In this week's "Making of a Royal" blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the team's travel habits for regular season and major national tournaments. Additionally, the parents of all the players for the Long Island Royals Under-16 Team must also log plenty of miles and hours driving their sons to games, practices and, most times, weekend tournaments. The team is currently 33-3 and ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Webb, born and raised in Peterborough (Ont.), recalled his traveling days in the minor hockey system in Peterborough and how different it is for those parents of the minor clubs in the United States.
I grew up in the Peterborough minor hockey system where it was mandatory every road game in the Peterborough Petes AAA system that you had to take a bus. The only thing parents needed to do was bring their kids to the bus stop. On the way back, we just needed to find a ride home, so it was less of a burden on the parents.
Also, a majority of the parents, from what I remember, were on the bus so that's when we really gelled as a team and came together. You were riding with everyone at that time. With the Long Island Royals, it's a different animal. There is no rule where buses are mandatory. The one time we did take a bus was last year when we flew into Toronto to go to Peterborough. The bus picked us up and drove us into Peterborough. That's the one time, but other than that, it's a lot of driving. Parents must find a way to pile kids into someone's car and get the kids up there for a weekend event or showcase. Parents can hopefully make it up for a Saturday and still see some games in quarters or semifinal rounds if we're still alive.
We've traveled to Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut for showcases. We've been to New Hampshire and also flew into Chicago as a group. Not every parent could make it because of the cost; don't forget you also have to arrange a room and that gets costly as well. We want to make sure the kids are being viewed and that they have the best opportunity to go on to the next level and have the scouts look at them.
The travel is far and tiring. I remember getting up at 5:15 a.m. to pick up a couple of kids for a showcase in Connecticut; some kids didn't get up until 6 a.m. We were playing Avon Old Farms near Hartford for a 10 a.m. game. So the kids are sitting in the car for two-and-a-half hours and then have to perform when they're still half asleep.
We'll stop and pick up something up [to eat] along the way or a parent will make some food for the drive over as their way of contributing if they can't be there -- sandwiches or fruit. It's not the easiest thing to try and get 15-year-olds to jump out of the car and be ready to play their best game in the morning after traveling like that. You have conversations with them and educate them on the purpose on why we've gone up there and why they're doing it … just try to get some enthusiasm into their system and some excitement prior to going on to the ice. I think that's the only way we can really get these guys prepared to play the game with the travel.
After all, they're going to have to get used to it anyway.
If they want to play at prep school, major junior, the USHL or college, these types of trips are common. In Western Canada, they're driving 10 times further and they just pop out, play the game and then are back on the bus and playing eight hours later somewhere else. You have to be prepared to deal with the travel conditions and being able to pop out and play right away, get your body up and running and awake and be ready to perform because every opportunity you play, there are people evaluating and checking you out. How did this player perform this time as compared to last time I saw him? They want to make sure you're making progress and if you're excuse is you were tired (laughing), it's not a very strong excuse to why you didn't perform to the best of your abilities on that day.
LaFontaine echoed Webb's sentiments and credited the parents with their dedication to helping their children live out their dreams.
The parents make tremendous sacrifices. We have one player driving in from Sleepy Hollow, traveling from Westchester and they're at every practice. It's a huge commitment and sacrifice when you're dealing with the Throngs Neck and sometimes the Long Island Expressway and all that traffic but they're committed to the team. Justin Bailey made the commitment to live down here from Buffalo and we have several other players making a commitment, weekly and yearly, to travel. Hockey is not conventional. In U.S. basketball, football, baseball, lacrosse, your competition is in the next town. You're basically playing competition all over your region and local area. In hockey, there are two travel teams on Long Island and our league consists of N.J., Philadelphia and Connecticut-based teams so a lot of our games are out of state.
There's a tremendous sacrifice and commitment on the parents' end of it. Now all parents, hockey parents probably more than most, understand that travel commitment and what it means to sacrifice on that end.
When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.
— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions