ST. PAUL, Minn. — Zach Parise might want to invest in a good travel pillow after signing his big contract with the Minnesota Wild.
Parise, who grew up in the Twin Cities, was well aware of what he was in for when he agreed to a 13-year contract last summer. He didn’t need much of a tour of his new surroundings and was well aware of the brutal winters. There is one big adjustment for Parise, though, after spending the first seven years of his career with the New Jersey Devils: jetlag.
Minnesota will travel the most miles of any NHL team this season, a circumstance of playing in the Western Conference during a season in which the NHL lockout has reduced the schedule to conference-only matchups. Parise had grown accustomed to the much shorter trips in the Eastern Conference, specifically the Atlantic Division.
“It’ll be an adjustment for me,'” Parise said. “The travel I’m accustomed to is always pretty easy. It’ll be a few more plane rides, a few more time zone changes, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”
The Wild head out on their first road trip of the season this week with games Friday at Detroit and Sunday in St. Louis before returning home. It’s one of the shorter trips for Minnesota this season, which will travel an NHL-high 31,273 miles, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
In contrast, the Devils have the second-shortest road schedule this season, 11,637 miles. Many times, New Jersey travels by bus or train. Parise will have to take to the sky now.
“For Zach, it might be a little different,” joked fellow newcomer Ryan Suter, who had played his entire career in the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators. “He can’t drive to three games.”
With the lockout over, the NHL set up a condensed schedule — 48 games in 99 days — with teams slated to play games only within their conference, as opposed to the usually mixed schedule. With Minnesota on the Eastern edge of the Western Conference, its trips are long even by Western Conference standards.
“To be honest, I looked at it and I said, ‘I thought this was going to be a lot worse,'” Parise said. “I looked at the schedule, and it didn’t look too bad. I’m sure the plane rides are going to be a little bit of an adjustment for me. I personally didn’t think it was terrible.”
Parise’s new linemate, Dany Heatley, had a suggestion for handling the Wild’s intensive travel schedule.
“Sleeping on the plane,” Heatley quipped. “We talk a lot about it whether we are at home or on the road. ‘Guys, you really got to take care of yourself. There’s no time to do anything off the ice. You got to work out. You got to get your sleep, and it doesn’t change on the road.'”
Minnesota’s closest division rival is Colorado, a 2.5-hour plane ride that includes a time zone change. The Wild also travel within their division to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. On average, teams in the Western Conference will travel an estimated 26,093 miles this season; their Eastern counterparts will travel an average of 17,035 miles.
A planned realignment might have solved some of the issues. The NHL had agreed to a restructuring that would have had Minnesota playing within a division against Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg. But those plans were tabled during the lockout and will need to be revisited in the future.
For now, the Wild might just rack up more hotel points. Coach Mike Yeo said it’s possible Minnesota will stay overnight in some cities instead of traveling and might have to cancel practices to accommodate the schedule.
“Certainly practice-wise, we’re going to have to accept that some areas of our game might not be as sharp,” Yeo said. “Whether it’s a detail or a certain aspect of your game, you might have to ease up a little bit on practice time, might have to give more days off. The other thing for us is with the travel that we have and where we are geographically we might have to look at some adjustments to our travel as far as staying over in cities a little bit more. I would think that we’re facing a few more days on the road than we have in the past.”
Yeo said after Tuesday’s 3-1 home loss to Nashville there are times his team feels more comfortable playing on the road. The coach is also looking forward to getting in a couple of days of practice before Friday’s game against the Red Wings. Like the rest of the NHL, the Wild had a six-day training camp before its opener and haven’t had a full practice session since the season began.
After two weeks of hype surrounding Parise and Suter in Minnesota, this week’s road trip is viewed by some as a nice change of pace. But fatigue will eventually set in, and the Wild will need to adapt.
“You make sure you’re getting your sleep, sleeping right and eating properly and getting your rest,” Parise said. “Those are the three things you can control. After that, it should all hopefully fall into place. I think it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment.”