TIME, Ariz. — When the Arizona State University ice hockey team boarded an American Airlines flight to Columbus, Ohio on Saturday for a three-hour, 47-minute return flight to Phoenix, they were finally home.
It’s been a long time since they last went to Arizona.
Saturday’s flight was the last part of a 36-day road trip that began November 13 in Michigan, traveled 1,517 miles across the Midwest (in addition to 3,341 miles of flights to and from Arizona) and took the Sun Devils to six schools in five states. In fact, they’ve created their own bubble: They lived in hotels, cooked with every meal, did COVID-19 tests every day, did laundry and followed courses on Zoom.
It’s like a pro road trip, said head coach Greg Powers. I mean, I don’t know which pro teams make 36-day trips.
And all that time, ASU 4-6-2 was against the Big Ten calendar.
The sixth. In October, the Sun Devils agreed with the Big Ten to join their calendar rotation, giving the conference eight teams so that each school could play every weekend. The fifth. The schedule was announced publicly in November, although the teams had already received it a few days earlier. Eight days later, ASU embarked on a 22-day journey, including a joint Thanksgiving celebration in Madison, Wisconsin.
The original plan was to meet on December 5 to return to Arizona for a few days and then on December 9. December to fly to State College, Dad. But while in Madison, the team chose to stay on the road for an extra 14 days to continue living and playing in the bubble and avoid the risk of passing airports in the middle of the holidays, taking commercial flights and meeting friends, girlfriends and family in Arizona.
I think the only people who were really upset about this were our wives, Powers said.
In total, the trip cost the hockey program about $200,000, of which about $90,000 was spent on food. By staying on the road, ASU has been able to save the costs of flights and the ice age because it does not have its own ice rink. And the booking trips saved money. Each American Airlines ticket from Phoenix to Detroit costs $115 and tickets from Columbus to Phoenix about $130. A typical return ticket costs ASU between $500 and $600, according to Andrew Matheson, ASU’s director of operations.
In the end, Mr Matheson estimates – without knowing the final figures from the cost report – that the cost of the trip will ultimately be almost the same as if ASU had booked individual trips throughout the season.
After players have returned from this epic adventure in the Midwest, here’s the story of how it all came together – and the people responsible for keeping everyone healthy and safe for over a month during the pandemic.
How the trip went
The AGS Compliance Department had to give the NCAA a waiver to justify such a long journey. One of ASU’s sales arguments, apart from the fact that the academics would be no different than the players on the road when they came back to Tempe because the university schools are usually virtual, was that keeping the team on the road and building their own bubble would keep the players safe.
And it is. The Sun Devils did not test positive throughout the trip – but there were a few setbacks.
At the beginning of the trip there were problems with invalid tests, which according to assistant sports coach Rick Coward was due to the fact that the tests were not accompanied by a sufficient amount of saline solution. The Sun Devils underwent a daily antigen test, usually in the morning before training, at the school campus where they played. If the test was invalid, it would have to be repeated.
ASU also had three false positives, two in Michigan and one in Wisconsin. If the antigen test came back positive, the player, coach or staff member should have been immediately quarantined until he passed the PCR test. In this case, the player, coach or staff member must be kept in quarantine for 21 days, in accordance with the AGU-approved Big Ten rules.
Two players took about 10 minutes to test positive for antigens when team Ann Arbor left for the game of the State of Michigan in East Lansing. They had to stay in Ann Arbor and isolate themselves in a hotel. Later that evening their PCR tests came back negative, and the next morning they did another round of antigen and insurance tests, which also came back negative. However, if the result of the second antigen test had arrived 15 minutes later, none of them would have participated in the game.
Overall, Coward said, the ride was like a well-adjusted car.
Fault! The file name is not specified. John Lawner, ASUequipment operations coordinator, is proud to be able to equip the team with a different jersey combination before every race. Thanks to Arizona State Hockey.
The players did it.
The personal and collective washing was done for them. They didn’t have to cook. The schedule of the outdoor days was similar to that of the pros. They have breakfast at 9:00, do the COVID-19 test, practice, go back to the hotel for lunch, have classes and homework in the afternoon, dinner is from 18:30 to 19:30 and the lights go out at 22:00 to 23:00. The team spent their last week together in early December and spent the rest of their free time playing video games and watching movies.
It’s a pretty good program, Mr. Matheson said. It’s as normal as home. Honestly, the schedule’s better away from home.
