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Photo: Sam Iannamico
01/10/2017 3:30 PM -

Jan. 10, 2017

By Pete Wallner, MLive

GRAND RAPIDS - Members of the Grand Rapids Griffins, guys who make a living playing on ice, took a break Tuesday for something warmer.

The team, facing a week of practices before three away games in four days beginning Friday, left the rink and hit the mats for a morning of hot yoga.

It was a well-earned and welcome break for the Griffins, who lead the Western Conference with a .691 winning percentage. But, it wasn't a frivolous way to kill a day.

"You get so wound up, you get so tight playing, so it's mostly a way to help with flexibility," said Griffins captain Nathan Paetsch, who at 33 and in his 14th season, credits yoga will prolonging his career.

He uses hot yoga in place of a workout in offseason training.

"As you can see, it's a little more difficult than a normal stretch day," said the defenseman. "It's a lot of core balance, which is huge in hockey. You think about it - you're on a little blade and often on one skate. It's actually rather similar to a lot of yoga poses."

Twenty-four members of the team went through a hour-long class at the Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse in Eastown, which meant stretching, meditation and relaxation under 95-degree conditions (35 percent humidity).

With a 76-game schedule (playoffs can push it near 100) that goes from October to at least April, Griffins coach Todd Nelson said there is always interest to break up the grind of the season.

"There are things that pop up that you can do, and I feel it's important," said the veteran coach. "It's more of less mental for the guys with the length of the season. A chance to get away from the rink, while being beneficial by doing things together as a team. It also helps to let guys work together in a different setting."

Nelson also doesn't want to mess with success. The Griffins, at 22-9-1-2 with four games left before mid-point on the season, have the franchise's third-best winning percentage ever at this point.

Kyle Criscuolo, a rookie forward, saw the advantages of yoga in a different way because he is nearing unchartered territory. The 24-year-old never played more than 37 games in playing collegiately at Harvard. So, he wants to stay fresh for the grind ahead.

"By the time we were done, I could really feel the difference in my hips and IT bands (ligament that runs outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin)," he said. "... It's good to re-charge the body, sort of reset instead of being in the same position every day."

The Griffins return to the ice for practices Wednesday and Thursday before games at Milwaukee on Friday, Rockford on Saturday and an afternoon game again at Rockford on Monday.