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Record-setting road trip looms for Canucks

Tuesday, 07.28.2009 / 9:00 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2010 Winter Olympics will bring thousands of visitors to Vancouver and send the Canucks on the longest road trip in NHL history.

The Canucks will embark on a historic six-week trek across North America beginning Jan. 30 before they finally return home to GM Place on March 13. The bottom line: The 14-day Olympic break works out to an NHL-record 14-game road trip for the Canucks.

"Obviously when you're away for that length of time you get concerned," Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis told NHL.com. "But the Olympic break does break up the trip, so it's really two segments of a trip as opposed to one long month away from home. We're making the best of a situation that's really beyond our control, and we're trying to manage it and be as competitive as we can."

The team will make an eight-game road trip before the Olympic break begins on Feb. 15. The Games end on the 28th, but the Canucks don't get to play at GM Place for nearly two more weeks, until Ottawa comes to town on March 13.

While it sounds daunting, all those road games may not be such a bad thing. The Canucks were a solid 21-15-5 on the road last season. On top of that, when the 1988 Olympic Games were held in Calgary, the event forced the Flames on an 11-game road trip between Feb. 2 and March 3. The club not only went 5-5-1 on the trip, but went on to win the Presidents' Trophy with the League's best regular-season record.

"The San Jose Sharks purposely take longer road trips so they have less of them," Canucks Assistant GM Laurence Gilman told the Vancouver Province. "They think it works for them. It's up to us to do everything we can to make sure the players get the proper rest so they can perform at their best."

If Gillis has any concerns, he certainly isn't saying. Perhaps the fact he commissioned a military sleep expert from Canadian-based Global Fatigue Management Inc. to work with his players last season is the reason.

"It was more of an intellectual and educational exercise than anything else and the players realized that, travel-wise, we're doing what we have to do to be as competitive as we possibly can," Gillis said. "We use sleep analysis as a methodology of analyzing our travel and allowing our players to understand why we traveled a certain way and to maximize their sleep. So it will be taken full advantage of during this road trip."

During a six-game, 11-day trip last season, players wore rhythm monitors, or "sleep bands," that measured their waking and sleeping hours. The information was downloaded to a software program, and each player's rest and energy pattern was evaluated and used to determine roommate pairings, practice times on the road and optimal flying times.

Gillis was first informed of this season's road trip back in January. He expressed concerns about the logistical problems his team would face and, according to the second-year GM, the NHL was extremely receptive.

"The Olympics are an extremely important event, and we could possibly have up to eight players participating from our team," Gillis said. "It's a huge event for British Columbia and Canada and we're going to do our part to make sure it's as positive and as well-managed as it's going to be. It's really up to us to manage it appropriately and get our players ready for it and that's what we intend to do."

It's also worth noting that the record-breaking road trip will allow the Canucks to close out the 2009-10 season with 10 of their last 15 games on home ice. Additionally, any players not participating in the Olympics will get a two-week break.

"We're fully confident that we'll be fine during this trip and the way we're traveling on the trip makes sense (as the Canucks fly east, south, north and west)," Gillis said. "For us, we're going to turn it into a positive."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com