Now that millions of words have been spent describing the skills that led the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup this week, I'd like to add a word that has been largely overlooked in the team's success:
Chicago's hockey kings are ritual nappers.
They nap in the middle of the afternoon. In bed. For an hour, or two. Pretty much every game day.
"The Blackhawks are napping?" Dr. Kelly Baron, who directs the behavioral sleep medicine program at Northwestern Medicine, said when I called Tuesday to talk about naps. "How cool is that? I had no idea."
No regular person I encountered Tuesday — assorted groggy citizens wishing for a nap after Monday night's game — had any idea that the Blackhawks take naps, which is one reason, as the city celebrates another hockey championship, that it seems only fitting to give a respectful nod to the art of napping.
If the word "nap" had an antonym, "hockey" would come close.
Say the word "hockey."
It evokes muscle, blood, noise, speed.
Say the word "nap."
It evokes sippy cups, yawns and government employees caught snoozing on grainy video by a local TV I-Team.
And yet naps are almost as essential to the Blackhawks as sticks and skates.
"A lot has changed through the years with hockey," said Bob Verdi, a former Tribune columnist who is now the official Blackhawks historian. "The money, the hotel — they have five-star hotels now — the charter airplanes, the way they're treated. But one thing that hasn't changed is the nap. The nap is part of the game."
Back when players had to share rooms, he said, there could be trouble when one player wanted to nap and the other didn't, or one wanted to nap until 3 p.m. while the other wanted to nap until 4.
"That was part of the superstition," he said, "getting your body clock in sync with your roommate's. But few have roommates anymore."
Not all the players nap.
"Some of the younger guys just have too much energy," said Adam Rogowin, a team spokesman.
That said, at least one news outlet reported that rookie Brandon Saad, who is 20, was looking forward to his nap on Monday before the game.
Hard-core fans may be familiar with hockey naps, as they're called. Last year Comcast SportsNet Chicago broadcast a piece on the Blackhawks' pregame napping:
"Gotta have that nap," said coach Joel Quenneville.
"I've been taking the naps ever since I've been a little kid," said player Patrick Kane.
"You try to not think about your game too much before you get here," said player Viktor Stalberg. "Take your nap and let your mind and body relax."
The Blackhawks aren't the only hockey players who nap, nor is hockey the only professional sport that cultivates napping. NBA players — who, like hockey players, often have a practice in the mornings but don't play their games until late, leaving little time for a full night's sleep — are also nappers.
"Sports athletes are in some ways shift workers," said Dr. Baron at Northwestern. "If you're sleep-deprived, napping in the early afternoon, the traditional siesta time, is one of the best things you can do. It improves alertness, cognitive performance."
A study of Stanford University basketball players, she said, showed that naps improved the players' sprints and their grip.
She also noted that she was getting ready for bed at the very moment the Blackhawks were in their final blaze across the ice, making split-second decisions that made the difference between winning and losing.
Nap lovers know that naps are about more than sleep per se. They're a way of shifting your rhythms, retreating from life's noise, sweeping your mind clear so that you can resume your duties with less distraction.
Can all nap lovers point to the Blackhawks as proof that a nap can make us champions?
"Napping is a double-edged sword," Baron said. "There are some people who are nappers and some people who aren't."
Studies show that in older adults napping might be a sign of poor health, she said, and naps can disrupt nighttime sleep. People who feel extremely sleepy during the day even though they're sleeping long hours at night might be having poor-quality sleep.
I understand her warnings, but I side with the Blackhawks' Rogowin:
"We should all have hockey naps during our workday."