CALGARY – The puck drop for Canada’s first three games at the world junior
hockey championship in Russia is 4:30 a.m. ET.
Host city Ufa is 10 to 14 hours ahead of the Canadian players’ body clocks,
depending on what part of the country they’re from. A Canadian junior team hasn’t travelled this far, or
crossed this many times zones, since the 2001 tournament in Moscow. Ufa is another 1,160 kilometres and two
time zones to the southeast.
Jet lag and travel fatigue will be major challenges, barriers as significant on
the road to gold as the Russians, Swedes and Americans.
Hockey Canada enlisted the expertise of Calgary sleep specialist Dr. Charles Samuels to draw up a plan to
combat jet lag and sleep deprivation.
“I’ve met with sleep doctors, sports psychologists, neuropsychologists,” Canadian head coach Steve Spott
said. “I’ve met with just about every doctor possible.”
Anyone who flies across time zones has experienced the sleep disturbances, fatigue, impaired concentration
and digestive problems that occur until the body adapts to the new environment.
The accepted rule is it takes a day for every hour of time difference to adapt. Samuels aims to accelerate
the adjustment by a few days.
Travel fatigue gets less attention than jet lag, he says, but for athletes who travel to far-flung places
a lot, it can be damaging to performance. The cumulative effects of extensive travel fatigue the body and
mind. Even though the Canadian team is travelling to Ufa once, the sheer distance and time spent on planes
can catch up with them later.
Samuels drew up Canada’s plan from a template he created for the Calgary Flames for their 2011-12
The Canadian team is currently in pre-competition training in Finland, which is a four-hour time
difference from Ufa. The players were on a strict schedule from the moment the wheels went up on their flight
from Calgary on Saturday.
One of the worst things a team can do, says Samuels, is get on the plane exhausted. But it was inevitable
the players would feel some fatigue after a stressful selection camp.
“We really talked about on the flight, eye shades, ear plugs, noise cancellation headphones, all the
pillows and comfort you need and the plane is for rest. No screwing around,” Samuels said. “You’re not
watching movies, you’re not playing cards, you’re not doing anything. You’re either sleeping or your eyes are
closed and you are resting.”
Taking synthetic melatonin supplements, scheduled exposure to light and dark, and shifting meal times
towards the destination are all elements of the Canadian team’s plan.
If it’s time for light exposure and there isn’t any, the team has hand-held lights called Litebooks with
The company’s website cites NASA research that shows scheduled exposure to a specific type of light, as
well as timed avoidance of light, can speed the shifting of the body clock.
“We’re using these Litebooks because there’s limited light in Ufa and in Helsinki,” explained Scott
Salmond, senior director of hockey operations. “We’re planning on one Litebook per three players and players
have to spend a set amount of time around that light.”
“When it is light outside, we plan on getting outside and we’re going to go for walk. Our schedule in
Finland is based very much on what our schedule will be like in Ufa and we’re trying to change our clocks,
even though we’re in Helsinki and we’re four hours different,” Salmond continued.
“We’ve got a day-by-day plan on how we deal with jet lag and that includes what kind of activities we’re
doing and what times of the day we’re going to meet and what time we’re actually scheduling rest for
Canada plays the host Finns in an exhibition game Thursday and another against Sweden on Saturday before
travelling to Ufa the following day. Their first game is Dec. 26 versus Germany.
Canada’s opening three games are at 3:30 p.m. local time, which means no pre-game skate in the morning.
Samuels is pleased about that because he sees those skates as simply draining players of precious energy
they’ll need later in the tournament.
“I’m respectful of the coaches,” he said. “But I tell them ‘Don’t be pushing these guys because there’s no
upside.’ There are very fit athletes and the most important thing is not draining them. Overtraining them is
way worse than undertraining them.”
Compact tournaments like the world juniors are an emotional roller-coaster as a country’s fortunes can
change on one goal. The players’ brains will be in overdrive during games and they’ll feel wired and unable
to sleep when they return to the hotel.
“The bottom line is every effort goes into reducing cumulative sleep debt,” Samuels said. “By the time
they get to the finals, they’ve accumulated a lot of sleep debt.”
Thirteen players on Canada’s team travelled to Yaroslavl, which is 250 kilometres northeast of Moscow, for
a pair of games against the Russians in August.
“It’s definitely tough,” forward Mark Scheifele said. “It’s a big transition with the time change and
being in a different country, there’s definitely a little bit of culture shock.
“I found the biggest thing was the sleep patterns. You’re changing 10 or 11 hours. It’s a big time change,
but the trainers and the doctors are helping out as much as possible. By the end of our time in Russia, I was