The Vancouver Canucks' sleep doctor doesn't yet know if he'll be given a Stanley Cup ring, but if the team beats the Boston Bruins for the NHL championship, than he will have a strong claim to some jewelry.
Pat Byrne, a vice-president and co-founder of Hawaii-based Fatigue Science, has been working with the Canucks since 2008, when Mike Gillis took over as general manager and became determined to solve the team's persistent travel woes. As the only NHL team based on Canada's West Coast, the Canucks travel longer distances than any other club, and it was affecting the performance of players.
So Byrne, a health and safety expert with a masters degree in biochemistry from Western Washington University, was commissioned to fix the problem, and reduce fatigue levels across the bench. Beginning in the 2008-09 season, Byrne got Canucks players to wear ReadiBand bracelets for one- to two-week periods early in the season, and developed sleep profiles for every player.
The ReadiBands monitor wrist motion, and are accurate between 92 and 94 per cent of the time, according to Byrne. They were able to shed light on how long players slept, how many times they awoke during the night, whether they slept on charter flights after games, or on buses to and from the airport, and how long it took players to get to sleep after games.
With profiles on every player, Byrne entered the data into a program developed by the U.S. military called Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool, or FAST. Byrne said that Fatigue Science bought the commercial rights to FAST, which was developed roughly 15 years ago.
"It turns sleep data into performance data," he said. "It shows how their reaction times change during games."
The FAST program allowed the Canucks and their players to see when their concentration levels were high or low, based on fatigue. It also identified which games would be problematic, and when the team should stay behind in a road city - rather than flying out immediately after the game and arriving home in the wee hours of the night - to maximize rest. It also allowed head coach Alain Vigneault to schedule practices at times when he would have an attentive group of employees, rather than players with wandering attention spans.
The goal, Mr. Byrne said, was to get the players eight to nine hours of sleep per night.
"We feel fresh," winger Daniel Sedin said prior to Game 3 Monday at the TD Garden in Boston. "We know [the organization]has done everything it can to put us in a good position with sleep. … We know we're going to have an advantage over other teams."
The results have spoken for themselves.
Four years ago, before turning to sleep consultants, the Canucks were a mediocre team (18-18-5) away from Rogers Arena. This season, Vancouver had the best road record in the league for the first time, winning 27 of 41 games.
The Canucks scored more third-period goals (100) than any other team in the NHL, and have outscored foes 25-18 in the third period and overtime during the playoffs.
They were also excellent when playing their first home game after a long road swing, which had been a problem in previous seasons. After coming back from trips of at least three games, the Canucks won five of seven games this season, and lost only once in regulation time.
"Because we travel the most in the NHL, that's one of the reasons why we try and get a scientific approach to where our guys would have the utmost energy," Vigneault said. "I do know that, obviously, our record is better.
"It certainly seems to be beneficial, and if you look at our third periods, we seem to have the energy to keep pushing forward."