— Eric Stromgren (@estromgren) October 29, 2014
West-central Canada seems an unlikely place for two different corners of Nashville culture to come together.
The Black Keys concert at Edmonton’s Rexall Place on Tuesday night forced the Nashville Predators to store their hockey equipment tucked away in a spare room at the arena â€” only to be hauled out before sunrise to get ready for the Wednesday morning skate and that evening’s game against the Oilers.
It was the start of the team’s current six-game, 13-day road trip, the longest of the season. And for Pete Rogers, the Predators’ longtime equipment manager, it’s all part of the careful behind-the-scenes choreography that keeps an NHL team on the ice. When the players and coaches head to the hotel, Rogers and his team are still at work.
“When players show up, they don’t know we couldn’t get into the locker room and it’s not their job to know,” Rogers said. “It’s our job to make everything work.”
Making road trips successful â€” beyond winning games â€” means a grinding schedule for Rogers and assistant equipment manager Jeff Camelio. Early mornings and late nights for the love of the game, often on consecutive days and in different cities hundreds of miles apart. And lots of gear â€” 1,800 pounds’ worth.
Rogers and Camelio handle the Predators’ equipment in a workshop-like setting at Centennial Sportsplex and Bridgestone Arena. There are tool chests, blow torches, a microwave oven used to mold thick plastic into skate guards and spare parts available for just about every possible hockey situation.
They have to take a lot of that on the road, too.
There are 25 bags containing protective equipment for each player. There are three bags with as many as 300 sticks. Each player also has backup equipment, skates and a pair of extra skate blades. There’s also a sewing machine, skate sharpener, medical trunks, television broadcast equipment, two sets of jerseys and even a soccer ball.
“The biggest thing for us is all the extra stuff we have to pack,” Rogers said.
Planning starts early
On this road trip, the Predators will travel 5,500 miles and play games in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg before concluding against Dallas and St. Louis.
The logistics involved in moving the team through each city falls on Brandon Walker, the Predators’ manager of hockey operations.
Planning starts in June when schedules are released and he begins making flight and hotel reservations. The road trips can vary in length: a single game, back-to-back games on consecutive days, three-game trips and longer six-game stretches.
Occasionally there are delays out of the team’s control â€” like last season when a New England blizzard pushed back the team’s charter flight from Boston to Florida for a game against the Panthers.
Walker maintains contact with the airlines to coordinate travel and keep the team from waiting in airports or on a bus.
“We’ve had pretty much everything at some point whether it’s mechanical with the plane or weather,” Walker said. “We’re in the air 130 hours this year. Over the course of that amount of time, with the amount of time and air travel you have, things are bound to come up.
“It is a lot of work by a lot of people to make it work.”
The Predators’ first road trip of the season two weeks ago shows what life is like away from Nashville, not only for the players, but for Rogers and his crew.
After defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-0 in the first road game of the season, the rush was on to get to Chicago, not for the next game, but for rest and sleep.
Goalie Pekka Rinne sat on a folding chair outside the locker room with headphones on, holding a microphone and talking about his 31-save performance for the radio broadcast. There were other interviews in the locker room while each player quickly packed his own equipment bag and walked to the team bus.
“Anytime we can help, it just shows we appreciate them,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said.
Trainer Darryl James Amadio took the last of the wet laundry and gym shoes to the bus.
About 45 minutes later, head coach Peter Laviolette stopped to sign autographs for fans waiting at the Winnipeg airport before joining the team to wait in another line â€” customs.
Meanwhile, Rogers, Camelio, Amadio, head trainer Andy Hosler, and strength and conditioning coach David Good were loading the plane.
“Our goal is to have the airplane packed when the team arrives so we can leave right away,” Rogers said.
The required border processing took about 30 minutes before the team was airborne at about 11:30 p.m. en route to Chicago for a 7:30 p.m. game the next night against the Blackhawks.
In Chicago a bus waited on the runway to transport the players to a downtown hotel. A Blackhawks representative met the equipment crew at the airport and brought them to the United Center to prepare the locker room for the morning skate.
It was after 2 a.m. by the time the players and coaches turned in for the night.
Rogers and his crew don’t have that relative luxury.
“You think the days are long and you want to complain about going to bed at 3, but those trainers would have loved to gone to bed at 3,” Laviolette said.
Rogers returned to the hotel before 4 a.m. and caught a couple of hours of sleep before returning to the rink at 9 a.m. for another full day at the arena.
That day ended with a 2-1 loss in overtime that night and a delay at the airport while crews de-iced the team plane for the return flight to Nashville.
“You’re away from home quite a bit, and you have to have a strong family unit there supporting you or you can’t do the job,” Rogers said. “There’s 41 road games and we’re playing in the Western Conference (where travel is greater), but we’re all hockey fans and we get the best seat in the house to watch the game.”
Predators road trip
Wednesday: at Edmonton, 9 p.m.
Friday: at Calgary, 8 p.m.
Sunday: at Vancouver, 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 4: at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
Nov. 6: at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8: at St. Louis, 7 p.m.
By the numbers
List of items the Predators are traveling with on their six-game road trip.
25 â€” Player equipment bags, including two goalie bags
5 â€” Coaches duffel bags
3 â€” Stick bags (6-7 new sticks and 3-5 taped sticks per player)
2 â€” Medical trunks containing medical supplies
2 â€” Team video equipment trunks
2 â€” Skate bins (23 pair in each, game and back-up skates, blade case)
1 â€” Equipment trunk containing tools, visors, sewing machine, game pucks, sharpies, end plugs, stick tools
1 â€” Jersey trunk containing game jerseys, extra call-up jerseys, grip tape gum, hats, soccer ball, bench boards
1 â€” Skate sharpener
1 â€” Skate sharpener trunk containing holders, extra accessories for skate sharpening, tape, laces
1 â€” Rolling medical bag containing a stim machine and medical supplies
1 â€” Fox box (television)
1 â€” Television trunk
1 â€” Skate blade bag
1 â€” Bag of player workout shoes
1 â€” Bag of player warmup jackets
1 â€” Bag of laundry loops for workouts
1 â€” Strength trunk containing nutritional shakes
Source: Predators equipment manager Pete Rogers