January 28, 2011
The All-Star break happens at nearly every level, and provides players with an unusual window of days where they're not expected to break a sweat or travel, let alone get out of bed.
Coaches tend to allow sporadic green-lights throughout the season, but I've never heard of anyone authorizing consecutive ones, so this break seems to absolutely eat at them. Prior to the weekend they're the type of bitter you see from airport ticket counter employees when passengers have flights cancelled by weather. They endure volumes of unfair vitriol from travelers, and you can just feel the workers smothering their hate behind ma'ams and sirs and I-understand-where-you're-coming-froms.
The reason coaches speak through gritted teeth, is that they know what's about to happen. The day before the All-Star break the boys -- especially the young, single ones -- are like sled-dogs at the Iditarod, damn near ready to run from here to Nome, Alaska. And rightfully so -- it can feel like an awfully long season after missing out on five months of holidays and long weekends, so a few obligation-free days sounds pretty appealing.
(I assume most coaches enjoy the break themselves, but for personal reasons, not professional ones.)
Players know they're going to pay for the break upon returning to the team, but they also know that if they don't go out and party, they're still going to have to bag skate with the rest of the team. It's just a thing that happens after multiple days off in that line of work. Sweat it out, boys.
Since it barely makes a difference if you're fresh or hurting (bag skating is never fun), you might as well make it worth it.
Some players may choose to fly home, but given that it was just Christmas a month ago, it seems like everybody is down for an adventure around this time of year. So unless you're a married gent with a family and kids, one of those larger built-in friend groups may find themselves on a Paul Bissonnette(notes)-like road trip.
As just about every hockey fan with Twitter is probably aware, twooperstar @biznasty2point0 has chosen to spend his All-Star break in Vegas, baby. If you've been following the tweets, you know it feels maybe-kind-of-a-little-touch douchy ("three bathrooms in my suite, thanks @cosmo_lv!"), but there's a reality here that I've willingly accepted: He's got a whole weekend at the Cosmopolitan in a suite during a beautiful time of the year, and if I had the chance to go douche it up like that, I'd buy the shiniest Affliction T-shirt I could find and gel my hair into a pseudo-blowout in a heartbeat.
The guy (and his speedo) simply know how to have a good time.
When you go out with big groups, as so often happens when you're a part of a team, you're pretty much guaranteed someone will come home with a fantastic story. Like Vegas itself, it's a numbers game, and you're covering 10 squares on the roulette table instead of three.
I was usually somewhat hesitant about committing to going anywhere over break with a bunch of teammates, because in my experience, the trip was always dreamed up by the team's Tweeder from "Varsity Blues"; as in, the guy you're most worried about doing something fantastically stupid. But, plans made by guys like that are not subject to the "best laid plans of mice and men" bit (because they're horribly done), so things generally ended up working out just fine.
I've never been anywhere with hockey guys that involved an itinerary, and it makes a guy never want to have one. That freedom helps you distance yourself from hockey, from the months upon months of by-the-half-hour scheduling that I loathed more than any other part of calling hockey my living.
Room checks? Really?
And in the blink of an eye, the trip has flashed past and you realize (with dread) that the next two things on the schedule are tomorrow's practice and the trade deadline. Then as soon as that's over, the playoff push. How the hell did we reach this point of the season already?
The next practice plan is easy to predict. Coach will have the drills drawn up so you skate 200 feet to do the first part, 200 feet for the next, then 200 feet for the last. It doesn't matter if it's 3-on-2s or 2-on-2s or 2-on-1s, rest assured you'll be skating the river more times than anyone in Mystery, Alaska, ever dreamed of. And that's before The Skate.
But, it feels good to work hard, and when it's finally over and you're sitting in the dressing room after a fun weekend like that, you know it was well worth it.
Work hard/play hard, and if you're one of those happy old married guys, rest hard. Whatever your preference, the All-Star break is a terrific chance to unwind for a few days ... unless you've had the unfortunate luck of making the team.
Then skate is at 9:30 a.m., the bus leaves at 8:15, meet the media 10:15, meal is at 12, then nap, the bus will leave at 3:00, be on it by 2:50.