Ice Hockey

Syracuse ice hockey bonding and staying loose through weekly yoga sessions

Leigh Ann Rodgers | Staff Photographer

The Syracuse players bonded when they tried to do a camel pose in yoga, but couldn't complete it and ended up falling backward.

UPDATED: Feb. 22, 2017 at 8:55 p.m.

Every Wednesday, the Syracuse ice hockey locker room transforms into a makeshift yoga studio. Pads and skates slide toward the walls to make room for the mats. Players organize rows along the floor then settle into their positions.

Forward Laurence Porlier moves around every week. Fellow senior Jessica Sibley situates herself in the back corner of the room. Music blasts.

Most days, the words of Ed Sheeran course through the air. SU deems its ritual “chill but not too ‘yoga-y,’” since players aren’t meditating during the sessions. But odd or not, Syracuse’s (13-12-5, 12-4-2 College Hockey America) weekly yoga excursions prevent injuries and get players ready for game day.

“I think it’s really good for me especially being a goalie,” junior goalie Abbey Miller said. “Like flexibility is so huge.”

Syracuse head coach Paul Flanagan tries to mitigate injuries anyway he can. He said he doesn’t believe in the meditative qualities of yoga, but understands the physical benefits it brings. For years, he’s had a yoga instructor help the players limit injuries.

“I wasn’t too crazy about the last (instructor),” Flanagan said. “A little bit too much of the meditation involved. Dina will do a lot of the stretching.”

Dina Jenks has been SU’s yoga instructor since last season. After the ice at Tennity Ice Pavilion melted last April, SU couldn’t skate. The team’s anger about not being able to get on the ice manifested itself in the mandatory yoga sessions, as the team thought it should be actually practicing rather than stretching out. This initially hurt Jenks’ relationship with the players.

At the start of this season, Jenks, who worked with the SU men’s basketball program two years ago, connected with players. They chose the music that accompanied their sessions. Before each one, the players sat in child’s pose.

Jenks speaks with Flanagan before each meeting and adjusts her lesson to players’ fatigues levels. A light stretch is preferred after a hard week of practice. Other times, the workouts are revved up to prepare a team for back-to-back games.

“After practice, conditioning and training, they are pretty beat,” Jenks said. “The last thing they want to do is yoga. But now they are starting to understand it’s making a difference in how they feel.”

Players have developed a close relationship with Jenks, actively joking around with her during sessions. When players attempted camel pose — a stretch that requires a yogi to arch their back and touch the balls of their feet — most fell over, eliciting laughter from the room. Jenks later admitted Syracuse can probably never attempt camel pose again. They’ll stick with their favorite poses: pigeon pose, child’s pose and upward dog.

The yoga time has helped players recover, team trainer Molly Rausch said. Last season’s forced-upon exercise has morphed into a team bonding activity that keeps players loose come puck drop.

“(Dina) makes it fun,” Sibley said. “She’s like one of us.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Molly Rausch was misnamed. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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