GLENDALE(AP) — Recounting the back and forth trips to the Czech Republic over the past few weeks, Radim Vrbata was talking about time zones when he was asked if he had to keep checking his watch to figure out where he was.
“Watches? We threw those out a long time ago,” fellow countryman and Phoenix Coyotes teammate Petr Prucha said with a chuckle.
The Coyotes can laugh about it now, but they weren’t smiling earlier in the week. They were too tired.
Phoenix opened the season in Europe, playing two games against Boston in Prague, capping off a weeklong jaunt that included celebrations, site visits and, for the Czech players on the roster, plenty of friends, family and media.
Fun? Sure it was. It was also busy and sometimes chaotic, leaving the players exhausted by the time they returned to the desert on Monday.
“It was good, we did lots of things, but a little too busy,” Vrbata said Friday. “It was nice to have a couple days off here to relax, but I wouldn’t want to do it every week like that in the season.”
The Coyotes open their home schedule Saturday night against Detroit in a rematch of a sometimes-testy seven-game playoff series that knocked Phoenix from its first postseason in eight years.
It’s almost going to feel like the first game of the season after what the Coyotes have been through already.
Phoenix ended its preseason on Oct. 6 against a club team in Latvia and opened the regular season by splitting the two games against Boston. In between, there were appearances, festivals, media sessions, not much down time.
That was tiring enough. Switching over a nine-hour time difference twice in seven days and a 16-hour flight that arrived in Phoenix after midnight on Monday didn’t help.
The Coyotes were given six days off between games and seemingly needed every day of it, slogging through their first few practices before ramping it up at the end of the week in anticipation of the home opener.
“It was a long couple days there; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday … Thursday,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “We definitely were feeling it. You missed a day of sleep going over and just when you were about to catch back up again, you miss another day coming back. It makes it tough, but it’s sure a great opportunity to see another part of the world you otherwise might not get to see.”
Now it’s time to get back to the real world, at least the one the Coyotes are used to.
Coach Dave Tippett tried to make the week in Europe as much like a normal road trip as possible, stressing it all week to not just the players, but the coaches, trainers and equipment managers.
But hockey players, like most professional athletes, are creatures of habit, used to having a routine and sticking to it.
No matter how much Tippett tried to make it a normal road trip, it wasn’t; there were too many miles and time zones with too many outside distractions.
The key to recovering will be how quickly the Coyotes settle back into their routine.
“The first two games are behind us, but it really feels like this is our first game,” Tippett said. “But it’s the home opener and guys are excited.”