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Coyotes’ crazy travel schedule presents challenges for training staff

Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak, middle, celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) and left wing Max Domi (16) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Sabres won 5-4. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. –The Coyotes play 21 of their first 33 games on the road, 16 of those in the Central or Eastern time zones, and FOX Sports Arizona reported that the team will travel a total of 22,333 miles by Dec. 10.

That dizzying travel schedule creates problems for Rick Tocchet’s coaching staff and a young team that needs practice time to learn and grow. It also creates challenges for a training staff trying to help those players compete at optimal performance levels.

“Travel in itself always causes issues,” Coyotes Strength and Conditioning coach J.P. Major said. “There are so many variables and you just can’t account for all of them. It’s always read and react; have a great plan but plan to adapt because there are some things that just go wrong and you have to adjust accordingly.”

The Coyotes employ a load tracking system for their players called Firstbeat, which uses heartbeat data to provide insight on stress, exercise and sleep. Major’s staff uses that data to communicate daily with the coaching staff and the medical staff on the individual needs and the best approach for each player.

“Stress is cumulative,” Major said. “The travel and the practice and the games and different hotels, those things are all different stressers so if we can manage each one just a little bit that helps us.

“We’ll look at our game schedule prior to the season and say, ‘OK, we need an off-day here, we need a really light practice here, or here’s where we can get a little more work in’ and our coaches have been awesome with that. Toc has such a great feel for it because they used a similar load tracking technology in Pittsburgh (his former team) so we’re speaking the same language.”

Major said his staff uses TRIMP (Training impulse), as a method to quantify training load. TRIMP takes into consideration the intensity of exercise as calculated by the heart rate reserve method (the difference between your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate) and the duration of exercise.

“A 45-minute practice might be a 20-40 TRIMP as a group average. That would be a good light practice day,” Major explained. “A lot of times in the past, teams would intentionally go in with a 90 TRIMP practice to put a little bit of work on their team and it turned out being a 150. Or they want to be a 25 as a group and then they look at the data and it’s a 50 or 60 so it helps us really regulate what they’re doing.

“It’s not the definitive answer to say every time we’re on the road and we’ve got we’ve got a game the next day that we have to get to this number. We just use it as another piece of the puzzle and it varies from guy to guy. It’s really more read and react.”

The Coyotes conduct fitness testing, and strength and conditioning testing at the start of the season to identify individual needs. They also conduct a functional movement screening at the start of the season that provides data on each player and identifies potential red flags.

“If a guy is going to have shoulder issues, or hip or knee issues, it will help us say, ‘OK, I need to attack this,” Major said. “This will be one of my priorities in his program this season.'”

Aside from those metrics, Major is paying attention to the basics such as weight training, diet, hydration and sleep. Even on the road, players who don’t log as many minutes (or any) in a game may go for a workout after games, or on off-days.

“Diet is a huge concern,” Major said. “We do a lot of education on the front end of the season just to let them know what helps in terms of postgame, pregame, during the game, how to fuel properly for travel days and off-days and game days.

“Hydration is another big piece. We have some general guidelines. For every hour on the plane we say they should drink a bottle of water and we use a variety of NSF certified supplements and we ask that all of them take a multi-vitamin.”

The Coyotes have taken much of the dietary needs of their players into their owns hands.

“That’s one area we’ve made incredible strides in is what we offer on the plane. We’ve always offered good portion sizes but in terms of the quality, we stretched our budget with that specific goal in mind to increase the quality of our airline food,” Major said. “A lot of times, the problem is keeping weight on guys in the season. If guys maintain close to the body composition they started with and maintain their weight, we’re doing a pretty good job.

“We can’t monitor everything they eat of course, but we’re providing breakfast most of the days they are with us, lunch for most of the days and on game days we do dinner so if they’re eating the meals with us they’re eating high-quality foods and the right quantities and they’re getting all their vitamins with our supplements. We’re putting them in position to be successful. It’s up to them to come the other 50 yards.”

Major said all of the Coyotes are in terrific shape, as should be expected of professional athletes, but aside from workout freak Jakob Chychrun, Major also identified defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson as a player with impressive stats.

“He’s just got an engine that is unbelievable,” Major said. “His level of fitness is unreal.”

While the demands of the travel schedule are taking their toll on the Coyotes in other ways, Major sees one positive.

“It’s actually probably better off on the front end of the season when the guys aren’t as banged up and still kind of fresh,” he said. “Then again, our March is pretty tough, too. We have 17 games in March so I guess we’ll get it on the back end, too.”

Coyotes at Jets
When: 6 p.m., Tuesday
Where: Bell MTS Place, Winnipeg, Manitoba
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Records: Coyotes — 2-14-3. Jets — 9-4-3.
Injury report: Coyotes — D Jakob Chychrun (knee) is out indefinitely. D Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) is day-to-day. Jets — F Mathieu Perreault (knee) has resumed skating but is day-to-day.

Jets scouting report: Connor Hellebuyck will start in goal vs. the Coyotes. … The Jets assigned LW Brendan Lemieux to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League on Monday. … F Blake Wheeler is fifth in NHL points with 23.

Coyotes scouting report: D Niklas Hjalmarsson traveled with the team. There’s a chance he’ll play at some point on the four-game Canadian trip. D Jakob Chychrun should join the team at some point to practice, but he won’t play on the trip.

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