TAMPA — Creatures of habit. That's what NHL players are. Especially on game days.
They like things done a certain way. Every day. The same way. The same order. The same everything.
On game days, they get up at the same time. Eat at the same time, often eating the same thing. They take the same drive to the rink. Dress in the same order. Practice at a certain time. They then go home. Nap at the same time. Go back to the rink at the same time.
The pregame routine is the same. Maybe a snack. They go to meetings. Maybe a little soccer in the hallway to warm up. And then on the ice for warmups. Then the game.
Everything is the same.
Except this time of year for the most important games of the year.
"It is. It's totally different," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said.
Why? Because for the first time all season, the games aren't starting at 7 or 7:30 p.m. They are starting at 8:15.
"More like 8:15ish," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Even when teams are on the road during the regular season in other time zones, games are starting in those cities at 7 or 7:30. Believe it or not, that extra hour can really have an impact on a player's preparation.
"I know a lot of guys don't like it because we're just so used to (games starting earlier)," Callahan said. "We're creatures of habit. We all have a routine that we get in."
Really? It makes a difference?
"Considerably," Cooper said.
"It just makes for a much longer day," Cooper said. "All of a sudden, you have an extra hour or so during the day."
For players already jumpy to start a game, that extra hour can be maddening. It's not as if it's as simple as picking up a book because players are too jittery for that. And they can't burn off nervous energy by going for a run because they have to save their strength for the night.
So the players just kill time by doing a bunch of stuff, but not really doing anything at all.
For Cooper, the extra hour came in handy Sunday. It allowed him to go to a Mother's Day brunch with his wife and three kids. But, if he had his choice, he would rather the games start earlier. So would all the players.
"Like you said," Cooper said, "creatures of habit."
Now, certainly, the Lightning isn't the only team dealing with it.
"Both teams have to deal with it," Cooper said.
And, one would supposed that playing at 8:15 is better than the alternative of not playing at all.
"We're also excited about it because if you're playing at 8 o'clock this time of year it means you're playing in some pretty big games," Callahan said.
Games that are a whole of fun even though they are full of stress on pressure.
"Sure it's fun," Callahan said. "It's why you play. This is what it's all about."
Even if it's an hour later than normal.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.