For Portland Pirates rookie forward Tyler Ennis, game day starts with an Italian BMT at the Subway restaurant in Old Orchard Beach.

“I go in and the lady knows what I want, automatically,” said Ennis, currently with the Buffalo Sabres. “She starts making the sandwich. I don’t have to say anything.”

That sandwich is the first step in a set of rituals leading up to the moment Ennis steps onto the ice at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“Every hockey player has a superstition and a routine, something they have to do before every game,” said Ennis, who was named to the AHL’s all-rookie team Wednesday. “Every game day I have the same schedule.”

Sounds a little like “Groundhog Day,” doesn’t it? That’s the movie in which Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman who finds himself living the same day over and over.

But Ennis isn’t alone. Each of his teammates follows a routine designed to get them into the right frame of mind to play hockey.

“Hockey players are creatures of habit,” said Derek Whitmore, a forward in his second season with the Pirates. “You’ve got to keep everything the same.”

Ennis’ routine is scripted down to brief bits of dialogue.

After lunch he takes a nap. Then, before heading to Portland, he sits with his roommate, rookie center Paul Byron, and eats a plate of pasta.

“When I get to the rink, I tape my sticks, go over the other team’s tendencies and stuff, and what we have to do for that game,” Ennis said. “Then I just relax, have a cup of coffee with (Whitmore and watch (Travis) Turnbull dance through the locker room.”

That cup of coffee always starts with the same query.

“All of a sudden (Ennis) comes up to me and says ‘Hey Wittee, what’s a guy got to do to get a cup of joe around here, anyway?’ ” Whitmore said. “Then I go over and make it, and put a little cream and sugar in it.”

Following his coffee, Ennis attends the team meeting. Then goes into the hallway outside the locker room to stretch and warm up.

Ennis always stretches on a mat next to rookie defenseman Matt Generous. Usually, T.J. Brennan, another rookie defenseman, runs past them doing wind sprints. “I always say ‘moving kind of fast there, bud,”‘ Ennis said.

Before the Pirates take the ice, Ennis always is the first player out of the locker room but not the first to go onto the ice.

“Going onto the ice, (Jeff) Cowan always waits for me, and we give each other a high-five, then he goes on ahead,” Ennis said.

Ennis’ may be a little more elaborate than a lot of players, but all of them have a routine.

“Everybody on the team has their own little tweaks,” said forward Mark Mancari, the Pirates’ leading scorer who returned Wednesday from a call-up with the Sabres.

“With myself and a few other guys, ours is get into a little game of two-touch, a little game of soccer, to get the blood flowing. Then you get your stretches in. You’re on a time frame and you try to match it every game.”

Before every game, Mancari plays two-touch with the same group of players in the small lobby inside the players’ entrance to the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“After I play my soccer, I get my stretch in and then everything is just visualizing,” he said.

“You just sit there getting ready, and you’re thinking of scenarios that could happen throughout the game.”

Mancari isn’t the only player who thinks about what might happen during the game.

Before the fans are allowed into the arena, Generous climbs to the top row of Section E and sits for about 10 minutes with a towel draped over his head. “I just sit there and block things out and try to visualize what the game is going to be like,” he said.

Around 6 p.m., about an hour before the game, Whitmore heads to the concourse to do his stretching and some sprints. Sometimes, fans are trooping by him as he does his routine.

“Basically I’m trying to get everything warmed up,” he said. “I don’t go too long. I just try to keep moving. As soon as I work up a little sweat, I know I’m warmed up.”

Whitmore is always the last player to dress for the game.

“I’m not the last guy on the ice but I’m like the last guy to get ready,” he said.

“I don’t like sitting around in my gear.”

Generally, Whitmore cuts it close.

“I’ll show up (back in the locker room) with about 23 minutes left on the clock, and we’re going on the ice at about 6:30,” he said. “I just hurry up and get my gear on. I kind of rush myself a bit.”

In his 12 seasons as a pro, team captain Brad Larsen has observed a wide variety of ways that players get ready for a game.

“You know, I’ve seen guys do nothing before a game,” he said. “I’ve played with guys at the NHL level who were content to sit in their stalls doing nothing. That’s their routine, and that’s what they feel comfortable with.”

Each player has his own comfort zone, Larsen said.

“Some guys are real intense before games and they don’t want to talk,” he said. “Then you’ve got the exact opposite. Some guys like to joke and laugh, and they feel better when they do that. Everybody’s got a different way to make their body tick and get ready. The bottom line is hitting the ice as a group and being ready.”

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com