Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
An ISN Exclusive
Victoria, BC – ISN reporter Christian J. Stewart recently got to see what it takes to put the Victoria Royals on the road and to discuss life on the road with a few players, coaches and staff.
The average fan in attendance at a Western Hockey League (WHL) game may certainly be aware that the visiting team for the game arrived on a bus, but the majority probably have no idea of the logistics, planning and frenzy of activity that is required at that visiting team’s home rink prior to departure that is needed in order for that team to be there.
As the Victoria Royals prepared to hit the road this past Tuesday for their critical three game road trip through Kamloops and Prince George, ISN was provided an inside look at what is required to get the team on the bus, and what is required to keep them playing, and playing well, while on the road.
In addition to the general logistics of getting the full roster of players and coaches on the bus in time, along with their personal items and their most important personal item for long bus rides – the pillow – there are a range of team related items that travel with the team and a range of activities that take place on the road to make for a successful road trip.
“Hey, Where’s My Stick?”
One key item that needs to be on the bus is of course equipment, not only the player’s personal gear, but all of the various accessories and equipment “amenities” that the players have become accustom to in the Royal’s locker room at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
In charge of this task is Royals Equipment Manager Matt Auerbach (pictured left, courtesy Victoria Royals), who in many respects has perhaps the most frenetic of jobs on the day the Royals hit the road.
“Basically what we try to do is load up pretty much everything they have here in the locker room in Victoria and take it with us,” notes Auerbach, “everything from the nameplates over their lockers, to a version of the carpet and Royals logo that we have on the floor.”
“On a common trip I’ll have a trunk that includes three sets of jerseys (practice, pre-game and game jerseys), three sock bags, one equipment bag, and a second which includes everything I pretty much have in this room including a skate sharpener, two glove driers, three sets of laundry, and various other miscellaneous items. I’d take more but there is only so much room on the bus.”
“Each player will also take 3-4 sticks with him, so we will have two large stick bags, one for the “active” sticks and one for the spares.”
While the players are responsible for packing up their own hockey gear bags prior to departure, Auerbach will still play the role of minor hockey coach and do a final check of the room to ensure an elbow pad or a mouth guard has not been missed.
“Through my experience and mistakes early in my career, I’ve gotten pretty good at not forgetting anything over the last several years. We might run out of something we thought we had more of while on the road, but I make sure everything we need gets on that bus.”
Asked what he felt was the one thing he could not forget, Auerbach replied, “Jerseys. It would be tough to arrive at a road game without our jerseys! I did that once several years ago where I misplaced just a single jersey and our player had to wear a spare, but never since then.”
Auerbach’s hectic day does not end at SOFA, but continues once the team arrives at their destination. “For example, once we get to Kamloops, I’ll unload all our gear and get the room set up for the players so it is ready Wednesday morning. We’ll play that night and stay over again, so it is not too bad, as we get to stay set up there for a day or two. The really hectic trips are when we have to pack and go every day to a new destination.”
“Coach, I Don’t Feel so Well”
Another person who commands significant storage space in the bottom of the bus is Royal’s Head Athletic Therapist Dylan Hermann (pictured below, courtesy Victoria Royals)
“We also try to bring everything we can on the road with us and make sure we can provide all the same training services to the players that we provide to them at home. This helps keep the players healthy of course, but it also makes them feel more at home to have those amenities along with us.”
On a typical road trip Hermann will have a main medical trunk which contains everything from medications, to tape, to supplements and a second trunk which includes all the electronic physiotherapy gadgets that keep the players healthy.
“That second trunk contains all our machines for treating injuries electronically [electronic treatment modality], including neuro-muscular stimulation, ultrasound, TENS [Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation] units, IFC [Interferential Current] units and a “Game-Ready” machine, which is basically a sophisticated icing machine.”
“We also make sure we bring any specific health related items the players require. For example we have one player who is a diabetic, so we ensure that we bring his insulin and special sugar packages with us. Other players like to bring specific items like foam rollers and things like that, so we make sure those get packed for them.”
As to team nutrition and eating healthy while on the road, Hermann noted that meals are largely coordinated and set up in advance by staff in head office and with the help of Assistant Coach Enio Sacilotto, and that he provides little input to that, “The boys eat like kings on the road and there is no issue with nutrition, as they are always fed well and at the right time.”
“We will however bring things like Solo energy bars and Gatorade gels and such for the locker room, but the day-to-day meals are all planned and well taken care of.”
Trainers in many respects are the unheralded heroes of a hockey team, quietly keeping their players in good health behind the scenes and allowing them to compete at a high level on the ice throughout the season. Hermann has had his challenges this year with a few players being out long-term with concussions, but for the most part the Royals have escaped any major injury problems.
“We have been very lucky this year that we have not had too many devastating injuries [other than the concussions], but when the players are injured, they understand it is part of the game and they work well with us, and with the coaching staff, to identify what the problem is, and identify whether they are hurt enough to need some rest, or whether they are just banged up and can still go. And of course that is my job, to make sure I get them as game ready as possible and allow them to contribute on the ice.”
“You Want Me to Put That Where?”
Once the assortment of player gear, other equipment and training supplies are ready to go, it all has to be loaded into the bus.
In order to make it all fit, Royals staff have created detailed mathematical algorithms and diagrams that make loading the bus more of a scientific process than that required to split an atom, or create nuclear fusion. Everything has a specific place and has to be loaded in a specific order to make it all work.
And in charge of this complex loading process are the Royals rookie players, who in the pecking order that exists in minor hockey life, have to pay their dues by relieving the veterans of such menial tasks. On this day the rookies performed well, loading everything up in the span of perhaps just 20 minutes.
