7 p.m. start. At home it’s a 10:30 a.m. skate.
"I’m a long napper. Probably two hours plus. I know some guys are just like half-hour to an hour, that’s probably the short end. But I’ll nap as long as I can," said Myers. "But whether I have a good sleep or not, it doesn’t really affect me."
Rookie Jack Roslovic is still getting used to the daily demands of the big leagues and is thankful the team helps keep everyone on track with a detailed schedule. It includes bus departure and return times to the hotel, the meals they’ll be served and more.
"I’m not a superstitious guy by any means. You can probably catch a lot of superstitious guys in this locker room," said Roslovic, without naming the culprits.
"I’ll sometimes keep things the same if things go well. But I’m not too strict. We get a schedule like every game day, so I just follow the schedule for the most part. Just get a skate in, the night before I like to go to bed a little later than usual so I can get a nap in. I’m not a big napper, so you’ve got to really force that on yourself before the game," he said. "And just before the game I come to the rink pretty early, kinda walk around, hang out with the guys, talk about the game, talk about what we’re doing to do, just get the mind right."
Hendricks said eating well is probably the biggest factor, and that’s an area the organization makes simple.
"You want to get on some food that sits well with me all day and don’t really have any problems with. The way it’s set up with our meals, usually it’s the same kind of thing. It’s pretty easy for me, chicken and pasta, salad," he said. "I do like to get my rest on game days. But I don’t need a whole lot, I try to get enough at night. Half an hour to an hour, 90 minutes if you really can."
Myers said he’s learned to go with the flow, which means you won’t catch him hovering over a garbage can any time soon.
"I have a routine. but if I miss something I don’t freak out. But I know there’s some guys who are pretty strict on what they do. If I veer off course and do something different, I don’t get too worried about it," he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.