Canucks change travel habits for record trek
They packed everything from tuques to sunblock for a historic road trip that may define their season. But the Vancouver Canucks insist they're not sweating it.
The 14-game trek will set an NHL record for most consecutive road games by a team in one season. According to Elias Sports, the current mark is 11 games by the Calgary Flames in February 1988 (also because their home city was hosting the Olympics) and the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06.
"It's hard for family reasons more than anything else," Canucks superstar goalie Roberto Luongo told ESPN.com. "But honestly, guys are excited to be on this road trip. We were home for a while and starting this trip in the East is fun. Then we're going down south for a bit and I know guys are looking forward to that, as well. We're up to the challenge. It's part of the NHL, these trips."
While it's officially a 14-gamer, for practical purposes, it's an eight-game trip before the Olympics and a six-gamer post-break. From that point of view alone, it's not as daunting.
The Canucks opened up with a 5-3 win at Toronto on Saturday, a 3-2 loss in Montreal Tuesday night and next play in Ottawa on Thursday. The Ontario/Quebec swing was a welcome start for many Canucks whose hometowns are in those areas.
They were quite chipper about it, but maybe that's because I caught them at the start of the trip. Still, I wonder how they'll feel come March 10, when the trip wraps up in Phoenix. The fact remains Vancouver's last home game was Jan. 27, and the Canucks' next game at GM Place will be March 13 against the Senators. That's a long time between home games.
A look at the trip:
Jan. 30 at Toronto
Feb. 2 at Montreal
Feb. 4 at Ottawa
Feb. 6 at Boston
Feb. 9 at Tampa Bay
Feb. 11 at Florida
Feb. 12 at Columbus
Feb. 14 at Minnesota
March 2 at Columbus
March 3 at Detroit
March 5 at Chicago
March 7 at Nashville
March 9 at Colorado
March 10 at Phoenix
The Canucks, led by out-of-the-box thinker GM Michael Gillis, already travel differently from most teams. They believe it helps with the grueling nature of the trip.
"We've changed our travel routine immensely from last year and this year," Gillis told ESPN.com. "We're going to stay over in cities for most games, travel the next day [most NHL teams leave cities the same night as the game]. Our coaches have designed specific days off, which they'll adhere to. We're having meals now prepared in the rink after some games. Stuff like that."
Gillis and the Canucks huddled with the NHL last season to talk about this trip and help dull the blow as much as possible since the team had to hand over GM Place to the Vancouver Olympic Committee for a month and a half. VANOC took over at midnight Jan. 27, a few hours after Vancouver's win over the Blues.
"This first part, pre-Olympic, is fine," Gillis said, stopping right there.
What he left unsaid was the concern the front office and coaching staff have with the second half of the trip. The post-Olympic trip sees the team play six games in nine days, but that's not the worst part. Upon returning home, the team hosts Ottawa on March 13 and Calgary on March 14. Combined with the post-Olympic road trip, the team will play three back-to-back sets from March 2 to 14 -- in all, eight games in 13 days.
If the Canucks collect 14 of a possible 28 points on this trip, I would consider that mission accomplished. That's because 10 of their final 15 regular-season games will be at home for the stretch run, and four of the five away games will be in the Pacific time zone. Not too bad at all, but that's a long way away right now.