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Surviving the road

5/8/2009 - NHL

This story appears in the May 18 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Your team's in the playoffs, trying to steal a W in your opponent's house. The crowd is rowdy and vicious, attacking you, your teammates and even your mother with howls and rally rags and those damn ThunderStix. But you're prepared. You've stuck to your routine -- a nap (thanks to that block on your hotel phone) and cards with teammates -- plus, you know your game plan cold and are ready for anything. "It's those first 10 minutes that can kill you," says Pens center Jordan Staal. "The fans can't scream for a full two hours. Players can't charge around for the full 60 minutes. If you watch yourself early and make smart plays, you'll make it through those first few shifts. After that, it's all just noise."

Of course, rising above the din is easier said than done. The road always finds a way to draw blood, with a late-night fire alarm, a sketchy cheeseburger or a fan who baits your coach into tossing a water bottle into the stands. Still, any team that hopes to hoist the Stanley Cup must sharpen its road survival skills. Here, players and those closest to them tell us how it's done.


When you're done here, be sure to check out our corresponding NBA road coverage.


NHL pros play on the road all season long. But tight travel schedules and pressure to win make the playoffs a different kind of road trip. We wondered what players have loved and loathed about leaving home behind, so we asked.

Cam Ward
Hurricanes (2–2 on the road; won first round in seven games)

"Pittsburgh's locker room is so small, goalies don't even dress with the team; they put us in a room next door. Goalies already get a bad rap for being different. Now we have to dress in a different room? That's not cool."

Chris Pronger
Ducks (2–1; won first round in six)

"Fans always try to call your hotel room, but you deal with that by using an alias. A lot of teams don't allow incoming calls anyway. I think a couple of coaches got called, and I'm sure that had something to do with the new policy."

Kevin Weekes
Devils (1–2; lost first round in seven)

"Boston has the most inconsistent ice. It's sticky in some parts and gets beat up quickly. They know the ice, the kick points, what spots in the boards are livelier. They base their play around that."


6 Things you should know about arranging road trips

With Ryan Lichtenfels, Ducks manager of hockey operations
(Don't dare call him traveling secretary)

As told to Sam Alipour

1. The Shampoo Is Complimentary.
"The home team provides us with towels, tape, soap and other courtesy items. For everything else -- pucks, meds, sports drinks -- I work with Doug 'Sluggo' Shearer, our equipment manager. If a playoff series goes seven games, we usually have to fly directly to the next city. In that case, we have to pack double. That's why winning quickly and coming home between series is ideal, for everyone."

2. Airlines Rack Up Assists.
"I work with an airline contact called a loadmaster. He coordinates getting our equipment on the truck, nails down our in-flight menu and arranges boarding. On domestic flights, we go through security on the tarmac and walk to the plane. It kind of makes you feel like you're in Entourage. For international travel, we go through the terminal and customs like everyone else. One time Teemu Selanne thought it was okay to bring his skates through security. I had to have my contact carry them through the employee entrance."

3. Nothing Is Easy During the Postseason.
"I finalize our hotel contracts before the season, but since I never know where the playoffs will take us, that period is always a scramble. When we played the Wild in the first round in 2007, I had to book us at three hotels because of conventions in St. Paul. Otherwise, I book all the players on the same floor and shut off incoming calls so fans can't bother them. I also create a rooming list detailing which player wants extra pillows, who uses an alias and who rooms with whom. The CBA says players with fewer than 600 games and 10 years' experience get a roommate."

4. Comfort Foods Keep Us Grounded …
"Before a game, I'll set up a meal of chicken, pasta and salad, as well as special requests. James Wisniewski likes sparkling water, Ryan Whitney likes chocolate milk and Chris Pronger likes Thousand Island dressing. They all like sweets. In Ottawa, during the 2007 Finals, our restaurant caught on fire before dessert, so I arranged a bus to Dairy Queen. Before the most important game of their ­careers, the guys were ordering ice cream like kids after a Little League game."

5. … As Does Recess.
"Coach Randy Carlyle has me set up team outings on the road. We've gone bowling, played cards, shot pool and, in Vancouver, rode bikes through Stanley Park. Players really get into it. Once we went go-kart racing, and Teemu showed up with his own helmet and fire suit."

6. The Work Doesn't End With the Cup.
"When we won the Stanley Cup in 2007, players had appearances with it on Jim Rome and Leno. It was my job to get them to the studios. I remember being in the back of the town car, buckled up and holding the Cup in my arms like a baby. Then it hit me: Holy cow, I have the Cup! It was surreal. And the best part of my job."


Big Number: 62

Detroit's Chris Chelios has played in an NHL-record 261 playoff games during his 26-year career. But barring multiple injuries to its blue line—top D Brian Rafalski missed the second round's Game 1 at home with an upper body injury—it's unlikely this postseason that the 47-year-old D-man will boost his mark of 62 road wins (third all-time, behind Claude Lemieux and Mark Messier).


Contributors: Sam Alipour, Lindsay Berra, Chris Broussard, Ric Bucher, Bryan Chu, Louise K. Cornetta and Charles Curtis