LAVAL - After a successful four-game homestand to begin their inaugural season as the Canadiens' AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket will be heading south of the border for their first road trip of the season.
For part 1 of the first edition of the Rocket Report, click here.
To start, Sylvain Lefebvre's squad will travel to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to take on the Penguins on Friday night. Next up, they'll head to Bridgeport to face the Islanders' affiliate, the Sound Tigers, on Saturday night before rounding out the road trip with a Sunday afternoon dance with the Providence Bruins.
If the thought of three games in less than three nights sounds daunting, the fact that the players and coaching staff will be traveling by bus between destinations only adds to the challenge. Bridgeport is just over three and a half hours from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the drive to Providence clocks in around two-and-a-half. But the Rocket players and coaches are up to the challenge of coming home with some more Ws stacked up in the win/loss column.
For his part, third-year veteran Markus Eisenschmid isn't fazed by the tough travel schedule and plans on relying on past experience to guide him through it.
"[You prepare] basically the same way. It's going to be a little tougher with the driving, so we have to get the bus legs out early," explained Eisenschmid, who contributed six tallies and four helpers in an injury-shortened 2016-17 campaign with the Saint John's IceCaps. "Then, it's just about playing and giving your best every day, with whatever's left in the tank. The third game is tough, but it's definitely possible. We've done it in the past and we just have to get it all together and battle through it."
For some, the grueling weekend on the road will be a new adventure. Defenseman Eric Gelinas, who signed a one-year contract with the Rocket after attending Canadiens training camp on a professional tryout, is familiar with the AHL's Western conference teams after spending parts of last season with the San Antonio Rampage, but he'll be squaring off against a trio of new opponents over the weekend.
"I haven't been on a three-in-three bus ride weekend, so that's going to be interesting. We just have to do the same things we've been doing. We're not adjusting to what the other teams do, we make them adjust to us," recounted the 26-year-old, who also played 27 games for the Colorado Avalanche last year, collecting an assist and 12 penalty minutes in that span. "That's been a big advantage for us. We've shown a lot of different things. In the game Friday [vs. Binghamton], we were down a couple of goals and we came back. We showed we have character. We can score goals, we're dangerous, we can kill penalties, we've shown we can do pretty much everything."
Lefebvre, in his sixth season at the helm of the Hamilton Bulldogs/Saint John's IceCaps/Laval Rocket franchise, believes that a proper plan for the days leading up to the trip can go a long way towards ensuring a positive outcome.
"We have to manage what we do this week, and then you go one game at a time. Players are used to playing those kinds of weekends, especially those who have been in the League for a while," outlined the 50-year-old bench boss, who enjoyed a 17-year NHL career with the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Nordiques, Avalanche, and Rangers. "For the young guys, you manage their minutes and go from there. Right now, we're focusing on Wilkes-Barre on Friday and then we'll move on to Bridgeport."
If Lefebvre had become accustomed to the trappings of travel at the NHL level in his nearly two decades in the big leagues, it didn't stop him from pointing out some merits of getting around by bus in the minors.
"What's nice on the bus is that it's 'your' bus, you can leave stuff on there," he pointed out. "You have more room to work on the computer and you know you're always sitting in the same seat with the same guys beside you."
Eisenschmid may have some experience being on the road with Saint John's over the past two seasons, but he sat out many road trips - and home games - in each of those campaigns due to concussions, which limited him to 39 games last year, and 28 the year before. That said, the young center feels he's back at 100% and isn't looking in the rearview mirror when it comes to his health.
"I came home and had a really good summer. I felt comfortable and didn't have any symptoms. I just moved forward," said the Marktoberdorf, Germany native. "When I came back to camp, guys were asking me how my head was and I had actually forgotten about it. It's definitely a good sign and I haven't had any issues since.
"The game is happening so fast, so if I was thinking about it I would be way more concerned about things - or scared. I can't let that get to me. I have no symptoms, so there's nothing to think about."
A return to health has allowed the former Medicine Hat Tiger to assume a larger role as one of the Rocket's veteran forwards. Eisenschmid has been earning praise for his stellar two-way play - especially on the penalty kill alongside Jeremy Gregoire - and says it's something he did his homework on during the offseason.
"The first two years, I had concussions and didn't get as many games I was hoping to. At the same time, you can't come out of Junior and think you can hop into a major role on the penalty kill right away. That's what the coaches did with me, slowly getting me used to the penalty kill in pro hockey. It's a different step and there's a lot to learn out there," described Eisenschmid. "This year, we're getting put into bigger roles and we have to perform. Especially me and 'Greggy' [Gregoire] together as partners; we work strong together, we watch video. In the offseason, I watched a lot of video on the penalty kill and how to read plays.
"That's something that was really important to me, because I had to bring it to my game," he concluded. "There's still a lot to work on and you can never be perfect, but you try to be as close as possible."