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Blog: Home Sweet Home

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers Road Trip is a traveling blog kept by Panthers website coordinator Glenn Odebralski, chronicling the team’s three-game road trip from January 1st until January 5th. The Panthers play against the New Jersey Devils on January 2nd, the New York Islanders on January 3rd and the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 5th. This blog is meant as a behind-the-scene look into the travel of a professional hockey player/staff member.

1.05.08 11:28 P.M. :::: Home Sweet Home

Well. The road trip has come to and end and only taking two out of a possible six points was very disappointing to everyone. Slow first periods (gave up four goals in the two losses in the first) can be the blame for the defeats.

Before I talk about the experience as a whole, I’d just like to go back to the beginning of the day and run you through what happened.

With a 3pm start, the team had the morning off. When it was time to head to the arena, there was a little different arrival. With the hotel being right across the street, most of the players and staff, myself included, walked the 100 feet or so. We left the hotel around 12:30 and made our way. Shockingly there were about 20 autograph seekers outside of the hotel. And yet none of them asked for my autograph. Not even mistakenly. Guess they didn’t know who I was.

We made our way into Mellon Arena and to the locker room, but not before getting lost. There sure are a lot of twists and turns to get to a locker room. After changing, the guys went through personal and team warm-ups. I didn’t realize that they warmed up like they did before a game like that. For me, that would be a workout in itself. I don’t think I could make it to the game. But that’s just me.

After getting something to eat and getting situated in the press box, it was game time. I had one eye on the game and one eye on my computer. That’s because I was watching the World Junior Gold Medal Game between Canada and Sweden. And a side note. Shawn Matthias looks like the real deal. The way he caused the turnover with his pressure in Sweden’s zone in overtime, picked up the puck in the corner and drove to the net with a guy all over his back and yet get a shot off was amazing. His teammate Matthew Halischuk banged in the rebound to give Canada the 3-2 victory. Matthias was playing everything for Canada. He was on both the power play and penalty kill units, and whenever there was a face-off of need for Canada, Matthias was out there taking it. Hopefully he’ll be with the Panthers in the next year or two.

Anyways back to the Panthers game. All I can say is I hope they forget about it. There were some costly turnovers and Pittsburgh capitalized on them. End of story. The defeat left a sour note in the guys mouths and rightfully so. Luckily they have this same Pittsburgh team in three days when the Pens come to the BankAtlantic Center on Tuesday.

The Panthers players and staff packed their bags and left the arena after the game where they boarded the buses outside. After weaving through some heavy traffic outside the arena and near the three rivers that come together in the city (fans going to the Steelers game), we were on our way to the airport. About a half hour after we left the arena, we reached the plane.

After loading the equipment and our bags, we left Pittsburgh and headed for home around 7:10. About two-and-a-half hours later, we touched down in Ft. Lauderdale, which by the way is about 50 degrees warmer than Pittsburgh.

Another 30 minutes on the road, and I was finally home. Home sweet home.

It seemed like a long time away from home, but in reality it was only four days and nine hours. I must tell you. Road trips are so much more than they seem. It’s not just fun and games. Moving from city to city and playing three games in four nights can be very taxing. I didn’t even play, and I’m exhausted. I think the biggest thing is that you don’t get to stay in your own bed, which means you really don’t get a good night sleep. At least I didn’t.

And to think. Travel was pretty minimal. We played in New Jersey, drove maybe an hour to Long Island to play a game, then flew from New Jersey to Pittsburgh, a couple hundred miles away. Imagine if this was the western conference and you were say Edmonton playing in Minnesota then in Dallas. That’s pretty ridiculous. Also imagine all the travel that the players and the staff do over the course of the season. It’s no matter they are worn down at the end of the season. It’s very taxing.

Anyways. I hope you liked the behind the scenes look into traveling with a professional hockey team. It was fun doing this, and even though I’d enjoy doing this again, I’m not allowed to (right Mr. Moller?).

So. I’m signing off and going to catch up on my sleep. No more to come.

1.04.08 6:41 P.M. :::: Back At Work

The Panthers got back to work today after last night’s victory on the Island as they prepare for tomorrow’s game against the Penguins. Remember. The start time is 3pm not 7pm. It got moved up because the Steelers are playing the Jaguars in an AFC playoff game.

After waking up, what seemed to be way too early, the players and staff bussed to the Penguins practice center outside of Pittsburgh. We wound through the streets of Pittsburgh until we reached Interstate-279 and then Interstate-79. In all, it took about 30 minutes to get to the practice arena.

Getting to the arena, around noon, we were able to watch the Pens wrap up their practice session. They looked to be loose and ready to play. Then after their practice, I made my way to their lockerroom to see if I could get any comments about tomorrow’s game. No such luck. The reporters were more interested in last night’s game than the upcoming game against the Cats. The Pens players though all seem like a good group of guys though.

Actually funny story. I guess there was a practical joke on a couple of players, George Laraque and Colby Armstrong to be exact. I’m not sure who it was that did it, but someone hid in their equipment bags. Unsuspecting the two (done two different times in each of their bags) were scared to find the guy pop out of the bag. Everyone was cracking up.

