Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 12/1/2018 (1372 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
CHICAGO — There are a lot of moving parts involved, but the strategy to transfer the entirety of the Winnipeg Jets hockey club from the Windy City to the Twin Cities is pretty simple.
It’s a relatively straightforward back-to-back leg of an otherwise manageable road trip that has the NHL team playing in three different cities in five days.
So, if the plan was executed according to the way it was devised months ago by Chris Kreviazuk and the Winnipeg coaching staff, the properly fed, watered and rested Jets should be in the best possible condition to earn a victory Saturday over Central Division-rival Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The rest is up to the players.
Kreviazuk, the Jets’ team services manager, is one of the most visible members of the Winnipeg entourage on each and every road trip.
The longtime member of True North Sports & Entertainment (he drove the Zamboni at the Iceplex the year before the NHL returned to the city in 2011 and spent a few years with the organization's communications department), he's easy to spot at rinks on the road. Tall, well-dressed fellow, phone to his ear.
Kreviazuk is the details guy, responsible for the day-to-day itinerary of the team, and he’s dead-set on ensuring things fall into place when the Jets are winging from one city to another in their quest for victories and, ultimately, a landing spot in the NHL post-season.
Booking hotel rooms, renting buses and co-ordinating with opposing organizations for their help upon arrival began just after Winnipeg’s 2017-18 schedule was unveiled June 22, the day before the start of the NHL Draft, he says.
"Within two or three days, I’m in an office with (head coach) Paul (Maurice), Chevy (general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff) and the assistant coaches hammering out when we want to fly, where we want to stay, when are we practising, things like that. Our calendar must be emailed to everybody — all True North staff — by late August," he says.
"As we get closer to the season, we start reaching out to specific (teams) and figuring out ice times and where we can skate at. We send out what’s called an equipment transfer, and that’s basically a detailed report of ‘here’s where we land, here’s when we land, here’s the ice time we’re requesting for practices, for morning skates and food we need in the room,’ and they send it back, ‘check, check, check, all good.’
"Things change along the way, but it’s kind of like being an event planner."
The trip that began in Buffalo on Monday and ends when the team’s chartered plane leaves Minneapolis and touches down at James Richardson International Airport before midnight is a fairly typical road swing. It means moving about 45 people: 22 players, Cheveldayoff, Maurice and his coaching staff, trainers, communications staff and the TSN broadcast crew, their luggage and mounds of equipment.
The logistics can be tricky, but Kreviazuk says road trips usually unfold with relatively few glitches. The key, he says, is to ensure a comfortable routine for the athletes and coaching staff.
"We try to keep their schedules as similar to being as home as possible," he says. We have meals at the same time, with good, quality food. We put them in nice hotels. A restful sleep with a nice bed really makes a difference. If they have some extra energy because they slept well, that’s exactly what we want.
"I try to do as much as possible for the guys so they focus only on hockey. We don’t want them to worry about anything else when they’re on the road."
Prior to Friday’s game with the Blackhawks, the Jets were 10-8-6 on the road this season — one of the better away records in the Western Conference.
Centre Matt Hendricks says they need to keep finding ways to win away from the friendly confines of Bell MTS Place, where the team is a spectacular 16-3-1. And some of the best squads he’s played either on, or against, in his 10-year NHL career really get their mojo going on the road.
"When you get out here, hockey’s really all you think about. It’s a pretty easy routine. You hang out with your buddies, you go to dinner, you go to movies, you make sure you get pretty good rest and you play hockey," he says. "To me, the road’s a lot of fun because we’re together a lot and there’s that team bonding going on.
"There’s some guys who perform better on the road for those reasons, just getting away from any distractions. You just think hockey. I’ve always enjoyed it and I think I’ve performed well over my career."
The Jets practised Monday at Bell MTS Place and then hopped on bus to the airport. Kreviazuk and the team’s travel co-ordinator handed out boarding passes, and the large group goes through security and U.S. Customs just like regular travellers.
