Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Spoiled' NHLers learned to ride bus again during lockout

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It's safe to say no Winnipeg Jet player who spent any part of the NHL lockout in another league will ever utter a discouraging word about a charter flight again.

That's because teams from Germany, the Czech Republic and Finland often ride the iron lung enough to exhaust many players' iPods.

"Pretty much every road trip was a seven- to eight-hour bus ride," said Blake Wheeler, who suited up with EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL).

"We were in Munich in the southeast part of Germany and a lot of our trips were to the northwest part. It wasn't horrible, but you learn pretty quick how spoiled we are over here."

He won't get much argument from defenceman Mark Stuart, who spent the better part of a month with the Florida Everglades in the ECHL, the feeder system to the AHL.

"You're playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday a lot, which we don't do in the NHL and you're riding the bus most of the time," he said.

"The week before I left (for Winnipeg), we left on a Wednesday night and drove through the night to South Carolina. Then we got up and had practice and played on Friday. You have to try to get as much sleep as you can. You use movies and books to keep you occupied. You get used to sleeping on the bus," he said.

As far as buses go, it was quite nice, he said, but there's no question it can be a grind.

"It's kind of fun, you get the guys together, but you get tired for sure. We're really spoiled up here for sure with the charter planes and getting in the night before a game," he said.

Even flying from city to city can be less than ideal. Forward Alex Burmistrov actually preferred riding the bus to taking the plane.

"We were flying early in the morning all the time. You're playing a game in Boston, then sleep for two hours and go to the airport at four o'clock in the morning," he said.

"Buses were easy because you just sit back and go."

Players in the KHL in Russia are frequent flyers but they don't have the perks of the NHL, said new Jets winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, who played for Donbass Donetsk.

"You have to carry all your stuff, your bags with you. It's fun, too. It's a throwback to the good old days," he said.

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec split his time between Finland and Czech but no matter where he was, he said the spread laid out by his teams was pretty good. In fact, most of the time it was the same blend of chicken, pasta, fish and vegetables that he was used to in North America.

You could even eat a traditional Czech meal if you wanted, but he wouldn't recommend a steady diet of delicacies such as potato dumplings, which are often filled with smoked meat, spinach or sour cabbage.

"It's kind of junk food. It's not a good idea to eat Czech food before the game," he said.

The language in NHL dressing rooms is English but that's not always the case in other leagues. Blake Wheeler heard a mix of English and German during his stint in the DEL. He picked up a few greetings but didn't bother to learn how to say nasty things about his opponents' mothers.

"I just said it in English," he said.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2013 C3

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