March 08, 2011
No matter which level of professional hockey you're at, whether it be the SPHL - which is a real thing, I'm told - or the NHL, you're going to be spending plenty time on the way to crucial road games trapped in a bus. At least at the NHL level you never have to do the double-digit hours thing, but you're still going to be stuck in that stuffy sweatbox a lot more often than you'd like.
It's just another piece of a hockey player's repetitious routine that you have to find a way to make entertaining -- fortunately, that's never too difficult when you're travelling with a hockey team. What would be difficult, is trying to call a team bus "tidy" after a road trip with a straight face.
Let's be honest: men, in general, are gross.
We fart, we spit, we smell, and on hockey teams, we chew tobacco (don't worry Mom, I don't). Now, take 25 of those humans, and jam them in a wheeled metal tube for multiple hours, and it kind of becomes a pen for farm animals until everyone falls asleep. And then it's like a pen when the animals are sleeping -- the damn thing still reeks.
When I think disgusting, I'm thinking more of the postgame half of the trip. As you hockey players out there know, when a game ends, you still sweat a little after you shower. You can't just turn your body temperature down to normal after a 60-minute adrenaline packed game. So the suits come off, the sweating continues, and you can't open the windows because hockey is played during that one season where it's constantly ass-cold outside.
So soak in that fine scent, friend.
When the ice bags come off and the ibuprofen does its job, sandman dust abounds, and sleep starts to pick guys off one-by-one. Last to go are always the guys in the back playing poker, shnarpels, or any other variation of the low-stakes gambling that takes place in the dimly lit back portion of the cabin.
These are some big boys trying to find their own space to sleep, and bus seats are only so accommodating for a guy who likes to sleep lying down like a normal person.
(This is assuming you're not on a minor league team with a sleeper bus, AKA coffin seating, which is only about 10 times scarier than it sounds if you're remotely claustrophobic, as I am. Excuse me while I have a minor panic attack thinking about it).
So you have your options on a normal bus:
1. The Floor Sleeper
Whether you lay directly down the middle of the aisle, or where your feet would normally be and stick out, it's the only place you can fully stretch out and have your entire body supported. Major downside: The floor is kinda hard and dirty.
2. Legs Across the Aisle Guy
This guy inconveniences others, but probably has the best situation. It's dependent on the guy who sits across the aisle from you not using his seats (maybe he's a floor sleeper). By the end of the year, you figure out each others' preferences and pair yourselves so you don't end up with two floor sleepers or two aisle guys side by side. Major downside: Nobody can walk through the aisle anymore, dude.
3. Legs Up Guy
Like the aisle guy, only he puts his feet on the headrest because he's paired with the Legs Across the Aisle Guy. Major downside: Your legs are up in the air. Not cool.
And of course, 4. Upright Guy, who's the same guy who sleeps through earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados and getting punched in the face. He could sleep anywhere. Major downside: Narcolepsy is a serious disease.
Needless to say, when someone near the front of the bus has to use the bathroom, they have to hack their way through an absolute jungle of limbs on their way back, and usually in the dark. You walk across the armrests, duck and climb over people and pillows, piss people off and knock over spitters as you go. The Floor Sleeper rarely enjoys that.
But fortunately, that's the unpleasant side. It's not all Lord of the Flies in there.
When you look at a team bus during the day, it's amazing it devolves the way it does after the game. On the way there you have a group of sharp dressed guys reading books, listening to music, having a chat, or quietly playing video games. That's when there's still some focus. And really, there should be on game day.
If you were to organize both the NHL's Eastern and Western Conferences by their road records, 14 of the 16 teams currently in playoff positions would still be in playoffs. In the East, it's a perfect 8-for-8. It doesn't take Scotty Bowman to realize winning on the road matters, so I can't imagine any coach being OK with guys acting like the animals they are after the game, on their way to a crucial contest.
The bus helps guys bond, as you would expect with that many people in such close proximity. It can be a fun time with friends, especially after a win. It can be a lot of good things. But rest assured, after too many road games, after too many hours, nobody takes their time getting the hell off that thing when it stops.
It's a jungle in there, and you've finally hacked your way to freedom. Run free.