Wolf Tracks: One last gruelling, critical road trip

Wolf Tracks: One last gruelling, critical road trip

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There are teams in the OHL that dread what they refer to as the Northern trip. In general, that would usually mean a Thursday night game in North Bay, Friday night in Sudbury and either Saturday night or Sunday afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie.

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The complaint is not about the quality of the Northern teams, although that can obviously be a factor from one season to the next. It’s about the trip and the travel. Long hours on a bus and in some cases, having to inch up Highways 400, 69, 11 and 17 in harsh Northern conditions.

You know they won’t get much sympathy from the Wolves, Battalion and Greyhounds.

Now, I need to declare up front that this is not a scientific study, and I surely don’t want to make a failed attempt at sounding smart, but a quick trip on the internet to learn more about jet lag me to Wikipedia. Truly, I just liked all the big words in their description.

“Jet lag is a physiological condition that results from alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms caused by rapid long-distance trans-meridian travel.”

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I mean, wow. I’ll spare you taking a crack at breaking that all the way down because I have no idea how. But it’s fair to say it has something to do with the body getting messed up from travelling across time zones.

In other words, it has nothing to do with OHL team bus travel into Northern Ontario. But people do wrongly use jet lag to describe the condition of being tired, so there’s that.

Also, there’s another highly scientific term that does apply — bus legs.

You won’t find that one on Wikipedia, but there’s no shortage of chat board tips from hockey coaches describing their tricks to overcome the condition. It’s really about trying to restore blood flow after being stuck seated for hours, rather than just jumping off the bus, walking into a rink and expecting the body to perform at a high level a short time later.

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Whether it’s a walk or a workout, players need to get moving. Does it work? Probably a little, but for a whole host of reasons, bus legs perhaps being one of them, teams tend to win more at home than they do on the road. This is especially true in junior hockey where long bus rides are the norm.

Strategic things like last change make a difference, as does familiarity with the home rink and loud, partisan fans.

Scheduling can have a big impact as well.

Wolves head coach Derek MacKenzie alluded to this after a 4-0 loss in Peterborough on Family Day. His club played in Sudbury on Friday night, travelled to St. Catharines to play on Sunday and up to Peterborough for Monday’s game. The Petes, meanwhile, had two full days to rest up at home before welcoming the Wolves to the Memorial Centre.

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Teams don’t want to use it as an excuse, and the goal is to overcome the challenge of a tough road trip or back to back games, but the body seldom responds the way you hope.

It’s how teams feel coming north, so there’s a balance in there somewhere.

Early in the season, there is sometimes talk about how time on the bus and at a hotel can help the players bond. That’s taking a positive out of a negative. But earning points can be challenging.

The Windsor Spitfires are the top team in the Western Conference and they recently managed just two of a possible six points on the northern trip — losing in North Bay and Sudbury before beating the Greyhounds in Sault Ste. Marie.

After this weekend, the travel lightens considerably for the Sudbury Wolves, who are one point out of a playoff spot as I write this. They’ll have a dozen games to go — six at home and two each in North Bay, the Sault and Barrie.

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That’s the good news.

But they do have one more gruelling road trip this coming weekend as they visit Niagara on Friday night, Erie on Saturday night and Hamilton on Sunday afternoon. The travel is significant, but the IceDogs and Otters are last-place teams in their conferences and the Bulldogs are only a handful of points above Sudbury in the standings.

Points are there for the taking and the Wolves desperately need to find a way to bring some home if they want to claw their way back into a playoff spot.

I’m not qualified to link anything to circadian rhythms, and while I’ve heard of bus legs, I’m not sure if bus lag is an actual term. The Wolves won’t have to navigate new time zones, but they do have to cross a border and put a lot more miles on the team bus.

It won’t be easy, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. If they can get through this weekend with a few points, the outlook will be that much brighter on the other side.

Wolf Tracks runs every week during the OHL hockey season.


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