From the Catbird Seat... On the RoadSunday night – It seems odd for the byline of a local column to be from out of state – in fact, from out of the Central time zone – but on column production day this week, your correspondent is in the Mountain Time Zone.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
COLORADO SPRINGS, Sunday night – It seems odd for the byline of a local column to be from out of state – in fact, from out of the Central time zone – but on column production day this week, your correspondent is in the Mountain Time Zone.
It’s Sunday night as I write. Since last Wednesday afternoon, I’ve been here with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldog men’s hockey team, for its first-round Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) playoff series with Colorado College.
If you’ve never gone on an extended trip with a sports team before, let me tell you, it’s an experience. Two weekends ago, the Bulldogs lost two games at home to Alaska-Anchorage, making a road trip for last weekend’s first round necessary.
The fact that the trip was to Colorado Springs turned out to be good news for the ‘Dogs, but perhaps not such good news for travel schedules. The organization that goes into a trip such as this one is extensive – and so is the time away from home.
We flew out late Wednesday – the day after the snowstorm – and after a layover in Minneapolis, flew to Denver, bused to Colorado Springs and took care of team business very late that night. That involved unloading the team gear at the rink before staggering off to the hotel, which we reached at 2:30 a.m. Central time.
With no game Thursday, the players practiced and rested while yours truly found an Internet connection to stay linked with the office Thursday and Friday. Then the actual games were played.
After Friday night’s win, the thought struck us all that a second win on Saturday would result in another day – Sunday – free in the Rocky Mountains. Happily for the Bulldogs, that’s exactly what happened – but it made Monday’s return flights to the Twin Ports seem a bit far in the future.
You learn where the necessities of life are located on a trip this long with that much down time. For example, I learned where the closest Arby’s was, in addition to the closest Target store. I consider both to be necessities of life.
While the team eats together and has team activities, the radio guy is on his own. That means I find my own food, entertainment and things to do when I’m not at the rink. Three of those days were filled up with work, but in the evenings, my “second job” as a play-by-play announcer certainly spiced up the day.
During the day, you might be surprised at how slowly things seem to go. The coaches are often in meetings, reviewing video or working with the team on a game-day skate. So if you’re not involved with the hockey staff, it’s very quiet. Having flown with this team on three occasions this year – twice to Colorado Springs and once to Chicago – the routine is now down pat.
Yet, as in watching a baseball game, the routine is the thing. I’m responsible for interviews of both coaches before the game as well as for player profiles that air between periods. While there’s plenty of time to do what has to be done, the routine of the team is what’s important. It shouldn’t be violated. So there’s a time and a place for everything.
Including, happily, the flights home. I always wondered why people in the business would suggest leaving a sports career to “spend time with the family.” After only half a season in this job, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to understand.
The life of a coach, or an athlete at this level, revolves around travel and a set schedule. It’s easy to understand why sometimes athletes actually want their seasons to end. The routine starts to dominate the individual, the kids wonder where dad (or mom) is, and after awhile it’s time to hit “game reset” and take a break.
It’s no different than life for a business traveler – which, in the end, coaches and athletes really are, especially at the professional level. But Monday afternoon, I’m flying home. That’s going to feel great. And then we go off to St. Paul. That’s the next weekend – and the next exercise in the weekly routine.
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