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In this file photo: Montreal Canadiens players skate during the team practice in Montreal, Wednesday April 23, 2008. The Canadiens face the Philadephia Flyers in the second round of the NHL hockey playoffs which start tomorrow.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

It's never a pretty sight when a coach decides to bag skate his players.

In the film Miracle , which chronicled the United States' surprising gold-medal victory at the 1980 Olympics, there was a scene that illustrated the sadistic nature of this cruel punishment for hockey players.

After an exhibition game against Norway, U.S. coach Herb Brooks, played by actor Kurt Russell in the movie, had his assistant coach line the players up at one end of the rink and makes them skate hard the entire length of the rink.

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After each trip, Brooks says, "Again." Even the assistant coach is having difficulty watching the players go through the proverbial skating torture chamber.

The bag skate has already been used by at least two teams during the first fortnight of the new NHL season. In Vancouver, the morning after his Montreal Canadiens were shellacked 7-1 by the Canucks, coach Jacques Martin put his millionaires through the leg-burning workout.

The previous morning in Toronto, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson dished out similar punishment to his players after a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

The Leafs skated hard with pucks for 10 minutes - not a true bag skate, but "a mustached drill," as described by Toronto forward Jamal Mayers. Huh?

"A bag skate in disguise," Mayers explained.

To those who don't hang around a hockey rink for a living, the term bag skate is as alien as black aces (players who aren't in the lineup but practise with the team) or sandpaper (a display of grit). Basically, a bag skate is wind sprints on ice.

A bag skate could come in the form of laps of hard skating around the rink for prolonged periods or hard skating from end-to-end or side-to-side or Russians (goal line to blueline, back to goal line to centre line, and so on). Usually, a coach only resorts to the bag skate tactic early in the season when his players are fresher.

Does this old-fashion ploy work? Well, the message that the coach is unhappy with the team's performance is clear, but the results weren't ideal for Martin and Wilson. The Habs dropped a 3-2 decision to the Edmonton Oilers two nights later. The Leafs were on the wrong end of a 5-2 score to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home on the same night.

"I think it's a good tool," Toronto defenceman Garnet Exelby said. "It's a coach making sure you're accountable.

"I'm quite familiar with bag skates. My junior coach Brad McCrimmon [with the Saskatoon Blades]used them quite a bit. He used to tell us, 'If you're not going to work hard in the game, you'll work hard in practice.'"

The origin of why it's called a bag skate is fuzzy. Some players believe that the term refers to the old days, when trainers would place plastic or paper bags rink side because they knew some players would need a place to heave in exhaustion after the gruelling workout.

Other players feel bag skate simply refers to being bagged after the exhausting skate or that they skate a certain body part off in the nasty exercise. Yet another explanation is simply because the pucks are left in their bag during the exercise.

"I really hadn't heard the term until the other day when the Canadiens went through one," said legendary broadcaster Dick Irvin, whose father coached the Chicago Blackhawks, Canadiens and Leafs.

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"When my father coached, it was called stops and starts. I remember hearing a story that when my father took over the Leafs in 1931, he told [team owner] Conn Smythe that he thought the players were out of shape, but he would fix that with some stops and starts.

"I know [former Canadiens coach]Toe Blake made the players do some starts and stops, too."

NHL players have been vulnerable to bag skates at all levels of hockey - unless they're from Sweden.

"I guess we're a little different," Leafs forward Rickard Wallin explained. "Guys back home respond better to a pat on the back that everything's going to be okay, rather than punishment."

Wallin experienced his first bag skate playing for the Houston Aeros of the AHL, the farm team for the Minnesota Wild. Then Aeros coach Todd McLellan, now the San Jose Sharks bench boss, often employed bag skates to shake his players out of a slump.

"I think they work," Wallin said. "You never look forward to them, but you're sure glad when it's over."

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Not all coaches believe in them, however. There is probably a 50-50 split among coaches as to whether bag skates are necessary.

"I find that doesn't teach anything," Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It's not constructive. All it does is risk alienating the players and the coaches.

"I'd rather identify things we need to improve on and work to improve them. Just blowing on the whistle doesn't accomplish anything, to me."

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