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How to cope with fatigue and burnout? Winning certainly helps

No NHL team has played more games in the past two years than the Lightning, who have had little down time to rest and recalibrate.
Andrei Vasilevskiy rarely comes off the ice (in fact, he played every game of this past postseason). With so much hockey packed into the past two seasons, the Lightning are careful in combatting possible fatigue or burnout.
Andrei Vasilevskiy rarely comes off the ice (in fact, he played every game of this past postseason). With so much hockey packed into the past two seasons, the Lightning are careful in combatting possible fatigue or burnout. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 6

TAMPA — The Lightning have spent the better part of the past year running a marathon. Now they’re in Ironman territory as they vie for a third straight Stanley Cup.

No other team has played more games than the Lightning over the past two seasons. And they have the tools to go on another deep run. But how does a team get past the traps of fatigue and burnout?

“It comes down to mindset more than anything,” general manager Julien BriseBois said. “And from talking to our players, the new guys, the returning players — everyone’s still hungry for more and I think that’s going to fuel them.”

It’s easy to get caught up in what is still ahead for the team: a full 82-game season with West Coast travel and an extended break in February for the All-Star Game and Winter Olympics (which will have coach Jon Cooper behind the bench for Team Canada and likely will feature at least eight Tampa Bay players).

Looking at the season in its totality can be overwhelming. So can looking back.

The Lightning played 105 games in 238 days (starting in late July 2020 with the bubble games in Toronto through the Stanley Cup final in Edmonton, picking up with the 2021 season opener in January and ending with the Cup final against Montreal on July 7). The team competed in 48 playoff games — which experts say is double the load of a regular-season game — in that time.

Looking at the Past Two Seasons for the Lightning
Number of Games Number of Playoff Games Played Days of Play in Month
July 2020 1 0 * 3 **
August 2020 13 13 31
September 2020 12 12 28 **
October 2020
November 2020
December 2020
January 2021 6 0 19 **
February 2021 13 0 28
March 2021 16 0 31
April 2021 15 0 30
May 2021 13 7 31
June 2021 13 13 30
July 2021 3 3 7 **
Totals 105 48 238
* Game was exhibition vs. FLA
** Games were not scheduled for the entire month

The way the team powers through it? Lightning TV analyst Brian Engblom said the Lightning can’t overthink what they’ve done or dwell too much on what’s ahead.

“They’re well aware of what it takes and are well aware of their fatigue level,” said Engblom, who played the bulk of two seasons with Montreal when it won Cups from 1976-79.

Engblom added that it’s much harder for teams like Dallas and Montreal — both of which lost to the Lightning in Cup finals the past two seasons — to recover after reaching the pinnacle and falling short. The emotional toll is a heavy burden to carry and unload before the next season begins.

“The fact that (the Lightning) won, I think there’s less of a toll in some ways,” Engblom said. “The other teams that go to the finals and lose, would be a stress that you empty the tank, you do everything, and you’re just a little bit short. That would be really difficult to take.”

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In the offseason, many of the players spend at least a month away from the ice before they resume training and workouts. They need that time to recharge and to take a mental break from the Xs and Os of the game.

Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev doesn’t do anything hockey-related for a few weeks after every season, including watching. He spends time with his family and chilling, maybe getting in a vacation, before resuming workouts and skating. He joked it’s not hard to step away from the game like that, especially after the past nine months.

“I’d say it was pretty easy,” he said.

Dr. Ryan Hamilton, the team’s mental health performance coach for the past seven years, said this group has been through a lot over the past year thanks to navigating the league changes and restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but so have many teams.

Some of the Lightning’s go-to resources for avoiding fatigue are the same methods used by everyday people: maintaining good sleeping habits, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and taking things a day at a time.

“The head can get stuck on everything we’ve been through and that can be a bit of a drag, or it can get stuck on everything we have to go through and that can be a bit overwhelming,” Hamilton said. “A bit of the mindset is ... let’s deal with the present ... and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.”

Hamilton said Lightning players are also equipped in other ways to handle daily stressors and a packed schedule.

“That degree of competitiveness and leadership and so on,” Hamilton said, “is a protective factor when you’re looking at the load of what they’ve faced over the last year and a half or so.”

If anything, the past two seasons have shown the discipline of the Lightning veterans and how they have taken care of their bodies with two shortened offseasons and deep playoff runs.

“It really shows ... right from the management on down to the players,” Engblom said, “a focus and a discipline that was better than everyone else’s.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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