TAMPA — Whether it's a win or a loss, in a shootout or overtime or regulation, one constant of the Lightning's postgame routine at Amalie Arena is a clear plastic cup filled with a pinkish-purplish shake waiting at each player's locker.
It's a carefully concocted mix of protein and carbohydrates, flavored with berries and fruit juice, designed to help player recover after the physical grind of a game. You don't see it as much in a baseball clubhouse or a football locker room, but in hockey, it's a staple.
"You see that shake in there and you have to prepare yourself for the next game," said forward Chris Kunitz, 38 and in his 14th NHL season. "Especially in the playoffs, when you're going every other day and traveling, it puts a wear and tear on you most days. We put our faith and trust in our trainers, and they help us get past that hump and getting ready for the next day."
A lot of thought goes into the shakes' ingredients, so a room of 20 players might have 19 different recipes on a given night.
"It's not rocket science," said Mark Lambert, the Lightning's strength and conditioning coach, whose job also involves him making the shakes and carting them into the locker room. "It's part of the culture. It's nothing new. What you're trying to do after a hockey game is replenish and repair."
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, on the ice for all 60 minutes, gets more carbohydrates and less protein in his shake, for instance, as does a defenseman such as Victor Hedman, whose shifts and ice time are usually the team's highest.
A hockey team requires a wide variety of shakes because it has a wide variety of players. Kunitz is 18 years older than rookie Mikhail Sergachev. Braydon Coburn weighs 57 pounds more than his namesake, Brayden Point. Hedman is 10 inches taller than Tyler Johnson. Those factors don't change from night to night, but their playing time will, depending on power plays, penalties and injuries during the game.
"When I make my shakes, I don't have that data available in the third period," said Lambert, who doesn't chart calories in creating them. "I don't force-feed (the players). I give them the option: 'Here's your shake.' We also have a meal right after."
Participation, too, varies in the locker room.
"Most of them are pros," Lambert said.
Yanni Gourde said he didn't make the shakes a priority when he was in juniors or the minors but now doesn't miss one.
"I just do it every game," he said. "I don't think I was as consistent taking them earlier in my career. Every little thing helps, and the more you do it, the better recovery you're going to get. The games are really close now, so you want the most recovery you can."
J.T. Miller loves a strawberry-banana version that Lambert makes at home games (potassium also helps avoid cramping) but doesn't like the road version as well and usually goes without. Coburn said he doesn't like the shake immediately after a game but will wait a half-hour to let his body settle, and even then, it has to taste a certain way.
"Sometimes, having a thick, creamy shake right after … it's an art, though, for me," he said. "If they make one and I don't like the taste, it's right in the garbage. I'm very particular about the flavor. Sometimes, for whatever reason, if it's chalky … I'll give them feedback all the time, bust the trainers a little bit."
Different positions require different training. A big defenseman may seek absolute strength needed for a grinding style of play. A quicker, smaller player, like a wing, needs strength to stay healthy and withstand checks from opponents.
The shakes are the norm in the NHL, and the Lightning's AHL affiliate, Syracuse, does them the same way after games. Colleges don't always have the same kind of budget for nutritional supplements. Alex Killorn remembers the postgame routine at Harvard was "like chocolate milk" without the detail that goes into players in the NHL.
In a physically grueling sport, Lambert said, teams seek every advantage to help players push through. In the playoffs, there's no easy exit from a game — no five-minute overtime and shootout — so players need to be able to skate at a high level indefinitely, knowing overtime periods won't end until someone eventually scores.
"It's the next time they have to exercise. That's when you know," Lambert said of the benefits of careful recovery. "The next morning, when you wake up, you don't know. If you don't need energy, you don't know if you ate well or not. You don't feel it. It's when you actually have to exercise, and then you'll feel it."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.
Eastern Conference final
LIGHTNING VS. CAPITALS
Friday: at Tampa, 8, NBCSN
Sunday: at Tampa, 8, NBCSN
Tuesday: at Washington, 8, NBCSN
May 17: at Washington, 8, NBCSN
May 19: at Tampa, 7:15, NBC*
May 21: at Washington, 8, NBCSN*
May 23: at Tampa, 8, NBCSN*