Puffy coats, coffee, swearing: How NHL head coaches stay warm in an ice-cold rink (even in the summer)

St. Louis bench boss Craig Berube sported a grey warm-up jacket for his team’s exhibition game and a bright Blues blue one during Sunday’s round-robin match-up. 

Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella — he of the sweater and hoodie fame — wore a navy blue quarter-zip mock turtleneck for his team’s tune-up and the opener of the qualifying round.

Rick Tocchet donned a quilted black jacket during his Coyotes’ Game 1 win over the Predators stating, “it’s cold, there’s no fans. … I’m a bad coach when I’m cold, so I wanted to be warm.”

Yep, as the lyricist and rap legend Vanilla Ice famously postulated, “Ice, ice baby, too cold, too cold,” and when you have a sheet of it that spans 200-by-85 feet, it can get downright chilly. 

For the first time in NHL history, the league is hitting the ice during the hot, humid days of summer. Normally, a rink is kept around 23 to 24 degrees Fahrenheit at ice-level — but that’s when the temperature outside dips into the 40s, 30s or lower. 

In August, temperatures can range anywhere from the 70s to triple digits, with the always pleasurable (no, not really) added element of humidity. To combat the external heat — despite that fans won’t be coming in and out and incorporating their body heat into the air — the ice temperature will be dropped a few digits, to around 19 degrees, making it a tad frostier than the usual 50-ish temperature on the bench.

But while some coaches went for warmer duds in the NHL’s restart, most kept the status quo — which should come as no surprise.

“You know what, I suck it up,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy told Sporting News during the 2019-20 NHL regular season. “I have four rinks, I think, I would say off the top of my head that I know they’re going to be a T-shirt underneath because I don’t always even wear one. Philadelphia is by far the coldest rink in the league. 

“I drink a lot of coffee, so that might naturally keep me warm.”

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The NHL restarted it’s 2020 postseason this past weekend and, luckily for the Boston bench boss and the majority of coaches with whom SN spoke, the cold confines of the Wells Fargo Center — or Carolina’s PNC Arena and it’s wind tunnel — aren’t being inhabited for the postseason. Instead, it’s Rogers Place in Edmonton and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

Back in December, newly minted Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that Ontario’s NHL rink “from my experience coaching there with the Marlies, [it] was one of the colder arenas even on the AHL circuit.” 

However, for the former NHLer who played 125 games for the Lightning in balmy Tampa Bay, it’s nothing like his days on the Junior ‘A’ circuit.

“I’ve got a lot of experience in cold arenas from my time coaching in the lower ranks,” he said. “There, it used to be full overcoats and some of the coaches would wear gloves on the bench and all of that. 

“I refused to wear the gloves; I drew the line at the gloves but hand warmers I thought of often. But, those days I’d be wearing long-johns and long shirts and sometimes a full sweatsuit underneath my suit. But, happy I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Well, hold on a second, Sheldon. You said it was cold in Scotiabank and the Lightning’s Jon Cooper noted that it was “extremely cold” during his squad’s exhibition game.

“As I’ve gotten older — this is a real thing that you’re talking about — some of these buildings are freezing now,” mentioned long-time Jets head guy Paul Maurice during the season, adding that if he’s wearing a three-piece suit, it’s his tell that it’s a cold building.

But how else does he really handle the cold?

“I usually swear enough so that keeps me warm.” (And there’s a good chance he was definitely doing a lot of that on Saturday.)

Fellow 50-something head guy Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders takes a slightly more direct approach. 

“The trick is I wear a good, heavy coat. I don’t go for the thin coats. I go for a well-made coat and I’m always buttoned up,” he told Sporting News during the season, mentioning that he’s also a fan of the three-piece suit in the colder rinks.

“For me, it’s just keeping my feet moving on the bench, and my trick, the thing to me that I learned, I used to wear leather-soled shoes, a little slippery when you had to go across the ice. But [now] I wear rubber-soled shoes, because it keeps your feet warm.”

No toe warmers here for Trotz or his contemporaries, despite them feeling that all-too-familiar chill in the air at certain points of their busy day.

“I freeze in warm-up,” said Keefe’s predecessor in Toronto, Mike Babcock, before he got the axe. “Honest to God, when the game starts, I’m never cold. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s probably adrenaline or excitement in the game or whatever, so I don’t get cold. I’m freezing in warm-up, though. It’s unbelievable. You go to the hot climates, and then you go on the rink there and  you feel like you’re dying, to say the least. But then when the game starts … no effect.”

As for Keefe, he also thinks when the game action is happening, it’s not so bad; before that is another story.

“One thing I find is the coldest times in the games are the national anthems because you just got on the bench,” Keefe said. “You’re not really into the game yet and the players aren’t into the game. Once the players get moving and their body temperatures rise, I find it gets a lot more comfortable because the heat on the bench. The players are warm and they’re sweating and you got all these men in the tight, tight quarters, it does get warmer during the games, so that helps.”

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The Oilers’ Dave Tippett (citing adrenaline), ex-Devils and now Nashville’s John Hynes (who copped to wearing a John Tortorella-like sweater during his AHL days and a winter jacket in European rinks) and former Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant (who said he wore an undershirt once in Buffalo, but “might not have been feeling good”) all agree the cold never bothered them anyway at the NHL level, outside of a few select rinks.

“I like the cold,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith told Sporting News during the NHL’s 2019-20 regular season. “So it doesn’t bother me. I’d go golf shirt if I could.”

It’s safe to say that not many would agree with Smith right now. Even some reporters, including Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson, noted that it’s “frickin’ freezing” way up in the cheap seats where the media has been dispatched.

Regardless of how the temperature is on the bench, as the postseason continues rolling, one thing is certain: The coaches will be fired up as the action on the ice will be red-hot with hockey marching toward crowning it’s 2020 Stanley Cup champion.

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