On the morning of almost every Golden Knights game regardless if it’s home or away, an optional skate is scheduled. There might be a handful of participants or a full squad, depending on a number of factors.
But who is allowed to “take the optional” and skip the morning skate? And how is that decided?
It’s a combination of health, personal preference and seniority to determine who is on the ice for an optional skate hours before a game.
“We’re all grown men. We can make our own decisions,” defenseman Zach Whitecloud said before being injured in Friday’s game against Edmonton. “Obviously if it’s a full team skate we’re going to go out there and skate as a team. If it’s an optional, and you have some bumps and bruises, you want to take the morning off, go upstairs and get some work done or if you just want to rest, that’s your call.”
The origin of the morning skate isn’t clear, with players in the 1940s known to hop on the ice in their suits to test their skate blade for that evening’s game.
The modern version was popularized in the 1970s after the Soviet Red Army team faced Team Canada in Summit Series and inspired coaches such as Philadelphia’s Fred Shero and Montreal’s Scotty Bowman to hold the skate as a deterrent for hitting the bars the night before.
Anyone that’s gone to work with a hangover the next day knows why.
In recent years, many coaches have made morning skates optional, and some have done away with them entirely.
Unlike a full practice, morning skates are shorter and less intense. There are a few light drills to get players’ legs loosened up, and teams might do line rushes, depending on the number of participants.
The Knights often run through their power play formations if there’s enough members on the ice. Centers practice faceoffs near the end of the session, while defensemen and other forwards practice deflections at the other end of the rink.
But there’s no detailed work on systems or game planning for that night’s opponent taking place on the ice.
When Gerard Gallant coached the Knights, the general rule was morning skates were optional if the team practiced the day before. That appears to have carried over to Pete DeBoer’s tenure.
”It’s everyone’s choice. There’s really nothing behind it,” Whitecloud said. “If it’s optional, you might see some guys out there. You might see two guys out there, you might see 20. That’s just kind of how it goes.”
Goalie Robin Lehner doesn’t always participate in morning skates when he is scheduled to start. He was not on the ice for either optional skate Wednesday or Friday, and an emergency backup goalie was given the opportunity to face NHL shooters.
Injured left wing Max Pacioretty’s distaste for morning skates is well known, dating to his playing days in Montreal.
For many younger players, the morning skate is expected to be part of their game-day routine.
“I like skating in the morning,” winger Keegan Kolesar said. “Sometimes the goalies want to work on stuff, so Mike Rosati, our goalie coach, asks me to come on early and I’m more than happy to.”
DeBoer was asked before Friday’s game against Edmonton who is allowed to skip an optional morning skate. He used the reporters in the room as examples and noted a veteran can take the optional while someone less experienced is expected to be on the ice.
For Whitecloud, who is in his third season, there’s usually no choice whether to skate.
“Am I allowed? Yeah, you can do what you need to do to play good,” Whitecloud said. “If I don’t skate in the morning and I play like crap, then I’ll probably skate the next time.”
Who: Golden Knights vs. Islanders
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757)
Radio: KKGK (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Knights -145; total 5½