Eat. Sleep. Play hockey.
Young hockey players use the phrase to express their passion for the sport. It is a figurative way of describing their desire to constantly be at the rink, in the locker room and on the ice. It takes on a new meaning when it evolves into reality. The month of November will provide just that for the Elmira Jackals.
One sixty-minute game tests the physical and mental toughness of hockey players. Repeat the process three times in a row and the task becomes even more arduous. Three games in three nights is an absolute grind.
This month the Jackals face the toils of their schedule. With 14 games in 30 days this team will do little else than repeat the aforementioned phrase. Physical and mental strength are paramount throughout the busiest and most grueling stretch of hockey the Jackals will endure this season.
“I think a lot of the physical prep comes from doing your workouts during the summer,” said rookie defenseman Patch Alber. “I know I’m not used to it too much but you have to make sure you store the energy, eat well and get enough sleep.”
Alber did not play a three-in-three during his four-year career at Boston College so the physical burdens are newer to him than some of his teammates. Newly signed veteran defenseman Marvin Degon has been a part of many exhausting stretches during his career and can help the young guys remain sharp, physically and mentally.
“Telling these guys to focus on their jobs is what you have to do,” said Degon. “Sometimes there are situations you can overextend yourself, but it turns into a fool’s error. You have to be smart and whisper into the young guys’ ears telling them to pay attention to their energy expenditure and keep short shifts.”
Last weekend head coach Dwight Mullins led his squad to the Sunshine State to play the Orlando Solar Bears sandwiched between two games against the Florida Everblades. Although the Jackals lost the first two contests, they bounced back resiliently with a win in the finale against Florida. Mullins thought the team may have deserved a better fate but was impressed with the way the squad finished the trip.
“It lingers with you the most because it’s the final competition before we have a few days off,” said Mullins. “It makes everyone in good spirits and keeps the atmosphere positive and keeps us moving forward. It was very important and was a character win for us against a very good hockey team.”
With a second consecutive three-in-three looming this weekend Mullins lightened the workload during the week at practice to keep the players fresh.
“I think it’s about energy and conserving it,” said Mullins. “At the same time it’s a lot of teaching. I think there are some detail parts of our game that we need to pay attention to. It’s not necessarily about conditioning and tempo and pace as much as it is trying to regroup and get some energy.”
Having some veterans on the team is a major benefit in a loaded month like November.
“One of the strengths we have is a core group of guys that has been in a lot of situations as professionals before,” said Mullins. There’s not a lot that really needs to be said with those types of situations. Obviously we understand we have to keep our energy levels as high as we possibly can and short shifts play into that a lot.”
Although the travel is demanding and shuffling to and from hotels can take a toll, the Jackals took advantage of the time away to bond as a unit. Alber, who saw his first game action as a professional on the road trip, saw a cohesiveness forming among the players.
“I think it was great,” said Alber. “We were all together pretty much the whole time, especially the nice 26-hour bus ride. You get to know all the guys on a more personal level. We had a couple new guys so it gave us a chance to really get to know them and get to know our teammates better.”
Due to a whirlwind of transactions just before the team departed the Jackals brought in a couple of new additions to help solidify the lineup. The long road trip gave a new guy like Degon a chance to create relationships with his new teammates.
“Whenever you get in the locker room with the guys the bonding starts,” said Degon. “But when you are on a road trip it’s always fun. You are battling, picking guys up when they’re tired or they’re hurt and fighting for each other. That’s just hockey.”
Mullins knows that earning points is important but the road trips provide more than wins and losses.
“Yeah there are games that you remember but at the same time there are a lot of scores and games you never remember, but you remember the times you spent going into battle with 20 other guys and the times you spend together away from the rink,” said Mullins. “Those things stay with you more than anything else and they are the real important things.”