Dear Sports Medicine Counsel,


I don’t know if you can help us but things are getting desperate. Our Junior hockey team started out the season in great form and was actually in first place for the first half of the season. Over the last month though we have been losing games and losing badly. While I can appreciate there are probably many reasons for our slump, one thing I’ve noticed is that we are consistently being out hustled. This then leads to odd man rushes and more than our fair share of tripping and hooking penalties. The penalty kill gets us even more out of gas. I’m not sure if the problem is laziness, fitness or shift length. Any advice?

Gassed and grasping.

Dear GG,

I’m going to borrow a page from Mike Babcock ( and put my money on shift length. The average NHL shift length is 45 seconds and Babcock has been adamant in bringing the Leaf’s average down to 40 seconds. While many reasons could be cited for the resurgence of the Leafs and last fall’s Team Canada stellar performance, bringing shift length down brings many rewards. Physiologically, it just makes sense. Obviously we would want all of our players to tenaciously go “fore check, back check, pay check!” but that is easier said than done. Our bodies can go 100% repeatedly if we only tax our immediate energy system (called the ATP-PC system). If, however, we try to go 100% for longer than about 10 seconds we are increasingly relying on the anaerobic-lactacid system. You have probably heard of, and felt, lactic acid. This accumulating acidity makes it impossible for your muscles to work maximally. To make matters worse, recovery from a lactic acid insult (i.e. a killer 60+ second shift early in the game) is prolonged meaning you won’t be able to recover on the bench and you won’t be able to perform at 100% for the rest of the period or game.

While quick shifts are part of the answer, your team would also need to work out the logistics to make this work. You need to efficiently get players on and off the bench and ideally only when in control of the puck and moving into the offensive zone. It may be better to sacrifice a potential three on two rush with a dump in and line change, than gamble on a scoring opportunity that, if unsuccessful, might mean you are scrambling to stop the play coming back to your end.

Keeping you and your team mates fresh throughout the game means you can get all of your lines into the game (as opposed to getting cold on the bench), be on the power play more than the penalty kill and be a team that comes on strong in the 3rd period. Most importantly, quick shifts could put you back in the win column!

Best of luck,

Sports Medicine Counsel


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