It wasn’t exactly planes, trains and automobiles, but it wasn’t that far off, either.
This is the tale of Dalton Prout and his journey from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Chicago to join the Columbus Blue Jackets for their game last Friday against the Blackhawks.
Prout was told he was being called up to the Blue Jackets around 1:30 Friday afternoon. His opportunity arose when Columbus defenseman John Moore was injured in the team’s game-day skate. Flight arrangements were quickly made and Prout was scheduled to fly out at 4:30. His girlfriend, who had just arrived in Springfield for a visit, drove him to the airport in nearby Hartford, Connecticut. So far, so good, until his plane parked at the wrong gate on its incoming flight to Hartford.
The wayward jet had to do a lap around the airport and pull into the correct gate, so the departure time was changed from 4:30 to 4:50. Frequent fliers know full well those new departure times are kind of like most of life, subject to change. Prout and his fellow passengers did board the plane just after 5 p.m., but a half hour later they were still parked on the tarmac. His sixth NHL game ever was scheduled to start in three hours.
“I was really staring at my watch, but it was completely out of my control,” said Prout, “so I just tried to sit back and relax. I knew I was going to get there when I could.” (Take a mental note here; defensemen who are cool under pressure are a big deal for NHL teams.)
Finally, the roughly 100-minute flight to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport took off from Hartford. Next challenge: Prout had to get his luggage and get it fast. To quote the estimable football philosopher Lee Corso, baggage retrieval was, unfortunately, not so fast, my friend.
“When I was getting off the plane, I was thinking of just telling the baggage crew I’d take it myself, but I went to baggage claim,” Prout explained. “I was waiting there, waiting there. Finally, I got my hockey bag, and I see the exit and the cabs waiting, but I needed my sticks. I debated leaving without my sticks, but it’s too hard to change to someone else’s sticks. What I didn’t realize is that the sticks came out at a different area because they’re oversized baggage, and they were sitting there for an extra five or 10 minutes. So I shot myself in the foot there.
“I got my sticks; I was on my way,” he continued. “But when I got out of O’Hare, there was an hour wait for a cab. I jumped to the front of the line and I said, ‘Listen, I have a hockey game to play in about 20 minutes, is there anything you can do?’ And the guy looks at me and tells me there’s nothing he can do. But the guy who was about to hop into that cab told me I could take it. So there’s a kind person out there that let me get to the rink at least 10 minutes late for the game and not miss the game.”
When the Ontario native and 2010 sixth-round pick of the Blue Jackets finally arrived at the United Center, his wait wasn’t over. Rightly so, Columbus head coach Todd Richards told Prout to ride the bike for a while, that he wasn’t about to hit the ice cold against the NHL’s best team.
“Yeah, that was the smart thing to do,” Prout admitted. “I was ready to get dressed and go out there, but I hopped on the bike, got a little warmup in, got dressed, and I think I walked out of the tunnel with seven minutes left in the first.”
His travel odyssey over, Prout had no more baggage, literally and figuratively. In hindsight, the rocky road to his 2013 NHL debut was actually a blessing. He went out and played a solid, composed nine minutes, facing the likes of Kane, Toews, and Hossa.
“I feel like getting there a little bit later, all the extra-curricular stuff is taken out,” he said. “Before the game you don’t hear the crowd, you don’t have the warm-up skate, you don’t have time to think about it. Once you get out there it’s all the same, and it’s just hockey.”
It may have been “just hockey,” but it wasn’t just another travel day for Dalton Prout. Not even close.