Tuesday, 22 November 2011

48 hours is a long time in hockey

I’ve been hearing it every single year, for as long as I can remember. At some point during a football season a manager, usually at one of the top clubs, will moan about ‘fixture congestion’.

Earlier this month Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was quoted as saying: “It is disgraceful in this day and age that players are being asked to play a key Premier League game and then a quarter-final in London just 48 hours later. It’s surely the duty of the football authorities to think of other solutions which consider the welfare of the players and this clearly hasn’t happened.”

Now I’m not picking on Dalglish for any reason other than he’s the latest to complain, truth be told there’s probably not a manager in the Premier League that hasn’t moaned about scheduling at some point. Usually the reason for this is having to play two games in 48 hours or maybe three games in a week. Okay, that's a lot of football but these are professional athletes paid millions of pounds to play the game.

So if footballers are unable to play two games in three days, how the hell are teams able to function in the NHL. Let’s just have a look at Dalglish’s recent moan and, as an example, compare it to the recent schedule of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Dalglish is upset because his team are being forced to play a game in Liverpool against Manchester City on a Sunday and a cup quarter final against Chelsea in London the following Tuesday night, approximately 49 and a half hours later. Before playing the second game they will also need to travel around 210 miles to the capital.

Now let’s look at the Leafs. On Sunday night they hosted the Washington Capitals in a 7pm start in Toronto. Their next game was the following day starting at 5pm, meaning less than 20 hours after finishing one game they were playing again – startling. Even more so when you consider not only did they have this short turn around, but they had to travel 800 miles to Carolina during the few hours between the games! And it’s even more astounding when you realise that the game in Carolina was the Leafs’ fourth in just six days.

Whereas in football it’s relatively unusual to see two games in three days, in the NHL the above scenario is the norm. NHL teams play 82 regular season games every year and if you go all the way to the cup final you can expect to play well over the 100 games mark. That compares to just 38 Premier League games, which is topped up to around 55 or 60 depending on cup success. Yes, there is an argument that football games are 90 minutes long where as in the NHL players generally spend between 15 and 20 minutes on the ice each game. However, the physical and mental stress of playing so regularly and having to travel so far must make the demands of the hockey much greater than those of English football.

If you ask me, football managers should not be allowed to complain about fixture pile-ups!

Sid the kid

I couldn’t write this today without mentioning the return of Sidney Crosby last night. There are two things to talk about really. Firstly, the incredibly over the top media circus and hyperbole that surrounded his return, and secondly the unbelievably good performance that just backed it all up!

The pre-game anticipation ramped up to seriously heady heights on Monday night – it was the sort of anticipation that I’ve only seen once or twice in sport. Fans flocked to the game, TV networks changed schedules to screen it and hockey fans couldn’t stop talking and tweeting about it.

His performance was outstanding. Whatever you say, there is no way that any sportsman can be out injured for 10 months and come back at 100 per cent match fitness. To play 16 minutes and leave the ice with a haul of four points was terrifyingly good – if he can do that now what is he going to be like in seven, eight or nine games time. The disappointing Islanders were obviously nice opposition for his comeback but there must have been some worries and concerns on his mind, not that it showed.

Being relatively new to this sport it was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see Crosby play and it was an absolute pleasure. Even having missed the first 20 games of the season, if he keeps up that kind of form I wouldn’t bet against him threatening the top of the goal scoring charts come the end of the season. If they stay healthy, the Penguins will be a very, very tough side to beat this year.

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