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Tasca's Take

Life on the Bus

Chris Gigley writes a great piece today about life on the bus in the minor leagues.  He spoke with Syracuse Crunch equipment manager J.W. Aiken, who recalls a dicey bus ride two years ago during his time with the Norfolk Admirals:

The Admirals were on their way home from Manchester, N.H., when the team bus stalled out in a snowstorm on a particularly steep section of the highway. Which highway, Aiken can’t remember. You tend to forget details when the snow is piling up and a long line of angry drivers is behind you.

“I heard the total snowfall for where we were was 20 inches,” Aiken recalls. “It was huge. We were stuck there for six hours, and no one could get around us.”

Gigley's feature story reminded me of a horrible bus crash involving the Albany River Rats four years ago.  Jeff Daniels was the team's head coach at the time:

“Half the guys on the bus were sleeping, so after the crash guys were getting off the bus without shoes, other guys didn’t have jackets, it was chaos,” Daniels said. “Everybody was just trying to get off the bus because we didn’t want to get hit. It was so dark and you couldn’t see anything.

“It’s amazing we didn’t get hit after the fact because two or three semi trucks came whizzing by us because they couldn’t stop,” Daniels said. “A couple of trucks just missed us, so who knows what would have happened if we got hit by another truck while the bus was on its side.

Of course, hockey fans will be hard-pressed to forget the infamous Swift Current Broncos bus crash in 1986:

For four players, that road trip was their final journey in life. In some sad, solemn way, it was their lasting legacy. For the 22 others on that bus, that journey is still in session. It's a lifelong road trip full of memories, reminders and slow-motion replays.

Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff died when the Broncos bus hit a patch of black ice on an overpass, slid into a ditch, catapulted off an approach road and landed on its right side. The four hockey players, who were playing cards in the very back, were either thrown free or crushed by the bus. Coroner reports determined they died of spinal injuries.

Traveling ten hours on a bus in the heart of the Canadian prairies is tough enough on a good day.  But when the harsh winter elements are thrown into the mix, the difficulty is maximized to an astronomical degree.  On top of that, many of these white-knuckle road trips take place in the wee hours of the morning.  All things considered, it's absolutely stunning that so few team bus crashes occur during the hockey season.  It's a testament to the skill and calmness of these bus drivers.

There's nothing glamorous about life on the bus.  With that in mind, it's almost inconceivable that anyone would want to spend hundreds of hours on a sleeper coach just to bat around a piece of frozen vulcanized rubber 70 to 80 times a year.  But that's what junior and minor league hockey players have to do to chase their childhood dreams.  The challenges of playing this great sport at a high level are many, but very rarely do the rigors of constant travel enter into the conversation.

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.