Gord Stellick is host of The Big Show, the popular afternoon radio program on the FAN 590. The former general manager of the Maple Leafs is also a hockey commentator on numerous local and national television shows.
It has changed the entire structure of life on the road. A great example is in New Jersey. NHL teams stay at one of the hotels near the Meadowlands which is basically in the middle of nowhere. In the 1980s it really felt like nowhere and certainly nobody knew or really cared if your were with an NHL team.
Soon it had totally changed with a significant group of serious collectors who would stalk your hotel at any time of day or night, even in an out-of-the-way place like the Meadowlands. Extra security now tries to keep these professional collectors a decent distance away from the hotel but they persevere.
It was the beginning of the erosion of privacy and often times, respect for the player. Unfortunately, it often results in the young fan that simply wants an autograph for personal reasons being clumped together with the hordes of "professional" collectors.
| Alex Mogilny loves being in the East just for the travel. |
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With the move to the Eastern Conference it has meant not only a much easier travel schedule for the Leafs but also fewer of the road trips like they had last week. It makes for few off-days on the road but they can be extremely important considering the often overused yet significant word "bonding" that goes on during trips.
One key is to win the first game on the road trip like the Leafs did in Calgary last week. It usually sets a good mood for the off-days between the games. Back in the 1980s, players could pretty well go anywhere they wanted the night before or the hours after a game, now they have to be more discreet. Each city usually has a bar and/or restaurant that caters to the needs of the team.
Because of the advances in game preparation, the day of game is now quite regimented. I can remember Roger Neilson being a novelty in NHL coaching circles when he was with the Leafs from 1977 to 1979. He was the first head coach to use video and first-hand scouting reports to help prepare his team for their opponent. Now the size of the travelling party and preparation has grown significantly. The players now travel to and from the arena for a morning skate. They then have a team meal at 1:00 p.m., have a few hours to nap and relax, a 4:30 p.m. meeting and video session before catching the bus to the arena for the game. Not much free time.
Now they return home to Toronto after most games. Leaving the arena, the team bus takes them right on the tarmac to catch their charter flight. Back in Toronto the plane taxis to a private hangar with easy access to their automobiles. The service, food and beverages on the flight are first class. Not a bad way to travel.
The flight is always quicker and more enjoyable after a victory. For the 2001-02 season, I'm sure the Leafs felt the flight home from Edmonton was their longest of the season, even with the upgraded standards of travel for an NHL team.