Anyways. Back to the Cats. The Panthers got onto the ice around 1pm and went through a quick, up-tempo skate that lasted roughly 35 minutes. The coaching staff put them through long shots/rebounds, two-on-ones, and five man units. They spent a lot of time on the five-man units where a coach would “ice” the puck and either the defenseman or forward would have to go and retrieve it and start a fast break.

With limited media at the practice arena, the team got off the ice, showered, and headed back to the hotel at 2:10. Another 30 minutes and we were back.

The players then had meetings to go to, and I was back at my room doing work.

So I know that I’ve compared hotels the last two stops, and here’s no different. The hotel, the Marriott Pittsburgh City Center is pretty nice. The best part of it (in my opinion and just my opinion) is the view. Staying on the 17th floor, I have a great view overlooking Mellon Arena and part of the city, including some skyscrapers.

There’s a lot of noise outside the window as I’m typing and that’s because there’s a concert starting soon. Hannah Montana. Apparently it’s as big of a hit here as it was at the BankAtlantic Center back in November. I can see cars lined up for miles looking to make their way to the Mellon Arena. Show starts at 7:00pm.

Enough rambling for this guy. Just make sure you watch tomorrow’s game. The Cats take on Sid the Kid and the Penguins. That’s really enough said. He’s one of the brightest young stars in the league and the Panthers look for their ninth road victory in 11 games.

More to come…

1.04.08 2:31 A.M. :::: Win And Move

What a game! Especially in the last 15 minutes or so of the contest. Both teams had their opportunities to win it towards the end of the third period, beginning of overtime, but the Cats came out on top thanks to Jassen Cullimore’s blast. It’s funny because at first glance no one thought it was in. Not even the Hero of the Night (now the proud owner of the Hero’s Cape) knew it was in because he “had my eyes closed”.

The guys were really pumped after this one, cracking jokes in the locker room, and who could blame them. It was a hard fought victory and a great way to rebound after a tough loss in Jersey. Granted they didn’t play the greatest in the first period, they still deserved the win, especially the way they played in the second period.

I just knew that the Stephen Weiss, David Booth, and Nathan Horton would have a big night after they showed some chemistry against the Devils. Led by Horton’s three points (two goals, assist), the line had six of the team’s 10 points. Let’s hope they can keep that production up.

It was also great to see Craig Anderson get his first win of the season. In all the games he’s played, whether starting or filling in, he’s played very well. For just some reason, he’s come up on the losing end. But not tonight. He made several spectacular saves that were highlight material.

After the big win, the team boarded two busses and drove back to the Newark Airport. Small problem. When we got there, the plane wasn’t there. Apparently the plane was delayed in taking the Heat to Dallas for their game against the Mavericks thus making it late in picking us up. Ahh well. Some more waiting. It didn’t really matter to anyone since we won.

The plane ended up landing in Pittsburgh at 1:15 AM. By the time we got all our luggage off the plane and got loaded and then a 20 minute bus ride to our hotel, the Marriott, we had finally made it to our destination at 2:00AM. Staying up longer than that though. Some more work to do for me, including posting this blog, but that goes with the territory.

Oh yeah. One last thing. Remember how I said I had some time to go exploring Garden City after my last blog? Well the adventure didn’t last long. Walked up the street to see what was in town and yeah…. Too freaking cold. I think it might have been 20 degrees out. The cold did have one benefit. It made me stop into this restaurant called Seventh Street Café to get out of the cold and get something to eat. Had penne alle vodka. It was amazing. Well worth the stop.

Anyways. I’m heading to bed. I need my beauty sleep.

More to come after the Cat’s practice at 1:00 PM...

1.03.07 12:46 P.M. :::: On Long Island

Game Day. Take Two

The road trip didn’t start out the way anyone wanted it to with a 3-2 loss to the Devils, but we had to move on, literally. Right after the game ended and the media came and went, we loaded onto two busses and made our way to Long Island and to our hotel, Garden City.

It really was weird going from the hustle and bustle of upper New Jersey and through a part of New York City to the quiet, openness of Long Island. You see huge skyscrapers and large factories and what-not and then in a matter of a few minutes, it’s the countryside.

After dropping off the equipment managers at the Coliseum so they could prepare for our game against the Islanders tonight, we finally got to our hotel. It was about an hour after we left the Prudential Center. We made some good time since it was late at night and there weren’t as many cars on the road.

Our hotel, compared to the last one in New Jersey, seems a little more upscale. Not that the other hotel was bad (Remember. TWO TV’S), but upscale in the sense of elegance. The furniture in my room probably cost more than what I make in a year. Maybe not. I like to exaggerate.

After some work getting up the post-game content, I got a good night’s sleep. Hopefully so did the rest of the guys. With it being the second day of the back-to-back games, the team had an optional skate. For most of the guys, they just went to meetings in the morning to prepare for tonight’s game against the Islanders and then after a team meal will get some rest before our bus leaves at 4:45 for the arena.