Our time together has brought the team closer together, Powers said.
They’re connected 24/7, he said. Of course it’s gonna happen. We have a handful of new guys who have bought into what we do, and you can see them very, very well. It was a lot of fun.
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And yet, at least according to the powers that be, no one is tired of others.
I don’t see it. It’s all smiles, he says laughing.
We’re just trying to have fun. It’s gonna… and I told the guys at the beginning when we decided to do it… that it would literally be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. They’ll never do it again. Let’s hope we never have to do it again.
In other words: It was worth the trip.
But ASU hasn’t finished its road trip this season. The Sun Devils are expected to be in the game by the 31st. In December, two separate 21-day games will be played against the Big Ten, with a break of about three weeks in between, although ASU will not be eligible for the Big Ten post-season tournament under the scheduling agreement. Just the NCAA tournament.
According to Powers, it was a life-changing experience for our players and employees. We are happy to be back in Arizona to see our families and we are committed to come back after the break and continue playing hockey with the Sun Devils.
Matheson was responsible for organizing the logistics of the trip, but he didn’t get the assignment until the 3rd day. November: Critical planning information: part of the Sun Devils’ 2020 calendar.
Their first match was scheduled for the 14th. November at the University of Michigan. That means on the 13th. November. Matheson had eight days to pay the bill for the trip.
For someone who normally books his travel dates six to seven months in advance, it was very short notice, to say the least.
He said it was a challenge. But so far, I must say I’ve been lucky to be doing pretty well.
In the month between the signing and publication of the calendar, Matheson already did most of the work. He identified hotels in all six cities and contacted them to see if they could accommodate about 34 to 27 players, three coaches, the director of operations, the equipment manager, the coach and the strength coach (about 24 rooms in each hotel) for the entire trip – while preparing three meals a day for the Sun Devils and providing enough space for the food to be used as a practice and training room.
In all these initial conversations, however, there was one vague detail: Dates. He asked if they’d done all this between the 13th. November and, well, the 14th. March could adapt. Everyone agreed, and when the ASU calendar was announced, all Matheson had to do was record the dates with each hotel.
So the trip was interrupted:
- 13. November: A flight to Detroit and a ride to Ann Arbor.
- 14 to 18 years old. November: Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- November 18-21: East Lansing, Michigan.
- November 21-30: Madison (University of Wisconsin)
- 30. November. 6. December: South Bend, Indiana. (Notre Dame)
- December 6-14: State College (Pennsylvania)
- 14 to 18 years old. December: Columbus, Ohio.
- 19. December: The flight back to Arizona
20 minutes before drop-off pic.twitter.com/kUSwdDy9kl
– Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) 14 November 2020
For long distances, ASU had two buses between each stop and East Lansing: one for the players and one for the buses and staff. The trip from South Bend to State College took about seven hours. From East Lansing to Madison, it took about six hours. From State College in Columbus, there were about five. Madison in South Bend was about four years old.
Each coach and staff member had their own room with a double bed. Powers and Matheson generally received henchmen, often used for meetings and meeting places at night. All players were in one room, just the two of them.
But for Matheson it was all about the food.
He had to plan about 120 meals during the trip, and he made a point of mixing the meals as often as possible so the players wouldn’t hate me after two weeks of traveling to eat the same thing every day while maintaining healthy meals.
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The lunch schedule has remained the same throughout the trip. Breakfast was at 9 a.m., lunch from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.. Meals on the day of the race and before the race have never changed. The night before yesterday we always had steak and chicken with pasta for dinner. The starter meal consisted of two or three chicken breasts per person, accompanied by salad and a second pork or beef protein, as well as vegetables, rice, pasta and bread. The post-game meals were hamburgers one night and tacos or fajitas the next.
In the course of the week Matheson tried to mix things up here and there, like B. handing out Asian food and pizza to the Madison players.
Each player received about $200 a day during the trip, which was allocated for meals.
Matheson wanted to get as much food from the hotels as possible so players, coaches and staff didn’t have to leave the hotel to get it. They were still allowed to deliver or pick up food from restaurants, but each hotel agreed to convert their staff to PSAs and serve all meals in cafeteria-style.
I think it is very useful for our boys, Matheson said, because it is as close as possible to normal as you can get in the world of VIDOC.
I am professionally overwhelmed
John Loughner had already made a long journey, but not something like this.
In 2014, while he was equipment manager for the Utah Grizzlies’ ECHL, the Grizzlies embarked on a 13-day journey after the San Francisco franchise collapsed and disrupted the league’s schedule.
