Alexander Burrows dressed for his first NHL hockey game three months ago after three years of bouncing between the American Hockey League and the lesser East Coast Hockey League. More than anybody, Burrows knows the Canucks' tight schedules and long charter flights are a luxury compared to those of the Baton Rouge Kingfish and Greenville Grrrowl.
"I'm still loving it," says Burrows, wedged into his corner stall, still unlacing his skates. "I'm going to enjoy it my whole life if I can stay here."
"Where I played before in The Coast, everything was pretty close so we were bussing everywhere."
"Sometimes we used to play three games in three nights and bus from Texas up to Georgia. So it would be like a 12-hour bus ride, and we'd have to play the next day. So chartering a couple of hours, having good food and staying at nice hotels, well, I'm not really complaining about that at all."
NHL players are given a daily allowance while traveling on the road. The amount is specified in the collective bargaining agreement and was set at $85 prior to the lockout. In the minor league, Burrows got $34 per day.
"You had to get three meals from that so we would hit a lot of waffle houses. It was a lot different than from up here. We always get good food so you're always ready. It's more professional here than it was in The Coast."
Instead of IHOP, Burrows can now enjoy a beer with his steak and not worry about pooling for a tip.
One thing that hasn't changed, is the time spent traveling. A two-game California road swing - which in NHL terms is equivalent to a trip to the corner store - involved six hours in the air, and that doesn't include clearing customs or time spent shuttling around Orange County.
In the minors, packing an entire team onto a single bus for a 10-hour marathon up the interstate helped forge bonds between players who had no choice but to get along.
Even though the planes allow for more personal space, Burrows says the camaraderie hasn't changed.
"We get some card games going on in the charters. It's always nicer after a win because guys are having more fun and chatting a bit more. It's about the same. It's still a hockey team and winning does it."
The card game of favor is called Schnarbles. Most of the guys play. Matt Cooke, Morrison, and the Manitoba Moose graduates are probably the most active.
"The Sedins are pretty good too," says Burrows, raising his voice just as Henrik drifts within earshot. "But I think they cheat. They might have a couple of signs, and sometimes they talk Swedish so we don't know what's going on."
Henrik smiles and responds in Swedish, then goes right back to fiddling with the knot in his tie.
Having a little fun helps keep boredom at bay, and as Burrows points out, it keeps morale high - and that's crucial over an 82-game grind.