11/15/2012 10:00:00 PM On The Road From Rapid City to Denver to Wichita, Sundogs get road-tested this week
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier Top photo, head coach David Lohrei this past Sunday announces that everyone has two minutes until they leave at noon to embark on a seven-day, 3,000 mile, three-city road trip.
Bottom photo, players check out which bunks are available on the team bus before heading out for a weeklong trip from Prescott Valley. The player with the most professional games gets first choice in bunks, then the starting goalie for the next game gets second choice and back to seniority all the way down to the newest rookie.
Off the ice and behind the scenes leading up to a grueling road trip, Arizona Sundogs equipment manager Bryan Connor can be found piecing together everything from hockey players' uniforms to travel itineraries.
To start this week, though, the 30-year-old Connor was under the gun more than usual. The Double-A CHL Sundogs were about to ride 3,000 miles round-trip on a bus for four games in five nights in Rapid City, S.D., Denver, Colo., and Wichita, Kan.
"Anything a guy might need on the road has to be packed and I have to know exactly where it is most of the time," Connor said Thursday night in a phone interview during the team's day off in Denver.
For example, most players carry three sticks with them on the road, and Connor must tote along spares in case some of them break.
But there's clearly much more to his job than tracking gear. Connor seems to always be bracing himself for the worst-case scenario when it comes to myriad other matters.
Prior to the trip, he was tasked with readying hotel-rooming lists and scheduling ice times for morning practices at opposing teams' arenas on top of his primary duties.
Although he accepts the challenges with open arms, Connor is as sleep deprived as the Sundogs players and coaches - if not more so - when he's away from the team's home base in Prescott Valley.
"The only problem is when you have so many games clustered up together, I spend more time on the bus," Connor said. "Guys are watching movies, especially on the way to Rapid (City), and I'm in my bunk trying to sleep because I know sleep is pretty not common for me on these road trips. A five-hour nap is basically bedtime."
When the Sundogs arrived in Rapid City at noon Monday for a Tuesday evening game, the players pulled their bags from the bus and unpacked them. But after an overnight drive from South Dakota to Denver, the team didn't arrive at the hotel parking lot until 4:30 or 5 a.m. Wednesday - the day of the opener of a two-game set against the CHL expansion Cutthroats.
While the players headed to their rooms, Sundogs athletic trainer Vince Fedorowich, volunteer assistant coach John Herrick and Connor hopped back on the bus and went to the arena to unload the gear and bags.
By the time he returned to the hotel around 6:30, Connor said he slept two hours before leaving for the rink again at 9:45.
Connor stayed at the arena from late Wednesday morning until the end of the game that evening.
On Thursday, he got back to the venue at 9:30 a.m. for practice. He was there about two hours before the practice sharpening the players' skates.
During games, Connor is on the bench, essentially waiting for something bad to happen to a player's equipment. He's often either sharpening or fixing a broken skate or replacing a busted stick.
"I'm probably one of the heavier packers in the league, so I bring everything but the kitchen sink," Connor said of his gear.
But there is a bright side to being away from Arizona: the home team's equipment manager washes the road club's players' laundry.
That means Connor has to stay only an hour and a half at the arena when the final horn sounds instead of four.
Friday morning, Arizona practices at 11 in preparation for a 7:05 game in Denver.
Then, it's a near repeat of Tuesday - the Doggies have to hop back on the bus for an eight-hour drive through the night to get to Wichita, Kan., at 6:30 a.m. Saturday for a 6:05 p.m. game against the Thunder.
Through Thursday, the Sundogs had lost two of the first four games of this road trip. However, Arizona still remained in second place in the Berry Conference with a 6-4-2 record (14 points), four points behind the league-leading Allen (Texas) Americans (9-1-0).
"It's unfortunate that the league schedules the games the way they do," Sundogs coach David Lohrei said over the phone Thursday. "I understand you have to travel, but this kind of travel certainly isn't conducive to a healthy athlete. It's tough."
Perhaps the lone saving grace for the Sundogs is that after Saturday they won't have to play again until next Wednesday night at Tim's Toyota Center.
Oh, and they can eat Thanksgiving dinner at home - and sleep in their own beds.
Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by:
Great article...it lets us know what the players have to go through on a daily basis. It sheds some light on why the dogs might lose some games on the road. Reason why the fans need to pack the house when they come home form these road trips......Lets go dogs...get some points on the road....