During my career, I think the most frequent question I was asked was: "What's the biggest difference between the NHL and the minors?" (Or as it's commonly referred to by my fellow journeymen - the Apple vs. the Crab Apple.) Where do I start? How about with the travel.
Chartered or private plane - Ah yes! The good ol' days. Everyone should travel like this: take a bus right up to the steps of the plane and climb aboard. I remember when I played for the Rangers (OK, I had a cup of coffee with them) they had their own plane with all first-class seating and individual DVD players.
When you board the plane, waiting are shrimp cocktails, mini burgers (a.k.a. "sliders"), meats, cheeses, wings - you get the idea. And that's just the appetizer. The main course is ‘chicken or chicken.’ Just kidding. It’s usually steak or chicken or pasta or all of the above. The desserts? That’s where I made my money back. Any flavor of ice cream you wanted, apple pie, warm brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Man, I miss The Show!
My last season (I suspected my gig was up), no one ate more or enjoyed the first-class experience like I did. I rang the flight attendant call button at least five times per flight... ‘Excuse me Miss, my meat is a little well done…My Chardonnay is not quite cool enough…My brownie is not quite hot enough…Do you have any slippers? My feet are a little chilly.’ Oh yeah, I soaked up the experience.
You know how some teams now have the players’ fathers travel with them for a couple of road games, well I'm still waiting for the brothers to get the invite. Come on Anaheim, I'll be on my best behavior!
Did I mention I miss the Apple?
The Crab Apple:
The odd time we would fly, it was the Iron Lung (coach - with all 20-plus guys in middle seats), but most of the time it was the bus. I'm sure that bus took years off my life. (By the way, in the minors they usually play three games in three nights or more specifically, three games in two-and-a-half nights.)
One of my all-time great road trips was when I was playing with the Manitoba Moose. We had a game Thursday night in Cleveland, were bussed five hours to Rochester after the game, played in Rochester Friday night and then bussed back to Cleveland for a noon game on Saturday. That’s right folks - noon.
I remember getting to my room around 3:30 a.m. and setting the alarm for 8 a.m. thinking ‘if I fall asleep right now, I'll get a solid 4.5 hours of sleep before my third game in two days.'
As I'm staring at the ceiling hoping the rink burns down, I remember the scene in Bull Durham where the boys were having a tough road trip and ‘Crash’ Davis manages to create a rain out. If only I had the energy to get out of bed, take a cab to the rink, douse the rink with gas and light a match.
Now that I think of it, I was Crash Davis. "Get a hit Crash!”…“Shut up!"
Sorry, did I black out? Where were we?
Oh, right. I distinctly remember the clock hitting 5 a.m. before I drifted off. Perfect, one hour of sleep for each game on the trip.
And let’s not forget about the pre-game meal. Try stuffing chicken and pasta down your throat at 8 a.m. Good stuff, but I should’ve had the “breakfast of champions” – donut and a coffee.
On the walk over to the rink you begin to question the decisions you have made and where it all went wrong. This is right about the time when you find out either:
a) Someone got called up and we'll be a man short, or
b) One of the Euros isn't feeling well and has decided to sit this one out - beautiful.
Here is a little tip for all of you future journeymen out there - before the game starts you'll be asked to place your food order so it will be ready for you to take on the bus to your next disaster.
Your choices will look a little something like this:
a) spaghetti and meatballs
b) chicken parmesan
d) turkey sub
The correct answer is d) turkey sub. Cold pasta and overcooked chicken don't work well when you’re eating with a plastic knife and fork, on your lap, on a bus going 70 mph.
Bonus answer - get the condiments on the side and your bread won't get soggy. Can you believe I'm giving this away for free?
This intel has been gathered over the millions of miles I've traveled while becoming the Journeyman. If I can help at least one sorry ass out there, then it’s all been worth it.
That’s all for now. If there is something you would like me to discuss, please let me know.
Sean Pronger, the brother of Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger, played 260 NHL games with the Ducks, Penguins, Rangers, Kings, Bruins, Blue Jackets and Canucks. After playing four years at Bowling Green, the Dryden, Ont., native bounced around several leagues, including the ECHL, IHL, AHL, NHL and Europe.
Sean will blog regularly on THN.com about his experiences as a journeyman. You can read more of his blogs at chrispronger.com .