This picture doesn't do the type of sleeper bus an ECHL team owns justice.

This picture doesn’t do the type of sleeper bus an ECHL team owns justice.

The above picture is of a random sleeper bus I found online, but as the caption says, it doesn’t quite do justice to the type of bus an ECHL team, or even AHL team would own. Those are older and mustier, and usually carry the pungent odour of feet and broken dreams, which the picture you see doesn’t quite capture.

Sleeper buses still exist for teams (on the east coast), because the eight or nine hour drive to play some of the teams in your division would require hotel rooms after the game without them, and who wants to pay for those? Instead, you can just “sleep” in one of the three coffins stacked on top of each other with a classy little curtain for privacy, or do as I preferred to do, sit up front at the lone table and not sleep because those things make me claustrophobic. Seriously, doing a single sit-up in one of those is a literal non-option (not that I’d have ever tried).

Conditions are obviously better the higher you move up, but still: falling asleep after a hockey game is difficult under the best of circumstances, whether it be in a hotel bed or your own.

Last night I played rec hockey, and was up until 3:30 in the morning (if this is coherent it’ll be a small miracle). The game was an hour in length, ended shortly after 10, and wasn’t that intense. Still, I was screwed.

The reality for professional hockey players is, falling asleep after a hockey game is no easier – in fact, it’s usually harder, as you’d expect for people actually putting themselves mentally and physically on the line. It’s a tough phenomenon to explain. Adrenaline is the easy thing to blame, but consciousness persists long after a guy physically calms down. Slowing that mind down…that’s the tough part.

Y’know what would help? A few beers. Or a muscle relaxer. Or a painkiller. Or an Ambien. Or some combination of the four. 

Ingesting those things may not be the right thing to do, and you may pass them up the majority of the time, but some days you just want to shut yourself off, like holding the power button on your own computer until the screen finally goes black.

And indeed, some guys do make themselves go black.

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t that desperate to fall asleep last night, or any night. Worse-case scenario for me is that I’m not that sharp on the podcast, I miss a couple glaring errors in posts, and we all move on to Thursday. I’m not as likely to be demoted or healthy scratched or cut or sliced out of the profession entirely.

But for a hockey player, you can’t overstate what being well-rested does for your game in terms of jump, mental clarity and general attitude, and how immediately your career can be affect positively or negatively…so yeah, this is kind of an important subject.

For your average home back-to-back, even guys with real sleep issues are probably going to be okay. The puck drops on the first game at seven, the game is over shortly before ten, and you won’t naturally fall asleep before two-thirty/three. Home teams get the later morning skate time though, which means you can still grab 6-7 hours, skate, nap during the day, then be okay for that night’s game. For a non-napper like myself – not by choice, I’m just not a good sleeper – I needed to fall asleep sooner to feel decent the next night.

So, a couple beers may push unconsciousness up an hour or so, and beer is delicious, so sure, why not? Hell, why not one more.

But if you’re the road team, in a hotel with a roommate, and getting up at 8 for team breakfast before the bus leaves at 9 for your 10 o’clock skate, three in the morning is not an appealing time for your body to shut down. Falling asleep “slightly sooner” may not be what you’re looking for.

“Hey, do you still have any of those _____?”

It’s really easy for hockey players to fall into this.

There’s no easy solution for this problem, but I do believe teams mess up in one regard: they undervalue the uninterrupted night’s sleep knowing that there’s potential naps on the horizon (kudos to the Vancouver Canucks, by the way, who I believe have employed a sleep guru). Even if morning skate is optional, everybody has to come in to get their treatments and evaluation (ice, stim, massage, whatever the trainers deem necessary), get their gear right, and be there for the team meeting, which may or may not include video. On the road, after a late game, whatever: get up and get to the rink. Wake up.

I think they’d have more success with a sleep-in until whenever-guys-want, an afternoon walk to shake things out, a meeting, then naps. But the available sleep-in opens things up for guys to go out late the night before, so you see the dilemma for coaches here. (While some guys just want to feel better, there are always some undisciplined partiers – guys aren’t entirely just victims of circumstances, of course.)

The point is, you’re constantly fighting your body if you can’t mix in a nap, and even those who can nap tend to oversleep in the afternoon and end up with heavy legs that night. It’s a battle.

I’m not making excuses for guys, just explaining how easy it is for some players to head down the wrong path. And as for me, well, I’m pretty sure I need to decline any hockey games that start after nine on weekdays. I forget what I started writing about.