Technically, the Pittsburgh Penguins have already had their first road trip of the season. Last weekend, they spent a glorious 48 hours traveling through Minneapolis and Winnipeg before returning home. Unfortunately, back-to-back games squashed any team activities, so Tuesday begins the first real Penguins road trip and the necessary bonding for a hockey club.
Of course, there are dangers to a team full of 20-somethings landing in Florida. Evgeni Malkin once famously missed a game against the Florida Panthers after a severe sunburn. And–if you read Mike Sullivan’s comparison of morning skates to grandma’s ham– it can be revealed here that morning skates have long been a part of hockey to keep players out of the bars all night.
No, really, that was the genesis of the morning skate, or at least the hockey legend, which kept them as part of the game.
The first road trip is always essential for getting the players together and letting the boys be boys without the constraints of home life; for some those constraints are a video game console for others it’s a family.
“You get to know guys a little bit more and spend more time with them,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “Whether it’s dinner, the hotel, the bus, or the rink, everything is a little more laid back and on the same schedule.”
Last season, the Penguins spent a couple of days in the Canadian Rockies. Their road trip was wildly successful before the stale winds again blew through PPG Paints Arena, and the Penguins almost did a face plant through November and December with a 10 game winless streak.
As luck would have it, the Penguins need to get to know each other this year. There will be 10 players on the trip who have played less than 40 games with the Penguins. From rookies Sam Lafferty and John Marino to veterans like Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, and Jared McCann, the Penguins are still a team with new pieces.
In response to a different question about the silver linings of the Penguins injury situation, head coach Mike Sullivan said, “And I think the team has really rallied around one another. We really like the way the team is playing right now, and our challenge is to continue to bring that necessary mindset and commitment.”
The same applies to the road trip.
Trust me, turning 25 young men loose on Florida is a bonding experience. Perhaps someday I’ll tell the minor league stories of a night of shots, a minor league GM without a verbal filter who upset a Pakistani cab driver, being the lookout for a couple of players who needed to sneak girls out of their room after curfew or the very offended woman who couldn’t believe she had to witness five grown men peeing on the side of a bus.
Yeah, the poor hotel manager had no idea what to say to either party that night. And my role in any of the above will remain shrouded in secrecy.
“When you get on the road and those games are a little different atmosphere and environment. You’ve got the other crowd to deal with, I think it brings guys close together,” Crosby said.
The Penguins also have to keep winning. They appear to be on the cusp of getting players back in the lineup, which can itself be a challenge. So the Penguins have good news and tough times ahead.
“That challenge, when you get injured players back in the lineup, especially key players, that’s part of human nature. Our challenge as a group is to bring the same mindset we have right now,” Sullivan said.
For some players, this could be their last trip with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Joseph Blandisi already has the solitary locker stall set up in the corner because the Penguins room is full. Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad will make the Florida trip, and Rust could return for Dallas on Saturday.
In the meantime, Florida will be important…the trip and the games.