At the time, he thought it was a very long road. And it was, by most standards.
But this is a whole new level, the lawnman said.
It’s, he says, the road trip of 2020.
This means that the lawnmower must have been packed accordingly.
Preparing the first 22-day journey of the sun devils was not an easy task, starting with the basics of traveling during the pandemic. He had to find and order TSA-compliant bags for masks, sanitary napkins and hand disinfectant. He had to find laundry bags for everyone on the trip because the team wanted to do their personal laundry and hockey underwear.
Then there were the sticks.
Laughner usually starts the season with about six shots per SCM player, so players can decide what they want and what they want to use this season. His first order this year was for a dozen sticks per player, with an order of about 300. This resulted in four sticks of 90 pounds each – or a 360-pound travel stick. He came back from his trip with a hundred sticks.
The daredevil usually travels a lot, but he has taken this journey to a whole new level. For a typical weekend getaway, he usually packs 52 suitcases. He had 78 bags on that trip.
Fault! The file name is not specified. From a collection of about 300 sticks at the beginning of the trip, the team goes home with about 100 sticks. Thanks to Arizona State Hockey.
ASU also brought Sani Sport, a portable disinfectant that helps to sterilize the rooms. He weighed 141 pounds, so Lawner had to check him in with American Airlines to make sure he could be checked in as luggage, and he had to produce a doctor’s note explaining what it was and why it was needed.
It’s 2020, Lawner said. It won’t be that easy this year.
But not all the bags were for Lawner.
A dozen of them were filled with supplies for Coward, the sports coach. He swapped the suitcases for three sliced suitcases because it is easier and cheaper to fly. They were 4 feet by 2 feet, and one of them was completely clogged with film. In total, Coward brought about 500 rolls of tape and expected them to last the whole trip. On a typical trip, which takes about four days, he brings 50 rolls of tape because he has space.
Like Lawner, Coward is a gifted man, but he has a motto: Collect more things that are harder to get. He can get basic medicines at the pharmacy, but no special strips or dental devices at Target or Walmart.
Part of Lawner’s reconditioning was done by himself.
Throughout the hockey program, he is praised as a uniform guru who never wants the Sun Devils to practice uniform combinations if they can help him.
On that trip he brought three sweaters – brown, grey and a special sweater called Sunburst – a tribute to ASU’s former football logo. Despite the extra luggage and uniforms required, Laughner saw the trip as a way for ASU, an independent program, to show off a little.
I’m not gonna lie, Lawner said. Pretty cool. Against Wisconsin, for example, we come out in the first match and we’re all grey. And it’s on television, and people are watching. And the next night we play in a very different form than the night before. We were full of chestnuts that night. I think it’s cool. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I hope the boys like it. Maybe it’s just my ego, I think it’s cool, but it’s different.
You don’t see many teams doing that, that’s for sure.
5 states, 6 schools, 12 games, 30 COVID something testing, 35 days, 100 sticks and over 5,000 miles traveled. SunDevilHockey closes the first half of the season today. Incredible effort of all involved to make it happen @melon_29, Tricky Ricky, @asucoachpowers and the rest pic.twitter.com/awI7OFdsfY
– John Laughner (@JonLaughnerEM) 18 December 2020
In addition to three sets of jerseys for each player, Laughner brought two different coloured training jerseys for each player, five pairs of socks plus linings, three different helmets, two different gloves and two different pants for each player.
It’s just on the ice.
For the ice each player got three tracksuits, three pairs of shoes and four to five shirts.
For a typical car ride, Laughner usually brings a sweater, trousers, a set of gloves and two helmets.
Did you have to wear so many? We don’t, but we have a phenomenal relationship with Adidas and we appreciate everything they do for us and we have created some kind of this brand, I don’t mean this brand, but for lack of a better term, we have created this brand that is the best and most cohesive team in the NCAA, so it’s a little extra work. But I think it’s worth it, Lawner said.
But Lawner took a break in two areas. He didn’t have to bring tape or towels with him on the trip. If he had to pick up towels, joker, he could stop. All this is made possible by home schooling, which he called a godsend for us. The home-schooled students did all of ASU’s laundry, which is a common tradition in varsity hockey. They also had Laughner use skate sharpeners and glove dryers, allowing ASU to leave a few hundred pounds of equipment at home.
