Nov 28, 2019
By Tom Witosky
Ask a professional hockey player what it’s like to go on a road trip over a holiday like Thanksgiving and the answer usually is a matter-of-fact response.
“It’s just part of the job,” Iowa Wild veteran forward Cody McLeod said recently. “It’s tough when your family’s not there.”
But when your family can’t be there with you, McLeod said, a hockey player’s second family is.
“When you are with the team, that’s the next thing closest to your family so it’s good as long as you’re with somebody,” he added.
The Wild began a nearly two-week, five-game road trip Monday, when the team flew from Des Moines to Texas for a two-game series against the Texas Stars and another against the San Antonio Rampage spread out over a nine-day span. The team will complete the trip with a Dec. 6 contest to Milwaukee before returning home to Des Moines for a Dec. 7 game against Tucson.
That kind of time together over the Thanksgiving holiday will give the team to grow closer, several players said.
“It’s early in the season still and this will give us more time to get to know each other,” forward Will Bitten said. “I imagine we’re going to go play some golf or do some other things. Plus we can enjoy it while also focusing on a couple big games down there.”
For players and coaches, road trips before, during and right after holidays are just part of professional hockey. Hockey games become a way for fans to get out of the house during the holidays and can attract good crowds.
“I’ve been always traveling, you know,” Bitten said. “But I’ve been really lucky my parents can do that take off work and be with me. You can ask all these guys who get here. There is a lot of traveling in all of this, but we’re really excited for this week coming up. To me, it will be a lot of fun with all the guys.”
After Tuesday’s game, the team practiced Wednesday morning, then had the rest of the afternoon and Thanksgiving Day off before returning to the ice on Friday.
Head Coach Tim Army said plans for Thanksgiving Day would include a team dinner at the hotel and watching a lot of football.
“We always have a team dinner,” Army said. “It’ll be a good meal that we will have catered in. No one has to go anywhere so the guys can have some fun and laugh and watch a football game. It’s our family away from our family.”
Army prefers dinner at the team hotel instead of going out to a restaurant.
“I personally like to do dinner at the hotel because I want it to be more intimate with just the team. We are family and we’re on the road together,” Army said. “Sometimes you go to a restaurant, it’s busy and you can’t get that.”
Goalie Mat Robson agreed that this kind of trip helps to build team unity.
“We’re a pretty tight-knit group already,” the rookie goaltender said. “But you can always get tighter for sure. And, you know, there’s nothing like pounding some pavement with the boys to build unity.”
But Robson added the team will remember that there are games to be played and won.
“We’re going to enjoy it,” Robson said. “But this is a business trip. So yeah, I’m just excited to get on the road. Being on the road can be fun when you are playing in a hostile environment.”