The team flies on Air Canada Jetz, a 58-seat plane configured to business class — equipped with Wi-Fi — and, by 2 p.m., it was wheels up for the 2 1/2-hour flight to Buffalo for Tuesday's date with the Sabres.
Players occupy the rear of the plane, and the rest of the contingent is spread out at the front. Kreviazuk rarely makes his way to the back, preferring to sit up front with Cheveldayoff and the coaching staff.
"I don’t go to the back there that much, that’s their area," he says.
There's work being done at the front — coaches are on their laptops scheming drills and analyzing video; it's another story for the players.
Some choose to snooze and others pass the time binge-watching movies or TV shows. But over the course of the 2017-18 campaign, the Jets' card sharks will play hours of a trick-based game called Snarples.
"We've always ready to get on the plane and play some cards. We have our own table," says Patrik Laine, the youngest member of the team, who adds he's done a lot more losing than winning. "Wheels (team captain Blake Wheeler) is a good card player and so is Matty P. (Mathieu Perreault); the veteran guys know how to play."
Shawn Matthias steers clear of the card games but admits there's no escaping the boisterousness from the boys around the table.
"After a big win the plane can get a little rowdy, for sure," he says with a grin. "There's about seven or eight of them always playing cards and sometimes they get a little loud. The rest of us are trying to sleep or watch our shows in the back.
"It's fun being on the road. Winning is obviously everything and it makes the time together that much more fun."
On the ground in the visiting city, a pair of buses meets the group at the airport and hauls them to their hotel. About 90 per cent of the time, the team stays in its preferred hotels, usually downtown and as close to the arenas as possible.
Veterans get their own rooms, but the guys still on entry-level deals share space. That's the rule, according to the last collective bargaining agreement between the league and players’ union.
On this three-gamer, the math worked out well, Kreviazuk said.
"We’re carrying six guys on entry level (Laine, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux) so, it’s very easy — two, two and two. On trips where there's an odd number, I defer to the most veteran guy who wants his room. That would typically be Nik, but he likes to room with his buddy Patty, so Josh gets that honour now.
"I think a lot of the guys prefer to have a roommate. I think it helps if one guy is more organized, like if someone’s alarm doesn’t go off the other guy can wake him... they have each other’s backs."
Problems that surface when transferring that big a group mirror the issues that tend to frustrate regular business travellers and vacationers.
Delays at airports happen. Bus drivers get lost. Someone’s room key doesn’t work.
"Everybody who’s been around the league a while has got the story of the plane not showing up. The other day we were sitting on the plane (departing to St. Louis) and there was a mechanical problem. So, now we don’t leave for five or six hours and we got in later than we wanted to," says Maurice. "It’s always weather- or mechanical-related. I was snowed in at Denver for three days.
"Nobody’s doing much complaining. We charter a plan, stay in fantastic hotels and the food is top-notch every day. The only challenge on the road is the grind of time zones and that lack of sleep.
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"So, it’s managing that sleep schedule, that practice schedule, that’s what I find is the biggest challenge. That’s life in the Western Conference. I spent a lot of time in the Eastern Conference and it’s not an issue, you’re home more. But that’s a big part of life for us."
Kreviazuk says even when there’s a snag in the best-laid plans, he rarely hears a peep from the current collection of Jets.
"It’s a really fantastic group. They don’t ask for too much," he says. "As time goes on you really build a team with the kind of character guys you want and it really benefits a guy like me because I’ve heard some horror stories about guys around the league in my position who just get run ragged by their teams. Our guys aren’t like that at all.
"They’re very nice to me and they don’t complain about things they know I cannot control. It’s a blue-collar group of guys. And every year it gets better and better. It doesn’t hurt, either, when the team’s doing so well, why they’re having so much fun together. Winning is contagious, the jokes are funnier, the mood is great."
Jason Bell Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).