by Chet Sellers
Yay, hockey’s back! And after such a long delay between the start of the season and the Senators’ first games, it must be time for some serious TV-watching action this week, right? I can see you Monday night, getting home after a long day at work, or in class, or out on the yacht, putting on your Sens slippers and kicking your feet up at 7:30 expecting Dean and Denis only to find . . . baseball. And when the same thing happens tonight, you finally pull out your trusty pocket schedule and find that yes, the Sens play Wednesday . . . but it’s at 10:30 PM? What the hell?
That’s not a typo, friend – that’s a west coast road trip. If you’re new to the Sens and only followed the lockout-shortened season last year, you’ve probably never heard of something called the “Western Conference”. Believe it or not, this is a real group of western-based NHL teams, most of whom wear green and/or purple uniforms, and all of whom play a home-and-home series with the Senators in a typical 82-game season. But don’t worry – there are only 14 teams in this “conference”, so it’s not like we’ll be seeing eight of them in the playoffs!
Now that you’re faced with a week of weird teams, late games, and sleepy mornings, are there strategies for surviving your team’s west coast road trip? Let’s find out!
- First off, feel free to make fun of the ridiculous uniforms and silly names of western teams, like “Coyotes” and “Sharks” and “Ducks”. Remind everyone in earshot that fast-paced, offensive-minded west coast teams never succeed against grinding, claustrophobic Eastern Conference hockey, and that real hockey teams have stalwart names like “Rangers” and “Bruins” and “Lightning”.
- Similarly, if you're watching the game in a bar, wait for a lull in the action and loudly announce, "Can we finally admit this Sun Belt hockey thing isn't going to work? I mean, is that even ice?" Then brace yourself as everyone carries you out triumphantly on their shoulders, singing O Canada.
- I’m not going to lie to you – staying up until 1 AM watching a hockey game is a challenge, especially if you have to be up early the next morning. Try to prepare on game day with a series of strategic catnaps whenever you can get away with them – at your desk, in your car, or during “Off The Record”. The next day, manage your fatigue by drinking something that’s guaranteed to pick you up – a big, sweaty bottle of milk.
- That second game on Hockey Night in Canada that you thought was a tape-delayed junior game? It’s actually another NHL game! This Saturday, if you’re not worn out from watching the Leafs at the regular time, you can stay up and watch the Senators play the Sharks for the “Survivors of Dany Heatley Cup”. As an added bonus, you can also see what Glenn Healy’s like after six straight hours on air, which is when he really starts to “explore the space”.
- For the players, being let loose in a warm-weather market can be a disorienting experience. Everyone responds differently; some players favour a quiet night in; others go out and do things they can't do at home; still others paint their emotions on that most 21st century of canvasses: the selfie.
- What’s this? It’s old friends Jakob Silfverberg, Martin Havlat, and Antoine Vermette! But remember – even though they may experience success, wealth, and awesome tans with their weird new teams, there’s one thing they’ll never have: the largest parking lot in eastern Ontario. That tingle in your cheeks and the back of your neck right now? That’s pride.
- Don't get too cocky, though. Even though the Senators will be facing off against weird green and purple teams with puny parking lots this week, some of them have real histories of success. The L.A. Kings, for example, won the Stanley Cup only two years ago, while their crosstown rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, actually beat your Senators in the Cup Final in 2007. The Phoenix Coyotes, meanwhile, boast something else Senators fans are still waiting for: stable, deep-pocketed ownership. Rather than fear them, let these weird teams be an inspiration to you; a reminder to never give up, even when no one's ever heard of you.
- Finally, one thing to keep in mind - west coast road trips are usually hard for east coast teams because of travel fatigue and time zone differences, and it’s not uncommon to see even a good team lose the majority of these games. Remind yourself that the Senators are lucky to be getting this hardship out of the way early in the season, particularly at a time when no one will overreact to a few losses.