I spent ten years as the lead internal medicine physician for the Chicago Blackhawks. There were some lean years at the beginning, but all of that changed when Kane and Toews stepped onto the ice. In 2009 the Hawks made their first long run in the playoffs, losing to the rival Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals. They went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2010, and then again in 2013 and 2015.
Will this be the Cubs’ 2009 where they come close but lose? Or will they win it all? The answer will come as the game gets played on the field, but what happens in between games can be equally important. There were three strategies that I saw the Hawks employ as they went deep into the playoffs.
1. Remove distractions – Tickets please? When the Hawks were in the playoffs I got a lot of requests for tickets. You can’t imagine the number of requests that players get. The players also had family flying in from all over. Where will they stay? What will they eat? This all distracts the players from the focus they need to have on the game and their preparation. If the Cubs’ management is doing what the Hawks did, they’re doing all they can to field these requests for the players, allowing them to stay focused on the task at hand: winning.
2. Routine – “Go with what got you there” is the old saying. The Cubs won 103 games this year, the most in the Major Leagues. In order to do that, they had to establish some good habits, winning habits. If a player wakes up at 11am on game day – do it. If they eat fried chicken from Harold’s Chicken Shack, then get him the chicken! We’ve already seen the Cubs hold to many of their usual routines. We’ve seen coach Madden make batting practice optional for the team. This is something he has done the entire season.
3. Recovery – Hockey is a contact sport, and players get physically beaten up quite a bit. While baseball isn’t a contact sport it does have the longest season of all the major sports: 162 regular season games plus the playoffs. Those games add up, and at the end of the season there’s no time off for the nicks, bruises and twisted ankles to heal. The Blackhawks training staff does an amazing job keeping them on the ice and at their best: nutrition, sleep, hydration. The same, I’m sure, applies to the Cubs.
There may just be a couple of games left in this season for the Cubs. If you're a Cubs fan, let’s hope they have learned a little from their champion-neighbors on the West Side.
(Disclaimer: While after 25 years in Chicago I am now a Chicagoan, my baseball allegiance will forever remain in San Francisco. Go Giants!)