For teams in the American Hockey League, long bus rides up and down the coast come with the territory.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are centrally located in the Eastern Conference, geographically speaking, which means the team rarely has road trips longer than a few days. However, a quirk in the schedule this week saw the team embark on a six-day, 1300-plus mile (round trip) road trip Monday, including a game in Portland, ME on Tuesday and back-to-back contests in Norfolk, VA on Friday and Saturday.
Although they’re away from the comforts of home for a week, the players look at the trip as an opportunity to come together as a team.
“A longer road trip like this definitely brings the guys together,” assistant captain Jon Landry said. “Little things like having meals together, whether its two guys, 10 guys or the whole team – there are a lot of opportunities to hang out and just get to know everyone that much better.”
Defenseman Aaron Ness feels the extended road trip could reverse the fortunes of a Sound Tigers team that has struggled on the ice recently.
“For us, I think this trip was great timing,” Ness said. “We had that rough stretch the past few weeks, so to kind of get away from it, just spend some time together as a team and spend quality time with each other is really going to help us.”
The long bus ride to Norfolk following the team’s game in Portland on Tuesday meant plenty of down time for the players. The bus departed the Cumberland County Civic Center at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and pulled into Norfolk at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“There’s always a lot happening on the bus during these long trips,” Ness said. “Some of the guys watch the movie and some will watch their own shows. You’ve got card games, you’ve got guys that just sleep. I can’t really sleep on the bus, so I was mainly watching shows and listening to music.”
Center Brock Nelson used the time to catch up on a television show.
“I was watching a lot of the new show “Homeland” on the ride down to Norfolk – I highly recommend it,” said Brock Nelson, who is no stranger to long road trips. “At North Dakota, we’d bus to Michigan Tech and that was over 10 hours. We’ve all done the long bus rides so it’s nothing new for us.”
After a pit stop for breakfast along the Delmarva peninsula, the team arrived in Norfolk on Wednesday to relax and recuperate in preparation for a two-game set against the Admirals on Friday and Saturday. Nelson even spent time with his linemates, Colin McDonald and Nino Niederreiter, walking around town Wednesday afternoon and taking in the scenes in downtown Norfolk.
“Mac and Nino and I got to walk around a bit, go to the mall and just spend some time together off the ice,” Nelson said. “It’s fun to be on the road with the guys and getting to know them really well off the ice as people, learning their habits and traits, carries onto the ice. You develop a comfort and confidence within one another, and I think it’s a huge part of building chemistry on the ice.”
Prior to games, many of the Sound Tigers participate in a game of two-touch, where a circle of players attempt to keep a soccer ball in the air (without using their hands) while only being allowed to touch the ball twice in a row. Thursday’s game was unique, as the entire team participated prior to practice.
“That was really a lot of fun,” said Ness, who is a regular two-touch participant prior to games. “We actually got everyone to play, even the Swedes that never play. It was great to see the entire team participate in the game.”
Blair Riley also noted this week’s trip as a good opportunity to hang out with teammates he might not normally get to see.
“It’s nice because you also get to spend some time with guys you don’t necessarily get to see as much since they’ve got their families and wives at home,” Riley said. “We get two full days down here. Guys can do some Christmas shopping, go to the movies and just spend time together.”
Whether the team’s time together will result in two wins on the ice this weekend remains to be seen, but it certainly has helped bring the players closer off the ice.