The two plus points for hockey players that get through the system and earn a spot on an NHL team are, of course, the money, but more satisfying in the short run, the modes of transportation.
After spending all their formative years in the bus game, climbing aboard an NHL team’s chartered plane is instant recognition that they’ve made it.
Essentially walking on jet planes, bypassing much of the airport turmoil, waiting for a hot meal, pushback seats, and shorter travel times is something old minor league players never take for granted once they make it to the “show.”
That said, bus travel today is nothing like the early eras players have experienced. With the internet, smartphones and television, compared to an intermittent scratchy radio, things are different.
Junior western league players and players who have played in the minor pro leagues in the southern United States know all about sleeper buses. Buses with bunk beds stacked behind a few rows of uncomfortable seats consumed many hours of their early years for such players.
There are as many bus stories about hockey teams and players as there are broken sticks.
One of the notable ones is a player who was exchanged for a bus. Tom Martin was a fourth round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1982. In 1983, he played for the Seattle Breakers of the Western Hockey League.
The Victoria Cougars had bought a used bus with bunk beds from Spokane. When they found out the cost of taxes and fees to bring it to Canada, they looked for alternatives. The Seattle bus had just blown up an engine, so the trade was made, Martin for the bus and future considerations.
Immediately nicknamed “Bussey”, Martin ended up having a short NHL career, but gained more fame for the trade than his game.
“Well, we were both used to it,” Martin commented, laughing about the trade years later, “but maybe he had better wheels than me.”
Locally, in the 1970s, when Ted Higgins was chairman of the Peterborough lacrosse teams, they bought a range of used buses.
The players reconfigured the seats and took out a few to store on the first lacrosse bags. They painted it in team colors. On the front, they called it “Easy Rider” after the then popular movie.
Over the years, Easy Rider was succeeded by other buses, numbered appropriately after the first. Many a night they had problems with the vehicles.
After one game at Brooklin, the team came out to find that a disgruntled fan had torn the wires from the bus’s distributor cap.
The players found most of the wires scattered and they could barely get the bus mobile. They stopped at a farm down the road and bought the distributor cap from a farmer’s pickup and made it back safely to Peterborough.
Finally not a bus story but a hockey trip story. My father transported cattle from his hometown of Norwood to the ranching farms in Toronto in the 1920s. Not a player himself, he was a fan of the game.
He often told me that he came back from a trip to Toronto, cleaned his stake car as best he could, threw a large tarp over the floor of the truck, and tied it up. He then placed a small wood stove with a smoking pipe on the side.
For example, he transported the Norwood hockey team to some of their away games. When the opponents yelled at the team that they stink, it wasn’t for the way they played.