Bouncing back from hockey's marathon is mind game
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Max Talbot made a more cogent, medically correct statement yesterday than perhaps even he realized.
It was easy to be dazed and confused amid the morning-after fatigue, the sleep deprivation, the hours spent running on near-empty and on pepperoni with cheese.
"Physically, it's more mentally than anything," began the Penguins center, who delivered the game-tying goal about two and a half periods before Monday's Stanley Cup final Game 5 finally ended early yesterday morning. The roomful of media laughed.
"If you can understand what I'm saying." More laughter.
"'Cause I can't."
Yet Mr. Talbot made an important point about athletics amid his news conference yesterday, on a day off for both teams. Rest, the right foods and the right fluids are all critical in trying to recover from a night that stretched into a morning where the Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings played the equivalent of 1 5/6 hockey games at once, some 109 minutes and 57 seconds of regulation and three overtimes that ended in an exhilarating, exhausting 4-3 Penguins triumph. Then they reconvene barely 43 hours later for Game 6 tonight at 8 inside Mellon Arena, the Red Wings still trying to garner one more victory to hoist hockey's coveted hardware and the Penguins still striving to prolong a series they trail by three games to two.
The head, in other words, needs as much care and tenderness as an athlete's body at a time like this.
"The psychological factor," Al Green called it. He is a former University of Michigan hockey and football trainer, now an assistant athletic director and head trainer at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla., and chairperson of the National Athletic Trainers Association public-relations committee. In a playoff situation such as this Stanley Cup final, with one day between Games 4 and 5 and now Games 5 and 6, "you have got to get mentally ready to play. You're body may recover, but your mind may not. And each player does it differently.
"The athletes need to get in that zone," Mr. Green said. "If you can get mentally ready to play, the endorphins and all those fun chemicals can kick in and get an athlete [physically] ready to play the game. That's become a big factor because your mental really controls your physical."
So maybe the Penguins player nicknamed Mad Max is a medical genius after all.
Or, as he put it: "Your body can take a lot more than you think. If you're strong mentally, your body's going to follow."
If nothing else, Mr. Talbot helped to make for a bunch of happy, weary Penguins teammates by early yesterday morning, his game-tying goal with 34.3 seconds left giving the visitors overtime chances to win the game and return the championship series to Pittsburgh for one final game this season.
That goal as the extra attacker, with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury pulled to give their team an additional skater, ended Detroit fans' chants of "We want the Cup" and pushed Game 5 into the first overtime. Which pushed it into the second. Which pushed it into the third, where Petr Sykora's power-play goal near the period's midpoint ended an emotional, draining game
"It definitely was a tough one last night," captain and center Sidney Crosby said yesterday afternoon. "My legs didn't feel very good, to be honest with you. It doesn't feel like 200 feet all the way down [the ice]. It feels more like a football field" -- 100 feet longer.
"Physically draining," added Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski. "You're tired."
"Luckily, they had breaks where they could fuel up," said South Fayette registered dietician Cynthia Burke, a past president with the Pennsylvania Dietetic Association.
During those Game 5 intermissions, players tried to regain strength and energy, some Penguins even requiring intravenous fluids. For the most part, the Penguins ate oranges, bananas, power bars, sports drinks, water and even pizza.
"I had some slices here and there," Mr. Sykora said.
"Who delivered?" one journalist asked.
"Domino's," Mr. Sykora replied.
Not that Mike Ilitch, owner of both the Red Wings and Little Caesar's pizza, would permit any other kinds of pies in Joe Louis Arena. But there are worse foods for a perspiring, tiring athlete than pizza, a regular post-game snack in hockey locker rooms -- even ones where the owner didn't make his wealth that way.
"It's not your health food, but it's not going to hurt you, either. Pizza's really not that bad," Mr. Green said. After all, there are proteins in the cheese, electrolytes in the sauce and carbohydrates in the crust.
That pizza wasn't chased down by beer or libations afterward in celebration, Mr. Green figured, because alcohol can dehydrate a finely tuned, and overly weary, athlete.
Both Mr. Green and Ms. Burke expected that players from both teams began sipping sports drinks and water -- but not those high-protein, energy concoctions -- in large amounts yesterday and today, as a way to rehydrate and replenish their bodies for tonight's Game 6. That also helps to alleviate muscle aches.
"Your muscle tissues worked out, so lactic acid builds up -- you feel the soreness," Ms. Burke said. "So keeping hydrated, drinking fluids, help to wash that out."
Stretching and a brief physical outlet such as a morning skate also will help restore their tired bodies and ready them for the exertion of a Game 6.
"The good thing about this is, the Penguins are a little younger team, so they'll recover a little faster than Detroit, so hopefully they'll have an edge," said Dr. Ed Snell, a Pirates team physician. "Their muscles aren't going to be able to fully recover. ... The muscles, the bruises, the sprains, the little aches, even [Ryan Malone's] broken nose won't stop them from performing. But a couple of other guys with sprains and strains, they're going to be the ones having more trouble coming back from nagging and devastating injuries than, say, a bruise."
But rest may be the best medicine.
"You don't want to go out and party until 3 in the morning," Mr. Green said.
Especially not if you may play a Stanley Cup final game until that hour.
First Published June 4, 2008 12:00 am