One More Ride

One of the striking things about the sport of hockey as I look back on 40 years of working with both the men’s and women’s programs at St. Lawrence is the development and improvement in the equipment, protective gear and skates since the start of my sports information career in 1975.

From Jacques Martin, Tom O’Connor, Harry Aikens and Rick Wilson with their form fitting goalie facemasks to the gear worn by Kyle Hayton and the goalies of today is a quantum leap. Shots that would fell the 70’s and 80’s guys don’t even shake up today’s goalies. The sticks that were used in both men’s and women’s hockey in the 1970s and 1980s are a far cry from the high-tech space program materials that are used today, although I will admit we didn’t see blades fly off the handle back in the 1970s!

An aspect of the programs which has followed the same pattern of improvement as the gear used to play the game is near and dear to my heart…or maybe we should look somewhat lower on the body.

Everybody closely associated with the program has amassed considerable bus time. No one has as much as I as 40 years as SID piled up a lot of mileage in the second seat back on the driver’s side a location suggested by Bernie McKinnon on the first trip of the 1975 season and my bus home ever since. The first several years of my tenure working with the hockey team were spent on Greyhound buses. Nice well-padded seats, but the reading lights were a little dim and the entertainment was usually some kind of card game…Hearts, Euchre or some such…with Bernie, Bill Wilkinson and whoever else we could rope in. For other entertainment, I brought along a small recorder to play tapes and eventually found a reading light that clipped onto the book to provide better reading conditions. Of course when it came time to get off the bus for a meal stop or when we finally reached the hotel or rink, it took me five minutes to get untangled from all the wires which ended up tying me to my seat.

We eventually moved on from Greyhound to local companies, some good and some not so good. The buses, however, continued to develop in the area of passenger entertainment. First came the video tape player with screens every few seats and then the DVD player and WiFi hookups for the internet which are a standard on just about every bus today. Of course the teams now have their own Ipods, tablets, laptops and cell phones so they can watch what they want, listed to what they want or surf the web. Of course the movies still play on the DVDs and on the guy’s bus, the movie probably has a death toll of about 150 in the first seven minutes. Not quite the same as swapping music mix tapes with Tim Lappin, but close.

The biggest drawback to the more modern buses are the seats. While I have always merited two to myself so I can stretch out some, they are no where near as soft as the ones on the Greyhound, nor is there as much leg room. After one painful lesson several years ago, Braker always alerted me when he was going to recline his seat so my knees wouldn’t get crushed, and I kept adding to the pillow supply to build my little nest. It ended up taking longer to unload all the pillows than it did to get my luggage off the chariot!

There were, along the way, some minor incidents on the buses…the fact that they ended up being minor a credit to the driving ability of the drivers. It is hard to believe that anyone could put in the time and the miles on a hockey bus over 40 years and not be in at least one situation which could be considered a vehicular accident, but that is what happened. There were some close calls though.

I was standing in the well talking to Greyhound driver Yogi Barr on the way back from Boston late one night with most of the rest of the bus asleep. As we came down a rather long hill near Utica, Yogi turned to me and said “Have you ever been on a 48-man bobsled before?” We were on glare ice and as I scanned the side of the road I saw many cars in the ditch. Yogi successfully navigated the downhill part and while we slid a little sideways as the downhill turned into a slight uphill, we stayed on the road and then waited for a sander to come through to finish the trip. Another late night adventure was on a trip to Buffalo with coach Leon Abbott and I probably the only ones awake on the bus. We had switched from Greyhound because of “deadhead” fees from Syracuse or Watertown and had gone with a local carrier. Our driver admitted that it was his first time driving a bus with people on it as he mowed down a lengthy line of traffic cones on the thruway. That was the last trip with those guys.

With a switch to Flack Tours, we gained the services of Howie Knight who became our regular driver and a big part of the team for several years. Howie was once named “Driver of the Year” and proved his worth on a particularly lengthy trip to Army and Princeton. Snow precluded our getting up Bear Mountain to Army for Friday’s game and it turned into a saga known as the Great Ziti Caper as we had the same meal for what seemed like a week. Eventually the games were both played and we headed home, only to be riding through the stretch from Tupper Lake to Colton when we were passed by a bus wheel, heading off into space. Howie calmly confirmed that it was ours, but brought the bus to a steady stop…leading to a long wait for a ride the rest of the way home and some other antics which included a trainer being dumped into a snowbank. Howie also made a road trip with us to North Dakota, jumping on the team plane and then co-piloting with our Canadian bus driver for the time we were on the ground on the North Dakota end of the trip. The fact that he retired from bus driving and ended up driving for McCadam Cheese supposedly does not have anything to do with his experiences driving the Skating Saints.

Both teams now use Premier Bus Lines and just graduated to brand new buses…and apparently I retired just in time. Dartmouth also uses Premier and according to their SID, the seats are harder than ever and have an arm rest between them that makes them even more uncomfortable.