The Edmonton Oilers young stars that played in Oklahoma City for three months believe they'll have an advantage beyond honing their skills 34 games with the Barons.
Because the NHL lockout dragged out half the season, the league has squeezed 48 games into a 99-day window. Teams will be forced to play more frequently on back-to-back days.
That's unusual in the NHL, common in the American Hockey League.
“It seemed like we were playing two-in-twos or three-in-threes every time,” said forward Jordan Eberle, who has returned to Edmonton but still leads the AHL in scoring. “With the bus trips you definitely get an appreciation for the NHL. But they weren't that bad. But it's not the NHL.”
Unlike the NHL, most AHL games are back-to-backs to cut down travel costs. The league also schedules more weekend games to enhance attendance.
The Barons will play another back-to-back series Friday and Saturday at the Cox Convention Center when they host the San Antonio Rampage, a division rival they've already played seven times this season.
“It's a bit different in your preparation, but it's also the same,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “Every player has to prepare themselves for that night. It's the same for everybody. This basically is a weekend league.”
Include five times they play three games in three days and the Barons will play on back-to-back days 26 times this season.
Quick turnarounds account for 58 of Oklahoma City's 78 regular season games. That's roughly three-fourths of the schedule.
Team captain Josh Green, 35, has played for eight NHL teams, nine AHL teams. Having played 838 professional games in 16 pro seasons, Green has experienced the differences between AHL and NHL schedules.
“It can be tough,” Green said. “The important thing is to get your nutrition after the game and make sure you get proper sleep. It is a bit of a grind. The players that handle it the best are the players that play well and move on (to the NHL).”
Defenseman Alex Plante has played a handful of NHL games the past three seasons but has spent most of his pro career in the AHL.
“You can't get sick. There's no time in between to get over things,” Plante said. “There's definitely an adjustment period the first time. We have a lot of bus trips and flights. You eventually get used to it. Most players have to go through this league (to get to the NHL).”
Mark Arcobello, the Barons leading scorer, said after playing four years at Yale, his biggest adjustment was the six-month season, even longer if your team makes the playoffs.
“It starts with your offseason workouts,” Arcobello said. “You have to be in shape. It's more mental than anything. But usually it's the same for both teams, so it's a pretty level playing field.”
Five times this season the Barons will play three games in three days. That never happens in the NHL.
“When you have your third game you can't play outside your game,” Plante said. “You have to keep it simple. If you get too fancy on the third game in three nights it can eat you alive.”
From a coaching perspective, ice time is monitored closely to assure players still have something left.
“That third game basically is all mental,” Nelson said. “You have to get your head in the right frame of mind and get your legs going. The third game in three nights, good hockey teams play smart.”