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Strange Road Trips

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers head coach Peter DeBoer had to get off a bus and move a moose while playing hockey once. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
by Dave Joseph for

There was the bed shaped like a pony in Edmonton.

Then there’s the moose that got hit on the way back from Sault Ste. Marie. The plane engine that caught fire. The accident in the parking lot of Tim Hortons. The hotel operator needing a snowmobile to get supplies in Winnipeg.

Welcome to life on the road in the NHL.

When the Panthers flight from Toronto to South Florida was delayed nearly 24 hours last week due to mechanical problems and then bad weather, it was an inconvenience. But Panther players and coaches have had their share of strange trips – some scary and others funny – when it comes to life on the road in minor and professional hockey.

“We went through some awful snowstorms on the bus when I was coaching juniors in all kinds of different places, getting stuck on the side of the road,” said coach Peter DeBoer.

But there was that one particular bus trip when DeBoer was playing between Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor that stands out.

“I was playing junior hockey, actually with (Carolina coach) Paul Maurice, and we hit a moose on the way back from Sault Ste. Marie,” DeBoer recalled. “The team had to get off the bus to move the moose out of the way and off the highway and clean off the front of the bus to keep moving again.

“It was a bad night.”

Especially for the moose.

While playing in Phoenix, defenseman Nick Boynton recalls getting stuck in Edmonton overnight due to a pilot conflict and having to spend the night in Fantasyland, a hotel at the West Edmonton Mall that has theme rooms.

“It was pretty good,” said Boynton, smiling. “I had a horse for a bed. It was actually kind of funny.”

With teams from the professional sports flying charter planes, travel is very smooth. But that wasn’t always the case.

“I remember when I started playing my pro career, when we flew commercial flight, there was often delays,” said veteran Cory Stillman. “Flying out of Calgary to Chicago...they’d be delays because of snow and you’d end up having 10, 12 hour days because of travel.”

And long days spent at the airport, said assistant coach Mike Kitchen, is “more tiring than anything else because you’re just waiting and waiting.”

“You’re just putting in time,” he said.

There’s all kinds of ways to do that traveling with a team. When GM Jacques Martin was coaching in St. Louis in the late 1980s, he remembers getting stuck in a hotel in Winnipeg due to a snowstorm.

“You couldn’t drive,” he recalled. “The owner of the hotel had to get supplies by using his snowmobile.”

A trip to Grand Rapids while playing in the minors took on additional time for Stephen Weiss when the team bus hit a car in the parking lot of Tim Hortons.

But those are pretty tame compared to the trip assistant coach Pierre Groulx had while coaching in Ottawa.

“We were playing in Philly in the playoffs and are plane took off and we saw one of the engines on fire,” he recalled. “One of the engines had blew up. The pilot was truthful. He said one of the engines had blown up, we were going to go back to Philly to land, and just brace yourself and make sure your seat belts are buckled because it might be a rough landing. When we landed all the emergency crews were out there, but it ended up being OK.”

Kitchen said the flight he remembers most is when he was with the Maple Leafs and they were flying into Chicago.

“We were on a turbo prop, which is how we used to fly on those short flights when we started charters,” he said. “We were going into Chicago and there was a real bad storm and we had to fly into the eye of the storm. We had to get in there because it was the calm part, but there was probably six or seven guys who really felt ill after that flight.”

Veteran Ville Peltonen has traveled well both in Europe and North America, and he sums up the feelings of every minor and professional coach and athlete. “It’s been pretty good, no major problems, which has been fortunate,” he said. “And, hopefully, that will continue.”
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