By: Kevin Kinghornkevink@canada.com
04/11/06PART ONE: THE OPEN ROAD
Brendan Morrison sits hunched in his stall, pulling on sox as reporters mill around the visitor's dressing room waiting for more of his teammates to trickle in.
It's noon and the Canucks have just finished their morning skate. In 20 minutes they'll board a bus back to their downtown LA hotel for a few hours rest.
A sweat-soaked Ryan Kesler sits across the room slumped over in a daze, still wearing skates. Josh Green lumbers in, drops himself down beside Kesler and begins picking at the tape wound around his knees.
The room is eerily silent, aside from sporadic chatter between reporters that only amplifies the tension.
The Canucks lost a crucial 6-2 decision to the Mighty Ducks yesterday afternoon, heaping even more importance on tonight's match-up against the Kings.
Their hold on seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff race is already tenuous with the rest of the competition having played fewer games. The Canucks have one last chance to pull points out of California tonight.
It's not the start they hoped for on their final road trip of the season - at least of any length. The Canucks play one more game in San Jose next week, but it's just an up-and-back jaunt.
Road trips ought to be more relaxing, or at least easier.
"It's always nice to come down to California," says Morrison, who over the past nine years has logged more flying time than most test pilots. "It's usually nice weather."
"At times it's good to get out on the road and take a little break from home. By that I mean sometimes you have more
distractions at home - things on your plate you have to worry about instead of just playing."
With the simple focus of "just playing", the Canucks have become one of the NHL's top road teams over the past two seasons. This year's been more of a struggle. They've won 17 while losing 21, and are in jeopardy of posting their worst road-winning percentage in five years.
At times the team has played 'tight' hockey; it's one of the reasons the coaching staff gathered the players for a team-building exercise following a mid-day charter from Vancouver.
"We went for a bike ride in Newport when we first arrived," says Morrison. "That's the first time we've ever done that. That was a neat idea, just kind of cruising on the boardwalk."
"A lot of times we get the day off and guys just like to relax and lounge by the pool."
There won't be any sun bathing on this trip. For starters, the Canucks play back-to-back games leaving little free time, and the dark clouds of a thunderstorm forecasted for early evening have already set over downtown Los Angeles.
Following a pre-game meal, the players will sleep for a few hours before boarding another bus back to the Staples Center for a 6:00 team meeting and a 7:30 face-off.
The team is scheduled to hop another charter back home immediately following the game. In all, they'll have spent just over 50 hours in California, checked into two different hotels and played a pair of high-stakes hockey games.