No matter what level you play at, to perform your best in the hockey playoffs you should allow your body time to recharge
By Christopher Costa
A few years back, for the third straight year the Pittsburgh Penguins have fallen victims of the hockey playoffs woes. Speculation is brewing amongst the hockey community, but the facts remain for a team that almost always seems destined for a finals run. Merely my opinion, but I think the trend has some definition.
With the hockey playoffs being such a grueling battle, fingers always point at the top players—who didn’t do this, or who should have done that. In this case, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are at the forefront for criticism. However duly justified (or not), both were shadowed like a case of the Bubonic Plague. No matter how impressive your talent level is, if you are being followed stride for stride it’s nearly impossible to be consistently successful.
So if it wasn’t the shutdown, or goaltender Marc-André Fleury’s mistakes (he actually played very well), or maybe just the hockey gods raining on the Pittsburgh parade again, then what was it? From my perspective, it’s pretty simple and can be summed up in one word: FATIGUE.
The Penguins looked tired, played tired, and made tell-tale mistakes that are clearly indicative of mental fatigue as well. Coughing up the puck, miscommunications and poor judgment all represent the mental side effects of fatigue, which possibly may be related to overtraining or lack of “tapering” prior to the start of the playoffs.
Let’s be clear; I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m merely making an observation that after three years of watching the same results, it seemingly becomes a plausible explanation for the rather abrupt and lackluster play. In an article I wrote a few months back, highlighting how I like my athletes to prepare for the playoffs, tapering is part of that plan.
If you want to make it through the playoffs, at some point you should be tapering your training programs, both off- and on-ice. What I mean by tapering is that you gradually decrease the duration and intensity of your training programs. You begin to focus more on tactics, technique and mental preparedness. All of the strength training that you’ve put to work during the season should sustain your energy systems sufficiently enough to provide you with optimal performance. However, these systems are battered through the long regular season. Injuries accumulate and mental awareness can fade. Without time to recover, you are taking a risk that many successful teams are not willing to take.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t suggest that hockey players should stop training altogether; that would be catastrophic. However, you do not want to be completing five or more high-intensity workouts every week leading up to the playoffs and expect to have optimal energy stores. Taking two or more weeks to reenergize can give you a leg up on the competition. Again, the Penguins may have done all the right things, but appearing that fatigued after taking a commanding series lead is difficult to justify. Fatigue accumulates. In this game, the less fatigued team usually wins.
So no matter what level of hockey you play at, to perform at your best during the hockey playoffs, you should taper your training before the playoffs. Allow your body some considerable time to replenish, so that you give yourself a fair shot at making a significant playoff run!
Christopher Costa owns and operates Assist Performance, based in Philadelphia, Pa. aP takes strength & conditioning to the next level, and specializes in ice hockey and golf. He previously interned with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2013-2014 season. Chris is slated to spend some time this summer under the New York Islanders organization.
Twenty-two years of ice hockey experience has allowed Chris to develop the talent, necessary education, and a forward thinking process that is sure to enhance athletic potential. If you or your child are interested in NCAA Division 1, Tier 1 Junior A, Major Junior, or simply strive to be the best in your league, please visit assistperformance.com.