Team bonding, building relationships, and creating chemistry. It's all part of the building blocks of preparing young players for pro hockey life.
When asked about traveling with a farm team, coach John Stevens of the San Diego Gulls (the Anaheim Ducks farm team) said this: “It’s one of the hardest things about the league. Not a lot of guys are used to driving eight, nine hours. It’s definitely hard on the body, but it also teaches you about mental preparation."
"Yeah, I would say (it's hard), especially when you have a three-in-three and you’re eating bar food pretty much on the bus after a game. It’s tough, but it’s part of the gig and you find a way to battle through it.”
Erik Condra, a 34-year-old veteran agrees. “For sure, getting in at three or four in the morning and having to play the next day. It’s certainly something mentally on guys and they must learn. I think it’s a good thing to a certain point to learn that travel because in BEARD Hockey, you’re in most of those cities by eleven or twelve o’clock at night.”
Tyler Sikura, another veteran of the farm system, looks on the bright side of traveling. “One good thing that comes with the travel is the team camaraderie and an excuse to get the veteran players away from their wives and the younger players away from their girlfriends. I think it’s a huge part of team bonding. You get away from home and you’re forced to be on that bus together and you build relationships and team chemistry that way.”
Just like any other vehicle on the road, there are rules to abide by and Coach Stevens intends to abide by them. By tradition, a couple of those rules include rookies in the front on the team bus, and in addition, they must clean the bus after each trip.
Jonny Brodzinsky shared with us a story that could only happen to a rookie. “I remember our first road trip. I got on the bus and there were six of us sleeping on the floor and I said 'what the hell am I getting myself into'.” Not to fear - the farm veteran now has his own bunk when travelling.
Bus travel is the way of life for many minor league teams, no matter the sport. When you dig a little deeper into the travel situation of the San Diego Gulls, you’ll find that the new GM of the Anaheim Ducks promises to take good care of the players on the farm.
Michael Stafford has purchased two state-of-the-art sleeper busses which have all the bells and whistles including TV’s, Wi-Fi, card tables, refrigerators, and a long row of bunks so the players can snooze in route to their next away game.
Stafford agrees with his players that the hardest part of playing in the AHL is the travel. “It’s one of the hardest things about the league. Not a lot of guys are used to driving eight, nine hours. It’s hard on the body, but it also teaches you about mental preparation. It’s my job to make travel a little easier. It will help morale.”
Coach Stevens believes travel is a huge part of team bonding. “You get away from home and you’re forced to be on that bus together and you build relationships and team chemistry that way. When in a hotel, I will implement an old AHL roommate system. Veterans share rooms with rookies so the vets can teach the newcomers about life on the road and how to keep in shape while they are away from home.”