Features

The Maher Report: Charter Travel

Times have changed for NHL teams, who now travel via charters

Friday, 18.12.2009 / 6:58 AM / Features
By Peter Maher
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The Maher Report: Charter Travel
In 30 years of Calgary Flames hockey, the team has gotten to games by bus, train and plane. In recent years the planes, like the buses have always been, are chartered.

On top of it being a much more convenient manner in which to move around North America, the fans are more entertained by players that are rested.
PETER MAHER
THE PETER MAHER REPORT
The Calgary Flames are pleased to welcome Peter Maher as a guest writer at calgaryflames.com and in Blaze Magazine. The long-time play-by-play broadcaster is in his 29th year of calling Flames games and has not missed a single puck drop. Maher is also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

All 30 National Hockey League teams travel by charter aircraft or, in the case of teams like Detroit and Dallas, own their own planes. When Theoren Fleury travelled with the Flames during the pre-season, he was amazed at the change. “This is a big change from the old days,” he noted.

In Fleury’s tenure with the Flames, from 1989 through 1999, the team mostly travelled on commercial flights, chartering only occasionally. During that era, the competition was a bit imbalanced. The big money teams with their massive payrolls travelled in luxury while others took regular airline flights. In the days when the Flames travelled exclusively on commercial flights, there were only a handful of cities they could get to from Calgary on direct flights.

Now there is an NHL salary cap and all clubs use the same mode of travel, although Western Conference teams like the Flames travel a good deal more than their Eastern counterparts.  
Most teams, both back then and nowadays, are encouraged to get to the city where they are to play the evening before the game. When games are scheduled on back-to-back nights, it’s not possible to make it on commercial flights. Thus teams would take the first morning flight to the city where the second game was to be played.

Flight delays made for some intriguing experiences. For instance, several seasons ago in late January, the Flames had a game in St. Louis on a Wednesday night followed by a Thursday evening tilt in Detroit. After the match in St. Louis, players went back to their hotel near the airport. They had a team meal and went through the normal unwind period. Since the Flames had a scheduled morning flight at 7 a.m. to Detroit, they awoke at 5 a.m., taking a 5:15 bus to the airport. Due to weather conditions in Detroit, the flight was delayed, delayed and delayed. The already tired players tried to sneak in naps on airport chairs while getting the latest updates on flight plans.

Eventually, the Flame players boarded the flight arriving in Detroit at 3 p.m. The bus trip to downtown Detroit is at least 30 minutes in the best of times. This venture was made longer by snowy road conditions. The team got to its hotel near Joe Louis Arena at 4:45 p.m. and 15 minutes later bused to the Arena for the 7:30 p.m. game.

In those days, the Red Wings weren’t the powerhouse they’ve been over the past decade and, somehow, the weary Flames won the game.

Now with charter flights, teams get to a city ahead of snowstorms. Three years ago, the Flames played a Sunday night game in Los Angeles the week before Christmas. After the contest, the team took their Air Canada charter to Denver to arrive early for a Tuesday night contest. The Flames arrived in the Mile High City at 2:30 a.m. Two hours later, a blizzard that would last for two days struck.

All of Monday and Tuesday, Denver was basically shutdown as Flame leaders Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Tony Amonte and company looked for things to do indoors. The game was postponed. To this day, it is the one and only Calgary Flames game not played as scheduled.

The Peter Maher Report is a regulr feature in BLAZE, the official magazine of the Calgary Flames. Blaze is available on the concourse of the Pengrowth Saddledome every home game, at stores in Calgary and online in digital format. For more information on Blaze Magazine, please click here.