Sykora, teammates cope with lack of holiday workout

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement prohibits teams from playing, practicing or traveling Dec. 24 and 25.

It doesn't have the power to force players to rest during their two days off, however, and Penguins right winger Petr Sykora didn't expect to during the holiday break.

Not if his young son, Nicholas, had anything to say about it.

The plan, Sykora said, was to get up at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday and yesterday and "spend two full days with him, playing hockey in the basement."

And when they weren't doing that, Sykora expected to be "running around, following him, so he doesn't take down the Christmas tree."

All that work might explain why Sykora wasn't terribly concerned about being away from the ice for two days before the Penguins face New Jersey at 7:08 tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J..


Game: Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m.

Where: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

TV: FSN Pittsburgh.

"It doesn't really bother me," he said. "I can prepare for every game without skating.

"It's all mental. If you can mentally prepare yourself mentally and going into the game without thinking, 'Oh my God, I didn't skate for two days. What's going to happen?' You just have to mentally prepare yourself."

Sykora and his teammates are scheduled to convene at the airport shortly before 9 a.m. today for a flight to Newark. Not all of them shrug off the impact of a forced two-day break the way Sykora does, especially when the schedule doesn't allow for at least one practice.

"I really don't like having two days off, without skating, then playing right away," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.

Defenseman Rob Scuderi was among those expressing similar sentiments.

"It's tough," he said. "You've been off the ice for a couple of days, and you don't feel [like] yourself. The only thing that makes it fair is that the other team has the exact same scenario."

It should be noted that the CBA does not prevent players from working out on their own; it just prohibits any team-organized activity (aside from a flight to the club's home city Dec. 24, if necessary).

Not surprisingly, most of the Penguins planned to devote at least a little time on Christmas Eve or Christmas to getting in some sort of workout.

"We're all professional," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "We're not going to sit on the couch for two days."

In most cases, the activity of choice figured to involve running or riding a stationary bike.

"I have to get a little sweat, somehow," Fleury said. "Probably a run."

The Penguins' flight to Newark should take about an hour, but the CBA allows teams playing Dec. 26 to travel much farther; its only stipulation is that no club be compelled to go to a city that requires an "average scheduled flight time" of more than 2 1/2 hours.

Fact is, most of the Penguins don't seem to mind that the first game after the break is on the road, although their reasons for feeling that way vary.

"It's a short trip, so it's not too bad," Scuderi said. "I would rather be on the road because sometimes at home, you want to play well in front of your fans, and if it doesn't go that way in the first period, sometimes it's tough."

Dupuis, meanwhile, pointed out the problems that can accompany playing a game at Mellon Arena under these circumstances.

"The fact that we have to go on the road may be a little bit of a disadvantage, but, if you look at it the other way, a lot of guys probably have family [in town], a lot of distractions [which could make a home game difficult]," he said.

How the Devils will deal with those off-ice issues is hard to say, just as it's difficult to predict what impact, if any, the two-day layoff will have on New Jersey's performance tonight.

But, if either team is affected more or less than the other, it won't be because of any advantage or disadvantage inherent in the CBA regulations.

"We're all even," Scuderi said. "We all don't feel so good. It takes one or two days to get back into it. We don't feel good, and it's not easy to do, but at least it's the same for everybody."

Including guys who spent the past two days trying to keep up with young sons.

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published December 26, 2008 5:00 AM


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