When the late Kahlil Gibran, noted American essayist and poet, penned the line “Let there be spaces in your togetherness,” it’s probably safe to assume he didn’t have the NHL’s hotel room policy in mind. But when the lockout ended in January and the new CBA was ratified, it did indeed create “more spaces” among traveling NHL players.
It used to be that the only NHL players with the option to have their own hotel rooms on road trips were 10-year veterans, players who had played at least 600 games, and goaltenders. Under the new labor agreement, everybody gets a single room, except players still on their entry-level contracts.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on several road trips this season, including the recently completed six-game, 10-day trip that was the longest they will take this season. So the players have had time to get used to the new hotel policy and all that extra space in their rooms on the road. Has it been an adjustment period, especially for those veteran players who have always had a road roommate?
“Yeah, it’s definitely an adjustment,” admitted Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger. “If you have the chance to be with the same roommate for a long time, you get accustomed to it, you enjoy the company. You have some things in common and some set routines. But some guys didn’t have a set roommate, so it was a lot of adjusting. And some guys prefer their own room. I think it comes down to the person and the kind of guy you can fit with on the road.”
This year’s Blue Jackets featured several new players in the lineup to start the season and – because of injuries – several other players called up from Springfield of the AHL. Didn’t the old roommate policy make for a better bonding situation, especially for those teams that were trying to blend a number of new faces into a tight-knit group as quickly as possible?
“I think it helps, for sure,” said Umberger. “I think when you get a young guy called up or just a new guy, I think it’s nice to have him with somebody. I’ll tell you one thing: When you have times you have to be somewhere, when you have a roommate you feel more comfortable knowing that somebody else knows what time to get up or whatever. When you’re by yourself, you’re always kind of in a panic mode to make sure you’re not missing out on anything.”
Umberger doesn’t think it’s necessary to try to compensate for the reduced time players have with each other because of the new roommate provision. He says the Blue Jackets are always looking for opportunies to get the team together.
“I think you try to always do that no matter what,” he explained “In L.A. we had a chance to go out for lunch together as a group, spend four or five hours together after practice. Those types of things, you know, dinner, and on off nights go out with different guys and try to get some bigger groups of the team together. If you can get a group of guys together, it’s always a good thing.”
Before this year, Steve Mason and Umberger were roommates ever since both joined the Blue Jackets before the start of the 2008-09 season. ”We had our routines set in stone pretty well,” said Umberger. “We had a pretty set schedule, and we complemented each other pretty well in the room. I think that’s what you look for in a roommate.”
Sounds like it was a pretty good situation for the winger and the goaltender. But now – like hundreds of veterans around the league – they’re both in single rooms. Call it something gained but something lost for the players. There’s a lot to be said for the camaraderie built with a good road roomie, not to mention the peace of mind knowing someone has your back when it’s imperative to catch a bus or be on time for a team meeting. Makes you wonder if a veteran would ever ask to turn the road roommate clock back to the days of the double.
“I’m sure if you really wanted to, you could ask for a double,” Umberger laughed, “but no one’s done that yet.”