My house for the next three hours or so…@SunDevilHockey game day pic.twitter.com/U5xEQAN2mB
– John Laughner (@JonLaughnerEM) 11 December 2020
In a meeting with all Big Ten equipment managers before the start of the season to discuss ASU’s logistics as a permanent visiting team, Lawner felt privileged and welcomed by the other schools.
We were just talking about how we’re gonna work for the… I say we, I have nothing to offer, he says laughing. I almost feel like an idiot, don’t you?
But he had fun.
We got one of the calls, and we got them all: Dude, Johnny, can you do those long rides and stuff? And I said: Guys, I never waited a season when I didn’t have to do laundry. They look like this: Yeah, you’re probably right.
But, as other equipment managers have indicated, if he thanked them for their help, Daredevil would do the same if the situation were reversed.
Everyone was very, very cool, Lawner said.
The only thing he forgot?
I’m professionally overwhelmed, Loughner said, so much so that I didn’t need much to make a 22-day trip in 36 days.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Despite the fact that the Sun Devils had to use a certain amount of equipment as a visiting team, they had a lot of equipment to wear before every game. Thanks to Arizona State Hockey.
Life on the road
ASU’s top player, Johnny Walker, injured his knee in the first game of the season against Michigan, and Powers gave him a chance to return to Arizona for rehabilitation.
He looked at me like I had seven fronts, Powers said.
Hey @jwalks96… Miss pic.twitter.com/39R1tu0rKS
– Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) 20 November 2020
As on many other occasions during the trip, ASU counted on the help of its home school. Walker had an MRI in Michigan. But then coward Walker had to rehabilitate in the hotel gym, with ribbons and pulleys and everything else. And instead of treating him for hours on the ice rink, as he would have done in Tempe, Coward worked on Walker in the evening after school.
All but one of the hotels closed their gyms to other guests, so that only ASU could use them. And almost all of them were fit enough for Coward to do two or three rehabilitation sessions at the same time, leaving the players free to train in the gym.
This is not the first time Mr. Coward has used hotel rooms for training and rehabilitation. During his seven years of coaching at the ECHL, hotel rooms were the norm, but the size of the hotel rooms during this trip was a luxury for Mr. Lafaard compared to when he was at the ECHL, which was a notch or two below what we have here.
You can’t prepare for every situation, but I think we are all grateful for the opportunity to play and happy to have a season, so everyone accepted the challenges, said Coward.
Powers also has a playroom equipped for its players, with a ping-pong table.
But the most popular way to spend time was playing video games, especially Xbox, with NHL tournaments as a common option. Sometimes they’d warm up if the boys wouldn’t talk to each other all night. Some of them even came out in a hurry. But the funny thing, said junior forward Jordan Sandhu, is that sometimes they break into their rooms, which can be next to each other, with a door in between.
It’s nice to look at, Sandhu said.
When the semester ended in December, sophomore Jax Murray said that he and his roommate had started watching films to kill time, and were working on the Marvel franchise. He estimates that they’ve seen about 25 films in the past week, an average of four a day.
There’s just nothing else to do, Murray said.
Return home on a list of RoadWarriors victories // #BetheTradition pic.twitter.com/RaU24ECaau
– Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) 19 December 2020
The school on the road, however, was not much different for the players of what they could have experienced at home, said Natalie Tacra, the academic coach of the team.
Everything was with Zoom, from lessons to exams, from tutoring to study room.
She said we were lucky we didn’t have to arrange something special for them to travel. It was as if they had to maintain the status quo with everything that had been laid down since the beginning of the semester.
ASU posted its best team average this year with a 3.49 cumulative score. There were three 4.0s, and each had more than a 3.0.
According to Murray, the key to doing homework while traveling is setting up the AirPods, turning on the music and drowning the rest.
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Part of the journey that Trakra initially feared was a challenge that proved useful: the change of time. The team was in states that were two to three hours ahead of Arizona (which does not respect daylight saving time) before returning to standard time in November and then one or two hours earlier. But at morning practice, no one should miss the lessons, she said.
We didn’t have any emergencies, she said. They were able to do their job. I tried to remind them as best I could, so they wouldn’t get distracted.
I think the hardest thing when you’re not in your usual routine is to stay focused and make sure they manage their time well.
In the beginning it was a long trip for Sandhu, who initially thought it would be boring to go from hotel to hotel, but all in all it was very good.
But not everyone was there in the end.
We just do the same thing every night, Murray said. Very repetitive. That’s really the only drawback.