Jamie Crooks loads just one of many equipment bags and trunks on to the Royal’s bus in preparation for the team’s road trip this week (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
The Royals Luke Harrison is one of the rookie players with the honour of crawling into the belly of the bus to help load up the equipment bags prior to departure (Photo by Christian J. Stewart).
The pecking order for rookies also extends to who sits where on the bus, and for the most part, the rookies and younger players get the honour of sitting closer to the coaches at the front of the bus, while the veterans and older players escape the watchful eye of the coaches at the back.
Particularly coveted are the last two rows of seats on one side, which face each other, thus providing more leg room and space for players to sprawl out. Again in the team hierarchy on the Royals, these are usually occupied by team Captain Hayden Rintoul and Robin Soudek, the two oldest players on the squad.
These seats are the most coveted on the bus and are usually reserved for Team Captain Hayden Rintoul and Robin Soudek, the two oldest players on the team (Photo by Christian J. Stewart).
“Who’s Driving This Thing?”
While it is important to have all the gear, players, and coaches on the bus, that bus does not go anywhere without one more critical component – the driver.
The Royals have been fortunate to land a good one in Larry Quigley of Wilson’s Transportation, who has been driving the team since Day 1.
Quigley is well suited to chauffeuring a group of potentially rowdy young-men around the country as he comes from a military career, however he says he has rarely needed to keep anyone in line.
“These guys are a great bunch. The kids are super respectful and well-behaved. The coaches seem to have them in hand. They are a fun bunch…some of the trips are quite long and can get kind of boring but they seem to fare well and are really fun to hang out with.”
The Royals would not go anywhere on the road without the capable services of Wilson Transport’s Larry Quigley who has been the team’s driver since Day 1 (Photo by Christian J. Stewart).
Like Auerbach and Hermann who keep the player’s gear and health in top working order, Quigley ensures the Royals rolling “home on the road” stays in great shape too. He supervises the loading process to ensure any last minute changes to the scientific loading algorithms are not required and will do what is needed to keep the bus in top working order for the players.
“On our long road trip to the Prairies a few weeks ago, it was -46 degrees with the wind chill and I didn’t turn the bus off for ten days. Even if we had just plugged it in, I don’t think she would have started as the air lines would have frozen up, so I kept it running to make sure we could travel.”
“Are We There Yet?”
Long bus rides make for many hours where the players and coaches have to fill time with various activities to keep them busy.
Judging by the number of pillows being taken on board, sleep is obviously one of those activities and can of course be important for the players and coaches to get, although it is not always easy to come by in the tight confines of a bus seat.
Other than trying to sleep, curled up in the fetal position at four in the morning, Head Coach Marc Habscheid likes to use bus time to do some work. “We are really fortunate on the bus that we can use our computers, so I’ll work on game plans, or work with some of the kids watching video of their shifts.”
When not working, Habscheid will try to watch whatever movie that the players have chosen, although he is not a big fan of their recent picks. “I’ve seen “Mall Rats” way too many times and if I have to watch that Adam Sandler movie “Billy Madison” one more time, I think I might stab myself in the eyes!”
Assistant Coach Enio Sacilotto likes to use bus and road time to socialize with his fellow coaches and the staff, as well as to catch up on his reading. “I am currently reading a book on leadership and management and recently completed the Howard Cosell story. Keith Richard’s autobiography, which I read on our last long trip, was also very entertaining.”
As to the players, goaltender Keith Hamilton notes, “ bus trips are great for hanging with the other players and doing some team bonding, playing cards, watching movies, that kind of thing. If things quiet down, I’ll just relax and listen to some music on my iPod, country music mainly, or try and catch up on my sleep.”
Team Captain Hayden Rintoul concurs, “We do have fun on the bus, watching movies, listening to music and such, but we also have to make sure we keep the focus on hockey and make sure we approach each game the same way. I guess as Captain I help play a role in that, but that responsibility happens no matter if we are at home or on the road.”
“Homework? I Have Homework?”
Keeping up with their education is an important aspect of life for many Royals players and heading out on extended road trips can often make that task difficult.
Fortunately the Royals (and the WHL in general) all have good mechanisms and staff in place to assist players with this, and for the Royals, that key person is Assistant Coach Sacilotto.
“I serve as the team’s education liaison with the education coordinator Tammy Renyard at Vic High where many of the players attend. I keep in close contact with her to make sure the players are keeping up with their marks and organize tutors for them here at home as needed. On the road, when they have study requirements that need to be completed, I’ll organize study sessions and sit with them to get it done.”
“We also have a few kids who are taking college courses so I work with our college education coordinator to make sure those course requirements are also being met.”
Forward Steven Hodges is one player who benefits from this. “Obviously it can be a challenge for us and the coaches to keep up with this as it takes time out of our schedule to do this. The teachers at Vic High however are really accommodating and will give us extended time and due dates on projects and assignments as needed. We also do lots of work on the road and on the bus and Enio has been great at helping us with that.”
It is certainly in the player’s best interest to keep up with their school work, although Sacilotto notes that some are diligent at this and some aren’t. “If kids don’t follow up on their work, and their grades slip, there is a potential that they will not play and be left out of the line-up, but with a bit of pushing from myself and the education coordinators, there is rarely a problem. We do have to twist their arms a bit sometimes, but generally they do the work that is required.”
“Where to Next?”
In closing, while life on the road for a WHL club can be hectic and monotonous and fraught with a range of challenges, it is clear that the Royals have the processes and people in place to ensure that things go as smooth as they can and that the team arrives safely at their destination and ready to play at the highest level possible.
With luck, here in their inaugural season, that will result in the Royals securing a playoff spot and a chance to compete for the WHL Championship.
Who knows? Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but maybe the next lengthy road trip the Royals take will be to the 2012 Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Quebec in May!