The Canadian Press By Stephen Whyno
Mike Babcock just wanted to keep his players awake. Dan Bylsma didn’t have his bearings.
It was that kind of whirlwind experience for NHL players and coaches who flew to Sochi from Sunday into Monday and then got right on the ice to prepare for the fast-approaching Olympic tournament.
“I’m not sure what day it is and when I arrived,” said Bylsma, who’s the head coach of the United States team. “Getting on the ice here, we definitely accomplished that.”
This wasn’t a day of high expectations. No team had to be crisp or perfect after some or all of its players woke up in the United States or Canada and spent nine hours on a plane to Russia.
After the nine-hour time difference and overnight flight, Team Canada took the ice at 8 p.m. with a simple task in the eyes of Babcock.
“Keep the players up. Really,” he said. “To be honest with you, obviously it’s been a long day. We thought if we got some exercise at this time a night, we had a better chance to stay up till midnight.”
Part of the battle for everyone who made the trip — almost 150 NHL players and many others — was simply battling fatigue and jet lag.
When Finland finished its practice before 6 p.m., players were all smiles with no complaints.
“I feel like I don’t really feel like I’m tired out right now,” Finnish defenceman Olli Maatta said. “But still, it’s been great. Food is good. It hasn’t been that hard.”
Babcock said the flight was as good as could be expected. Players from various nations didn’t necessarily intermingle, but it wasn’t a hostile environment.
“I think everyone seemed like they were in a good mood,” Sidney Crosby said. “I didn’t see the intimidation factor on the plane yet, so we’ll see.”
Players started landing before 9 a.m. Monday, filtering through the athletes village and then to a handful of rinks around the Olympic Park for practice.
“It was a long flight, but it was a short skate,” Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said. “We broke a little sweat, so that was all good.”
Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman said the time change is a huge difference for all the athletes coming long distances. Coaching consultant Ralph Krueger, who has been here for a week, had a plan for how players should deal with it.
“Every team has people that are professionals that give you every opportunity to manage your jet lag,” Babcock said. “What we’ve tried to do here today is manage our jet lag here. Is there jet lag? Absolutely. Can you overcome it? No question about it. Are we going to let it get in the way of what we want to do? No.”
By the time players got off the ice for their respective practices, fatigue varied. After 9 p.m. and practice, U.S. defenceman John Carlson was ready to sleep.
Not long before, Canada’s Patrick Sharp was still running on adrenalin.
“Nothing crazy,” Sharp said. “It’s been a long couple of days I guess, trying to stay awake to adjust to the time. It’s been fun.”
Finland’s Jussi Jokinen got about five hours of sleep on his flight. American David Backes tried to stay awake once he got to his room but wound up falling asleep, five-minute cat naps at a time.
U.S. teammate James van Riemsdyk was enjoying the challenge.
“Long day, but obviously a lot of adrenalin,” he said. “It’s good to try to battle as long as you can to stay up — as far as getting adjusted to the time difference. We’re excited to get going.”