Canucks’ perks and pains of life on the road

 

By Christmas, team will have spent 33 of 48 days away from home, putting strain on family life

 
 
 
 
The schedule has taken Canucks players — including from left, Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller, Alex Burrows and Adam Cracknell seen here in Ottawa in November — all over North America this year. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
 
 

The schedule has taken Canucks players — including from left, Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller, Alex Burrows and Adam Cracknell seen here in Ottawa in November — all over North America this year. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Jeff Vinnick/Vancouver Canucks

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VANCOUVER — It was released before most of them were born, but that old Willie Nelson classic, On The Road Again, seems a perfect theme song for the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The Canucks hit the road again Saturday, heading for Chicago, where they begin a six-game trip Sunday afternoon.

By the time they return home in the wee hours of Dec. 23, the players will have spent 33 of the past 48 days on the road.

Daniel Sedin does not remember a stretch quite like it.

“This is probably the toughest period I can think of,” he says.

November began with a brief two-game homestand, followed by a seven-game eastern marathon that lasted two weeks. They returned home for two games — long enough for the players to see how much their kids had grown — and then it was back out for a four-game trip.

They had just over a week at home, during which they played four games, and now it’s back out on a six-game trip that ends Dec. 22 in Tampa, Fla.

All they’ll want for Christmas is to be able to sleep in their own beds.

“It is a lot more challenging than I thought, coming out West,” says goalie Ryan Miller, who has spent most of his career playing for the Buffalo Sabres. “Especially with Vancouver being second or third on the list every year for most miles and most time away. I have kind of been surprised with the long stretches we have had to begin the season. It’s not just six or seven days, it’s 12 to 14 days. It’s not just once or twice, it’s three or four times already this year.”

It’s the players with families who find travel the toughest.

“They are starting to realize that I am away,” Daniel Sedin says of his three kids. “I think when they were younger they didn’t really care too much. It’s tougher to leave now.”

Vancouver winger Alex Burrows also has three kids — including newborn son Jacob — and spends much of his free time on the road on FaceTime, which has become a staple on the road for many players.

“At least an hour a day, for sure,” Burrows says. “Early in the morning, a little bit in the afternoon, and then a little bit more before bedtime. As much as I can. Sometimes we are not even talking, they have gone to get a toy or something, or they’re eating dinner or playing or jumping.”

Of course, Burrows and the rest of the Canucks are quick to note they are treated very well on the road. They fly first class on the team’s Air Canada charter plane. The hotels are five-star and they receive a handsome per diem of nearly $100 US a day.

“We are getting treated like kings,” defenceman Luca Sbisa says. “It is almost embarrassing to say. We stay in the nicest hotels. Our equipment guys and the whole staff all come together and make it so easy for us. We don’t do much at all. We don’t lift a thing. They make sure everything is in place and we just have to produce on the ice.”

Burrows appreciates the perks of the road more than most. He made it to the NHL the hard way, toiling in the East Coast Hockey League in places like Baton Rouge, La., and Greenville, S.C., before finding his way to hockey’s promised land.

“I think we got $29 for three meals,” he says. “You had to manage your breakfast, your pre-game meal and your post-game meal. If you were lucky, there would be some granola bars laying around the locker-room and you could have a little snack before the game. We used to have pre-game meals at a Subway.

“Now it is so different. We are so spoiled in the NHL. You almost feel bad sometimes. They have three or four meals ready for you when you get on the plane, you can pick your option. And when you get to the hotel there’s a six-star buffet that has everything — two kinds of pasta, gluten free, salad bar, three kinds of sauce for your mashed potatoes. Baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, different kinds of veggies, then you get ice cream to top it off.

“The hotels are five-star and the service is unreal. The only thing is when you first come in and order room service for breakfast and you see the bill, $50 for two eggs and bacon, and you are like, what? You are really wondering what kind of world am I living in, because you are used to grabbing a $5 breakfast and then you come to these fancy hotels and they charge eight or nine bucks for orange juice.”

The players cherish their rare days off on the road. It’s a chance to relax, maybe see a movie or do some exploring. Last week in Southern California, for example, some players rented bikes and did some riding in Newport Beach in California before enjoying the team’s rookie dinner.

“The guys here are pretty good, we’ll get together and go to movies, and there’s guys who like to go out and get some food,” Miller says. “Then there are times when you just order in some room service because the last thing you feel like doing is going and sitting somewhere. You just want to be on your own and just chill.”

Then there is the shopping. When you make seven figures a year, it doesn’t hurt to spend a little of it.

“Now, I am trying to get my Christmas shopping done,” Burrows says. “Often there is a birthday coming up so I like to go out and get something for the girls or get a little something so they are happy to see me when I get back.”

Sbisa says he stays clear of stores on the road.

“I can tell you one thing, you won’t find me in any malls or anything,” he says. “Some guys like to shop. Malls are the same everywhere.

“Sometimes you are just in and out of a city quick, but I have had time to see some places. In St. Louis, I went to the Arch. It’s cool to do stuff like that.”

Miller used to be big on getting out and exploring various cities, but says he’s been around so long he’s mostly been there and done that. A new father, Miller candidly acknowledged that he has found this stretch of travel difficult. He’s been homesick, missing his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, and their eight-month-old son, Bodhi.

“It is the reality of what we do, but it has been complicated with being new parents and my wife wanting to get back to work and stuff,” he says. “A lot has fallen on her, more than we even thought, so I feel a bit guilty about that. You discuss having kids and you want to be an equal participant, but you really can’t be. It’s very unfair.

“I know military and other people have much more difficult situations. This is our reality and we are well compensated for it. But my reality is I miss my wife and my son.”

bziemer@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/bradziemer

 
 
 
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The schedule has taken Canucks players — including from left, Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller, Alex Burrows and Adam Cracknell seen here in Ottawa in November — all over North America this year. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
 

The schedule has taken Canucks players — including from left, Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller, Alex Burrows and Adam Cracknell seen here in Ottawa in November — all over North America this year. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Jeff Vinnick/Vancouver Canucks

 
The schedule has taken Canucks players — including from left, Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller, Alex Burrows and Adam Cracknell seen here in Ottawa in November — all over North America this year. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
Vancouver Canucks forwards Radim Vrbata and Chris Higgins (far right) disembark from the team’s charter jet in Montreal during their Eastern road trip on Nov. 15, 2015. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
Vancouver goalies Ryan Miller, left, and Jacob Markstrom check out a text message during the team’s early November road trip in Ottawa. The players have spent a lot of time on phones with family this season. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
Vancouver Canucks defencemen Chris Tanev (far left) and Matt Bartkowski are reflected in a hotel mirror during the team’s early November, 2015, road trip in Ottawa. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins gives direction to his players, among them Bo Horvat (kneeling centre) and Alex Burrows (kneeling front right) in Ottawa during their Eastern road trip on Nov. 11, 2015. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
The Vancouver Canucks on their New York road trip in February 2015. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
The Sedin twins and assistant equipment manager Brian Hamilton (right) lace up skates during the team’s recent road trip, in Ottawa on Nov. 11, 2015. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
The Vancouver Canucks travel to Calgary for Game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in April 2015. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
Vancouver Canucks winger Radim Vrbata disembarks from the team’s charter jet in Calgary, where the team was travelling to for Game 6 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Calgary Flames, in April 2015. (Jeff Vinnick photo, Vancouver Canucks)
 
 
 
 
 
 
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