The Life I Love is Making Music With My Friends - I Can't Wait To Get On The Road Again

  My favourite road trip of the season and more than likely anyone who has ever played for Knoxville’s as well, the trek down I-75 through the scenic landscape of Chattanooga and along the rolling banks of the Tennessee River en route to play the Huntsville Havoc always seems to provide an uplifting tone to the day. Whether it be the short duration - we leave at 2:30 PM for a 7:30 CST puck drop – or the knowledge that the Huntsville organization always treats their visiting teams with first class from the locker room, to the bench, to the booster club postgame, the roadie to play the Havoc is always one we look forward to.

     This particular trip started off with a wrinkle, as we had to load our bus from the team apartment complex at Legacy Pointe. Shinedown had moved into the Civic Coliseum for their concert tonight and we haven’t had access to ice or the locker room since we arrived home from Pensacola early on Sunday. It’s the reality of a shared venue and we consider ourselves lucky to have had the majority of the time spent in our home, along with great dates for home games and minimal time out of the building.

      The tone on the bus early in this voyage was an enthusiastic one, from the standard 1-line barbs being thrown back and forth from players to the daily scramble for bunks and snacks as everyone buckled down for the trip. Our athletic trainer Andy Clark was stealthily stashing his home brew beer & wine in the plethora of drawers and cubby holes available. Equipment manager Rob Craigen was barking out questions at rookies about what was packed under the bus and what may have been forgotten, even though it had been triple checked already. Bus driver Randy Hughes was still wondering what city we were going to, even as we were pulling onto the interstate and Czech defenseman Adam Sedlak was attentively brewing a pot of coffee to make sure he had 8-10 cups ready for the trip (the man drinks more coffee than any human being I’ve ever met).

     As we rumbled along the highway we commented on the new T.DOT anti-texting “Texting and Driving? Oh Cell no” flashboards and due to our elevated position on the bus, observed the 1 in every 3 cars who had a driver looking at their smartphone while they changed lanes and sped.
The sun is shining though and our drive has been traffic-free thus far, which is usually the number one concern for traveling SPHL teams. It is not unusual at all for games to be delayed due to weather, traffic, mechanical issues or a slew of other reasons that I’m sure you could all add to. 

     I’ll never forget the roadie to Columbus in 2010, my first season as the head coach of the Ice Bears, when we had bus issues just outside of Atlanta and had to wait for the Snakes to send their private bus to come and pick us up. We arrived a casual 2 hours late and with the game already being pushed back 30 minutes for us, we were given a 15 minute grace period to be ready and on the ice for the anthem. David Segal, being the ever outside-the-box thinker that he is, decided that he needed more time to warm up and while we were rumbling down the road to the Columbus Civic Center, he was putting on his gear; all of it including his jersey, socks and skates with skateguards so he could walk right off the bus. And walk he did….. as we pulled in, public enemy #1 for the Cottonmouths walked right off the bus, past the Zamboni down through the entrance tunnel and skated right out in the middle of the Snakes warm-up, all by himself to a chorus of booing and insults. It was a classic Segal moment in a career filled with them. And I might add, on that note, how strange it was not only seeing him in another uniform last weekend but hearing his name announced for scoring a goal and not giving him a pat on the back as he came off the ice for it. David Segal will always be an Ice Bear in my opinion, and when all the dust settles on a wonderful career, I’m sure he’ll say the same thing.

     Now, the situation on the bus has changed a bit. Bunks have been delegated, my blog was put on hold temporarily by rookie Jackson Brewer who came up for a quick video session before his nap and another rookie Zack Larue is piling healthy dollops of hazelnut Nutella onto a banana for a “snack before bed” as he calls it. The team hierarchy has ruled that Larue is no longer welcome to take from the team supplied Nutella and must bring his own stock due to the fact that he ate an entire 13oz jar himself on the last trip and there was none left for anyone else come game time.

     With his bananas loaded up and a few pieces of bread as well, Zack returns to the back of the bus filled with sleeping players, guys watching movies on their Ipads, listening to music or whatever else it is that happens back there. Some days I truly don’t want to know.

     With most of the bus quieted down, another rookie (there are a lot of them these days) Jake Flegel wanders up to the staff area with his blood typing test kit to check his levels. For those that don't know, Jake is a type 1 diabetic who has managed his condition all throughout his hockey career. Jake plays with an insulin pump sewn into his hockey pants that helps maintain his levels and keep his blood/sugar in the right range during games. It's really an amazing story that we're planning to talk more about moving forward with Jake helping out to mentor younger athletes who have similar situations in the Knoxville area.

      So we will descend upon Huntsville to play our 5th road game of the season already as 5 of our first 6 scheduled games have come away from our humble barn on Howard Baker Jr Drive. I wouldn’t have it any other way for several reasons; one being that travel and time spent on the road, in hotels, restaurants and wherever else our travels lead us, always brings a team together. Its cliché no doubt, but clichés are usually used because they’re accurate and that is certainly the case here. How many road trips have you been on that began with someone who was just a fringe acquaintance to you or not really a close friend that ended with a partner for life and someone you could call anytime? That’s what makes a good team tick and that’s the kind of culture and atmosphere we want to always surround us in Knoxville. Tight knit, family-like relationships for our players and staff, because when push comes to shove and it comes right down to it, an SPHL season – like most other professional sports – is a real grind, and you need everyone to trust each other to do the work that’s necessary.

     There is no better example of that atmosphere and the family-like culture we’ve built within our organization than our most recent signing Todd Hosmer. Todd was no-doubt a highly sought after free agent who most teams in this league would have loved to add to their roster. Knoxville had an inside track though via a former player, Brett Valliquette. Even after being traded out of Knoxville in the 2013 season, Vally ended up rooming with Hosmer in Mississippi and went on and on about how much he loved it here, how we treated our players and the kind of work environment it was in Knoxville. When Hos’ became available late last week, he contacted Brett again to see if he could help connect the dots and get him to Knoxville. Without Brett’s help and without that Knoxville culture that is widely talked about around this league and beyond, Todd Hosmer would never have ended up here. But he’s here, and he’ll be wearing #19 tonight as we take on Huntsville.

     It’s almost time for our coffee stop, and since Seddy has thrown back an entire pot by now, all of our players and staff will have to grab themselves a java from the gas station along with energy drinks, chocolate bars and an assortment of other fantastic truck stop finds. I swear some guys spend all of their per diem meal money on truck stop odds and ends like trucker caps, USB lanyard phone chargers or boiled peanuts….. there is just something about a truck stop whether it be the fatigue of the road, the prices or the location of the ATM’s that lends itself to poor decision making.

      That will be all for now with the end destination closing in and the groggy road warriors slowly starting to roll out of their pre-game hibernation. We’ve got one more visiting team appearance before we’ll be back on home ice this Friday after a long 3 week gap between games in front of our fans in Knoxville. We all hope you’re as excited as we are for it.


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