With the lockout still in full effect, Backhand Shelf will be running a series of posts put together shortly after my playing career. There are plenty of good anecdotes that, at the time, were minimally read. First, from HockeyPrimetime – the joy of team travel.
Travelling is a major part of professional sports, and can be an exhausting and draining experience.
I’ve always loved travelling without a team, because what’s not to love? You get that mall-style Chinese food, read a book, listen to music, take a nap, and have a few pints. It’s a near perfect lazy day. You just need to learn how to cope with the stresses so the day goes smooth – show up early, know your gate, pack light and don’t pay attention to anything beyond that.
With a team, however, you’re in a stuffy suit. You generally can’t have a beer (especially on the way to a city you play in the next night). You’re surrounded by your idiot teammates. And worst of all, coaches are staring at you thinking (and occasionally saying) “What’s he laughing at? If I turned the puck over four times in the neutral zone yesterday I certainly wouldn’t be so happy”.
And something always seems to go wrong. A smooth travel day is a gift from above when you have 30 people connecting with more gear than a travelling circus, needs buses, and has to wait for arena’s to be opened at three a.m. to drop off the equipment.
I asked some pro’s, past and present, to relate an example of just how bad team travel can be:
Dale Hawerchuk (Winnipeg): “When I was playing for Winnipeg, we were in the Los Angeles airport, and the big earthquake hit. I remember seeing the ground coming at us like a wave, and I turned towards the exit. First thing I see is our GM John Ferguson, already the first person halfway to the door, running full tilt while yelling “ITS AN EEEEAAARRRTTHHQQQUUAAAKKKEEE”.
Josh Gorges (Montreal): “Our plane touched down in LA, and immediately swerves hard to the left. So, of course, we all get thrown hard to the right, the few people not wearing seatbelts really went flying. The pilot gets on the intercom and says “sorry, I had to swerve to avoid a cat”. What about the 60 people on the plane, y’know? I’m pretty sure every guy on the team verbally abused the guy as they got off the plane.”
Chris Higgins (New York Rangers, Hamilton at the time): “My last year in the AHL, we played hard games in Chicago and Milwaukee Friday and Saturday nights, then took the bus from Milwaukee to Hamilton after the game. It snowed the whole way, and took us like 13 hours. We got in around 11 a.m., and had an afternoon game at three that same day. We got off the bus and Doug Jarvis (now Montreal’s assistant, then was the head coach of that AHL team) says – and he means this – “Okay, the gym’s available if you wanna get a workout in, you should probably hit the bikes and get the bus legs out… a quick lift wouldn’t hurt.” – I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard.”
Eric Nystrom (Calgary): “Do I have a memorable travel moment? Yeah, how about EVERY DAY, because I’m on a plane EVERY DAY.”
Brett McLean (Colorado): I was playing with the Avalanche, and it was too foggy to land in Denver. We circled for hours, but were running out of fuel, so we had to land in Grand Junction, CO. And as a Junction, it’s not that Grand. We had a couple of big stars on the team at the time, and we had to share a few rooms at some rickety old Ramada for the night before busing back to Denver the next day for a game that night. Not sure any of those guys had stayed anywhere without pillow mints before.”
Bryan Trottier (New York Islanders, Pittsburgh): “In junior, our bus broke down between Flin-Flon and Moose Jaw, no heat, nothing. This was the old days before cell phones. It’s minus thirty out, and we’re in the middle of nowhere. Our trainer literally has to hitchhike to get somewhere where he could find help. The only reason we survived was because it’s such a long drive that we had all brought sleeping bags, so we bundled up like crazy. Of course, once someone came out and fixed the bus, there we just carried on like it wasn’t going to happen again. It did.”
Good to know it wasn’t just me enduring the less-than-smooth travel days. Even when they went smooth in college, I played in Alaska – lord knows there’s no simple commute between Houghton, Michigan (to play Michigan Tech) and Anchorage, Alaska. A loss, a mild hangover and a 24 hour commute is something no man should have to endure at the same time.
With irregular sleep, constantly sweating in security lines, on planes and on buses, and eating what is basically mall food and junk snacks, complications are just one extra slap in the face.
So the next time your favorite team inexplicably doesn’t show up and play well, keep in mind – maybe their bad travel makes it “explicable” after all.