The month of February 2008 held the longest road trip I've ever been a part of in 16 seasons of professional hockey. Prior to this journey, my longest road swing was in the mid-1990s with Worcester of the American Hockey League -- a 12-day trip to the Canadian Maritime Provinces that featured eight games, most of the travel by bus. Fortunately, most travel in the NHL is by jet, which, compared to 13-hour, one-way bus trips can make one feel very fortunate and a bit spoiled.
So what began in late January and ended on Valentine's Day encompassed seven games in 17 days. Stops were: Denver, San Jose, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Columbus and Nashville. We spent several days in two of my favorite road cities in the NHL: San Jose and Vancouver. Not to disparage Denver, Edmonton, Calgary, Columbus or Nashville, but for me San Jose and Vancouver are the cities I look forward to visiting most, regardless of when they appear on the schedule.
Our host hotel in San Jose is in a cool spot and reminds me of a village-type setting you'd find in Europe. I knew we'd be there for six days, including the game day against the Sharks (a 3-2 shootout loss) and then for Super Bowl Sunday the following day. The team put on a nice spread for a Super Bowl party as everyone gathered in one large conference room to watch the Giants upset the Patriots and a good time was had by all. All, that is, except for Hawks assistant coach John Torchetti, who grew up in the Boston area and is a long-time Patriots fan.
After a Monday practice and a train ride to San Francisco to see a relative the following day, we departed for frigid Edmonton for a game against the Oilers. The night of our stay I was jolted out of my slumber by a loud buzzer followed by an announcement that the hotel fire alarm had been activated and to standby for possible evacuation instructions.
A few minutes later I heard sirens, so I got out of bed and looked out my window to see four City of Edmonton fire trucks, complete with hooks and ladders, roll up to the hotel's front door. The unexpected 4 am wake-up call didn't stop for about a half an hour. As it turned out, there was no fire, only a melted plastic tray in the hotel kitchen. After another announcement that all was safe and an apology for the disturbance, everyone tried to get back to sleep.
As a parent of small children, I've grown accustomed to being awakened in the middle of the night by whatever, so although the fire alarm was a tad annoying, for me it was really no big deal, and hey, I'm alive to write about it. But a few hours later as I came down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast I watched as one by one, Blackhawks players groggily made their way to their tables, sat down and ordered coffee, stat! At that moment I'd hoped that sleep deprivation didn't affect their play later that evening.
It reminded me of an occurrence I'd experienced only a few seasons ago in another NHL city where a jackhammer crew worked on a project only a half a block away from the host hotel nearly the entire afternoon of game seven of a playoff series. Whether they were there at that time according to plan or not, the din created by one jackhammer can be annoying, not to mention four! Afternoon naps are crucial to the players' energy stores and sleep disruption can cause lethargy and inattentiveness at the worst possible times. The team I was working with at the time lost the series that night.
The Blackhawks also lost the game to the Oilers later that evening, 4-1, flew to Calgary post-game, got some much-needed sleep, and then bounced back the following night with a 3-1 win over the Flames before heading to Vancouver.
Vancouver is my favorite NHL road city. To start with, in terms of scenic beauty, it ranks at the top of nearly anyone's list. Our hotel is located right on the bay and close to Stanley Park, which is a haven for walkers, joggers, mountain bikers and others who enjoy the great outdoors but don't want to drive great distances just to get to them. A game-day walk through Stanley Park with a cup of coffee to decompress for a few hours is a can't miss for me.
The Canucks won the game against the Hawks in a shootout, 3-2, on another controversial goal scored off a spin-o-rama maneuver. At 1-2-2 on the road trip to that point, the Hawks were in danger of dropping out of the playoff race. But a cross-country trip to Columbus and then down to Nashville one night later garnered back-to-back wins for the Hawks, who finished the trip 3-2-2 and more importantly, were back in the hunt.
Fortunately, the month of March held only short road trips, one day out and one back, and as road trips go, it was vanilla compared to the previous months of travel.
April featured the last road trip of the season, to Detroit, for game No. 82. Unfortunately, it was the Blackhawks last game of the renaissance 2007-08 season and this piece was written on that trip, on our charter flying somewhere over Lake Michigan en route back from Detroit.
As I reflect back on the 2007-08 Blackhawks season with all the associated highs and lows, I'm comfortable in writing that even though the Blackhawks didn't make the playoffs, it was a pretty good season and the travel was fun.
But what should be pointed out to you good readers is that ALL of the travel to EVERY NHL city was carefully planned, organized, coordinated and executed in great detail. None of it could happen without key people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the traveling portion of Chicago Blackhawks hockey a reality.
These are the people who aren't the household names, who don't have jerseys with their names on the backs that fans can wear to games, who don't have hockey cards, full color glossy publicity photos or any form of product endorsement. These people wear many hats, work long hours and handle all of the 'little things' that need to be done on a day-to-day basis to help keep the Blackhawks functioning properly and I feel they need to be recognized, starting with the training staff.
Men like veteran athletic trainer Mike Gapski and assistant athletic trainer Jeff Thomas; equipment manager Troy Parchman, assistant equipment manager Russ Holden and special assistant Clint Reif; massage therapist Pawel Prylinski; strength and conditioning coach Phil Walker and assorted others who made trips from time-to-time.
These men know that road trips mean expanded hours, very little sleep at times, conditions that aren't always perfect, expecting the unexpected and reacting accordingly while maintaining a positive disposition the entire time. Add to this list team services director Tony Ommen. These gentlemen are some of the most dedicated, detail-oriented professionals I've ever had the pleasure to travel and work with and their efforts are invaluable to the overall success of the team.
Like all the rest of us, they love their jobs but miss their families once they leave Chicago. Although their work may seem undervalued or unappreciated at times, the satisfaction these men derive from a job well done is their payoff. That and knowing the work they're doing to help the Blackhawks battle for points in the standings is all part of a big picture that is shared by everyone in the Blackhawks organization and one day the payoff will be the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup!
I want to say a special thanks to my broadcast partner, Troy Murray, for his great work as color analyst for Blackhawks radio. As a former Blackhawk great, Troy's passion for the game and for the Blackhawks is second to none. Troy's preparation for our broadcasts is thorough while his in-game analysis is as credible as it gets. In 16 NHL seasons he played through injuries, trades, seasonal highs and lows, euphoric playoff victories and disappointing post-season eliminations, a Frank Selke Trophy and a Stanley Cup championship.
Troy can speak from experience about every possible situation that could take place on the ice at any time. So when you hear him speak about something that took place on the ice in a Blackhawks game, whether it is good or bad, you can take it to the bank.
Finally, I want to salute our 670-AM WSCR "The Score" studio crew of show host Jesse Rodgers, producer 'par-excellence' Jay Zawaski and all of his assistants for their diligent work in what has been another fun-filled season of Chicago Blackhawks radio broadcasts. It's my belief that we have the best crew in the NHL and without their support Troy and I wouldn't be able to do what we love to do: broadcast Chicago Blackhawks hockey for all Blackhawks fans worldwide.
Best wishes to all of you readers for a healthy, safe and prosperous summer. For those of you attending the inaugural Blackhawks Convention July 18-20, I'll see you there. For everyone else, see you next September when the Blackhawks open training camp for the 2008-09 season.
Thanks for reading!