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Hockey: Distant destinations trouble traveling teams
Much like an up-and-coming rock band doing a national tour, Ohio hockey players spend a good deal of their time traveling to opposing arenas on a bus.
The Bobcats recently completed a 14-hour bus trip that took them back from a split series against Iowa State. Though the long time frame in a confined space might sound displeasing, the players actually embrace their long road trips.
“It’s usually very enjoyable, especially since you know everybody on the bus,” junior goalie Fedor Duskin said. “We usually find things to do like playing cards or telling each other stories. And during the night time, people generally sleep, read a book or go on the computer. … Everybody’s really close on the team, so it’s enjoyable.”
Ohio does a good deal of bus travel throughout the Midwest. In the past two weekends, the Bobcats traveled 2,498 miles, driving to and from Ames, Iowa and St. Charles, Mo., for series against the Cyclones and Lindenwood.
But the pleasure the players take in the long road trips mask larger financial issues that schools face in the American Collegiate Hockey Association that have to deal with extensive travel in a league that stretches from Long Island, N.Y., to Arizona.
Teams in the league have to draw up their schedules to not only fill it with competitive teams, but also to fit the tight budgets that plague club sports at the collegiate level.
“When we do our scheduling, we have to make sure it balances out,” Ohio coach Dan Morris said. “We have to make sure that we set up the schedule properly with the correct number of home games so that we can generate enough revenue (to travel).”
This forces Morris to sacrifice the competitiveness of some of his home opponents as he needs to schedule schools that will draw the largest number of ticket sales.
“We do polls on our website: ‘Would fans rather see Stony Brook or maybe West Virginia?’ ” Morris said. “Sure, Stony Brook might be a better team, but at the end of the day, I have to generate that revenue. And West Virginia brings in more money than Stony Brook.”
And schools that lay nowhere near other ACHA foes often have to dig deep into their funds to compete in the league.
“One trip is, on average, about $15,000 because we have to fly everywhere we go,” Arizona State coach Greg Powers said. “We won’t go on the road to play anyone we don’t deem a top program for this very reason, as we need to get the most bang for our buck when we travel. … If it won’t help us in the rankings, we can’t afford to go.”
Iowa State coach Alan Murdoch enjoyed sending his team throughout the North American hockey scene in the past, but increasing travel costs are making that a difficult proposition.
“We wish we could fly more often,” Murdoch said. “We fly every other year to Arizona and we’ve flown to Canada in the past, but those costs have gone up significantly, making it almost impossible.”
Minot State coach Wade Regier knows that each game he schedules carries with it a heavy financial burden. The Beavers, located in the northwestern North Dakota city of Minot, have to schedule 6-10 non-ACHA opponents each season to fill their schedule as many league opponents can’t afford the travel costs.
And the school’s location also poses a large obstacle when traveling to other schools.
“Our city’s demographic poses a challenge in that every other major carrier requires us to fly to Minneapolis or Denver,” Regier said. “This, in turn, adds another $200 to $300 per flight, forcing us to bus more than we would prefer. …
We build this into the preparation of our players for long trips.”
But even with the difficulties and financial strain of traveling, Regier has gladly accepted the burden that goes with coaching in the far reaches of North Dakota.
“All in all, this is Minot State,” Regier said. “We have to be accustomed to long trips.”