Some notes and thoughts from last nights game to close the chapter on yesterday. I really liked the play of Nathan Horton, David Booth, and Stephen Weiss. Like Panthers GM & Head Coach Jacques Martin said, they were the Panthers best line out there. Booth had a goal, Horton had two assists and Weiss had another assist. Booth’s goal was very pretty to see live and you could see the three are starting to gel again and should have had a lot more goals if not for future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur robbing each of them. The trio had been a line before Booth went down with a knee injury. It was also nice to see Gregory Campbell jump and take on Vitaly Vishnevsky after the Devils defenseman hit Brett McLean from behind and into the boards.

Now back to tonight. The Panthers haven’t won on the Island in the last three tries, but they all came in the extra session; two in a shootout and once in overtime. I think the team will come out playing mad, just like they did in the Philadelphia game after their game against Montreal. After a slow first period against Montreal, giving up three goals in the first five minutes, the Panthers outshot the Flyers 14-3 in the first period. Unfortunately none of them went in. That should change tonight, specially if the Weiss, Horton, Booth line play like they did last night.

Anyways. I got some time between now and the time the bus leaves. Think I’ll go do some exploring.

More to come…

1.02.07 3:55 P.M. :::: Taking In The Rock

Game Day. The first of three as the Panthers take on the Devils at 7:00 tonight.

After eating breakfast in the hotel's atrium, the team and staff, along with the FSN and 790 The Ticket broadcasters made the 20 minute trek to the Prudential Center. The NHL’s newest arena, also known as The Rock opened up this year and the first game was back on September 27th.

We traveled through the city of Newark (where the arena actually is located) and as we got a couple of miles away from the arena, we could see the giant LED screen on the front of the building. It was really a site to see because there are a lot of buildings around the arena, but the screen just makes the arena stand out. A couple more minutes and the bus made its way to the team entrance and dropped us off.

New Jersey Devils' Arena, the Prudential Center. Aka The Rock.
The players and coaches had some time from the time we got there (10:20am) to the time they were to take the ice (11:30) so they went through meetings preparing for their match-up against the Devils. While they learned about the Devils tendencies, I got to go soak up the atmosphere. You always have to see what’s in the arena when you first get there, especially when it’s the first time you’re there. The arena is huge. Making my way up to the Press Box, you could really see the whole scope or the Rock. It’s really hard to explain the look and feel of the arena inside and out.

The Cats, anxious to get going with their skate, jumped the gun and were out skating and taking in the new arena before the Zamboni was even done with the ice. Once they officially started, they then went through a 30 minute workout, going through two-on-ones, breakaways, and other drills before leaving the ice.

After a media session, everyone headed back to the hotel where the players and coaches had a team meal and then got some time to rest up for the night’s game. For me, it’s just waiting for that bus to take us back at 4:30.

More to come…

1.02.07 8:30 A.M. :::: Travel Day

After practicing at IncredibleIce New Year’s day, the Panthers took off for their three-game road trip to the Northeast and it was quite the turn-around from practice mode to travel mode.

There was only about an hour-and-a-half from the time practice ended to when the airplane was scheduled to depart. Players and staff members had to have all their clothes, gear, and other miscellaneous items packed for the five-day road trip. Going on my first real road trip (also traveled with the team to West Point and the season opener), I probably checked my bags three or four times to make sure that I had all the essentials. Laptop. Check. Suits. Check. Other odds-n-ends. Check. No matter how many times I checked my things, I always felt like I was forgetting something. I guess the guys have it down to a science and can probably be packed in a matter of minutes.

After getting to the airport and going through security, it was time to walk out to the chartered plane. It’s a good thing I got there when I did because right after I got to my seat, it started raining. Lightly, then in a downpour. A couple of the players weren’t so lucky to miss that downpour.

Just when we thought we were about to take off, we received word from ground control that we were going to be sitting on the runway for a little while as the weather conditions in New Jersey earlier in the day had caused delays. Apparently they got rain as well. How odd.

And so we sat there. For forty-five minutes we waited until it was our turn to take off. By the time the wheels left the ground (about 2:45 P.M), there were five planes behind us waiting for their turn to take to the air.

It’s funny. You would think flying would get old after taking so many trips, but for me it never does. Just being up in the clouds and flying over the ocean and the land is an incredible sight.

While I brought DVD’s to watch, like many of the players, I couldn’t watch them for some unforeseen reason. Stupid technology. I was relegated to playing Solitaire and looking out the window. About halfway through the flight we were served a meal. It was either chicken and potatoes or beef kabobs and rice. The chicken I must say, was delicious.

We finally landed just a little after 5:00 P.M. and took all our bags off the planes and onto the buses. (Yes we had to carry our own bags.) After a 20 minute drive on the NJ Turnpike, we reached our hotel. The Embassy Suites. I have to say that it is an amazing suite with a living room and work station area, bathroom, microwave, huge bed, and two tv’s. Read that again. TWO TV’S. All I can say is wow.

The rest of the night was just catching up on work, getting a bite to eat, and watching some college football. Actually did watch a movie today. Went to the nearby movie theatre and saw “I Am Legend” for the second time. Will Smith sure can make a movie great all by himself.

More to come…
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