Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is credited with dropping the famous quote, “Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical.”
Despite the slightly flawed math, the sentiment likely applies to all professional sports in some form.
With the NHL’s nearly four-month long lockout in the rearview mirror, the Nashville Predators began their truncated training camp Sunday morning at Bridgestone Arena. They will hit the ice for the first time as a complete team Monday morning at Centennial Sportsplex in advance of Saturday night’s season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Predators will play 48 games between the January 19th season opener and the regular season finale on April 27th. Playing so many games in such a short period of time will be a physical test for all involved, but the mental aspect of the non-traditional schedule will be just as challenging.
“With all those games, you have to park a win or a loss,” defenseman Hal Gill said. “Sometimes in an 82 game season, you have things going well and then you have a Christmas break or an All-Star break. With this, you have that roll, you get your momentum, and you keep it going. If you do lose a couple games, you are right back at it, there’s no waiting around. Mentally you have to stay sharp.”
Some players elected to spend the lockout playing in European leagues while others chose to remain in North America to train. Center Mike Fisher thinks that all involved need to arrive at the rink each day prepared both mentally and physically.
“We have to make sure we play with that work ethic but we get the proper rest,” he said. “But the biggest thing coming in is going to be mental, being prepared mentally. Playing four-on-four, for those guys that didn’t play (in Europe), you can get into some bad habits, so we have to make sure our mind is ready and set on what we need to do as far as systems and special teams.”
One of the biggest challenges for a coaching staff in any season is to strike the right balance between work and rest.
“Once your mind goes a little bit, then everything else goes,” Barry Trotz said. “You can be in as great of shape as you want to be, but as soon as your mind is tired, you feel tired in all of the physical attributes and all of the conditioning you have done goes out the window. That’s probably the number one thing. That is where we are going to have to keep it even keel. We are going to have to make sure the guys are getting the rest. It is going to be really taxing. It is like the playoffs that you have to be really focused, you have to be disciplined, and you have to have purpose every day.”
But the only coach the Predators have ever had thinks that his charges have a real chance this season, and that is something to be enjoyed.
“At the same time, you have to have a little fun in terms of enjoying the whole process," Trotz said. “We are a threat to win the Stanley Cup, plain and simple. That is a great opportunity to embrace the challenge, embrace the race to get there and into the playoffs. Hopefully we can take it to the next level.”
And even though Sunday was the first day of training camp, Trotz appears to already be in top form with his quote game as evidenced by an unexpected track and field-related simile.
“A lot of guys look at those 82 games and say, ‘Man, that’s a real marathon,’ and it is, but this is like we are doing 1600 meters right here,” he said. “That’s what we are doing. It is not quite a complete sprint, but it is one of those tough races that you have to do. At the same time, it is a shortened season. It is going to go by quick because you are playing every second day.”