On the road with the Muskies

Never has a shower felt so good. I’m pleased to report I survived the 20-hour bus ride from Fort Frances to Oshawa aboard the Muskie boys’ hockey team bus earlier this week without a major mishap. All told, the trip went pretty smoothly (more on that in a moment) and everyone was very eager to begin play at the all-Ontario ‘AAA’ boys’ hockey championship this morning. For those of you who’ve never experienced a long road trip with 22 teenage boys, I will now do my best to explain to you what the experience is like in the rest of this week’s column. Before I get into the bare bones of the actual bus ride, I have two observations: 1. Judging by the amount of luggage some of the boys brought down with them, I’m not sure whether we are staying for a week or a month (good grief). Hockey bags aside, I was worried that there wasn’t going to be enough space under the bus for my modest carry-on sized gym bag. When did teenage boys start packing like they were going on safari in Africa? When I travelled as a teenager to various sporting events throughout southern Ontario, I was lucky if I had more than two changes of clothes. Actually, this may explain how it is that I am turning 29 years old next month and I am not married. Um, moving on to the next point. 2. These guys are unrelenting eating machines. Even if the bus had broken down and we’d been stranded in the middle of nowhere for an extended period of time, I would not have been worried as we had enough food on board to feed a small army for several months. I have a new appreciation for every parent in town with a teenaged son. How do you earn enough money to feed them? It’s incredible. When the guys weren’t munching on some candy, they were sleeping. Then, the first thing they did when they would wake up is plunge their hands back into whatever bag of chips or candy was closest. I think I gained three pounds just watching the boys eat during the bus ride. And oh what a bus ride it was! I have to admit to being a little cynical about our chances of arriving in Oshawa at the appropriate hour given the manner in which our journey began. As we pulled out of the back parking lot of the Memorial Sports Centre on Sunday afternoon, one of our trusty bus drivers, Pete, decided to give the group of assembled parents a blast of the horn to signal our goodbye. Alas, the horn got stuck and we were three-quarters of the way down Second Street East by the time a frantic Pete managed to fix the very noisy problem. Next on our list of minor mishaps was a most serious of technical difficulties—the DVD player broke. This might seem like a minor issue to most people, but when you have 22 kids who are consuming vast amounts of sugar on a very long bus ride, you need something to distract them. The situation was so dire that I, by no means a technical wizard, even took a turn trying to rectify the problem. No dice. Mercifully, enough of the guys had hand-held video game machines that they were able to keep themselves amused. It’s telling, though, when the bus driver’s number-one priority upon arriving in Oshawa was trying to find somewhere to fix the DVD player. We made the first of three stops along the way in Thunder Bay so we could have some dinner. I opted to go the Mr. Sub route with Matt DePiero and head coach Shane Bliss. We had a relatively healthy meal and were quite full when we got back on the bus. I just wish more of the boys had joined us. I’m not sure where some of the boys ate, or what it was that they consumed, but there was a pungent odour circulating throughout the bus for most of the next three hours. I don’t want to go into the details for fear of offending anyone but let’s just say that I burnt the clothes I was wearing when I arrived in Oshawa. Our next stop occurred late in the evening in Hearst. One of my favourite movies of all-time is “Trainspotting.” And there is a scene in that film where the lead character enters what he refers to as “The Dirtiest Toilet in Scotland.” I always had believed that scene was a fabrication of Hollywood until I stepped into the bathroom at the truck stop in Hearst. I didn’t stay long and instead opted for a snow bank in a darkly-lit corner of the truck stop. I think it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in quite some time. Following our second stop, it was time to sleep. Another couple of observations from a now experienced bus-riding journalist: 1. It’s all fine and dandy to bring all your technical equipment (camera, computer, etc.) but if you don’t remember a pillow and blanket, it will be a long night. 2. Always watch where you are stepping if you get up in the middle of the night. I almost crushed poor Patrick “Bubba” Bobczynski when I got up to stretch my legs as I didn’t think to check the aisle for sleeping teenagers. Aside from that, it was a pretty restless night. I kept asking myself one question over and over again as I tossed and turned trying to get comfortable: “Just who were these seats made for?” Seriously, I’m not a particularly tall person and I’m only slightly wider at the shoulders than most, but I could not find a single position in which some part of my body didn’t go numb. At one point, I fell asleep on my arm and when I woke up, I was fairly certain that I’d had a stroke as I couldn't feel my right side. When dawn finally broke, we stopped in Bracebridge for breakfast. Of course, it started to snow as we ate. And in true southern Ontario fashion, the snow quickly turned to sleet and then rain. Thankfully, Pete and his co-driver, Jess, are experienced professionals and we arrived safely in Oshawa on Monday afternoon. Although I’ve spent most of this column joking in a tongue-in-check manner about the ride, I actually quite enjoyed myself. All the kids are quite funny and it’s fun to see them interact with each other away from the rink for a change. Before I sign off this week, I thought it might be fitting to give my early prediction concerning the Muskies’ chances for success at the all-Ontarios. I am going to stress that these picks are by no means written in stone as I’ve not had the opportunity to see any of their scheduled opponents play as of yet. That having been said, I have the Muskies advancing to the playoff round on Friday night. The absolute key game in all of this is one against Brother Andre scheduled for tomorrow morning (Thursday). If the black-and-gold can hand the ninth-seeded team a loss, they should be able to claim a playoff berth out of Pool ‘A.’

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