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Life on the road: We're talking about practice

Thursday, December 12th
Life on the road: We're talking about practice

Life on the road in the ECHL often contains a few curveballs knuckle-pucks thrown your way, and represents a master-class in teamwork and logistics.

Case in point: At the outset of the Orlando Solar Bears’ current road trip, the team originally planned to stay overnight in North Charleston after their game against the South Carolina Stingrays on Tuesday in order to practice at the North Charleston Coliseum on Wednesday before departing for Greenville.

The reason for this is simple – the Solar Bears would not be able to take the ice at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena until Friday morning due to the arena hosting practice for Furman University basketball.

So when an opportunity arose for the Solar Bears to instead practice on Thursday morning at a neighboring community rink, the team’s hockey operations staff immediately sprang into action to arrange for the team to have a more valuable practice the day prior to a game.

Head equipment manager Adam Dexter communicated with his counterpart with the Swamp Rabbits and was able to secure an early-morning session for the Solar Bears on Thursday. The team quickly adjusted its itinerary, and a new plan for the week was formed.

And so it was that on Wednesday, the team checked out of their hotel at noon in North Charleston, walked over to the Coliseum, and loaded their bus and made the three-hour drive up Interstate 26 to Greenville. After the team checked into its hotel, the players were able to enjoy a meaningful off-day of recovery and got to bed at a reasonable hour.

The following morning, the players and staff awoke from their slumber before the sun had risen, made their way down to the lobby for breakfast and hopped on the bus at 7:30 a.m. for a 10-minute ride to the Pavilion Recreation Complex in nearby Taylors, South Carolina.

The thermometer outside is hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter appears to have arrived early in Greenville.

Forward Trevor Olson, who spent many a morning during his youth hockey days playing in frigid rinks in his native Duluth, Minnesota, recalled keeping warm in his parents’ car before hustling inside the rink to change and hop on the ice.

The rink, frequently used by the Swamp Rabbits when their home arena is unavailable due to concerts or Clemson University basketball games, is slightly smaller than the standard 200-foot-by-85-foot surface you’d see in use at most hockey arenas – the neutral zone is fairly narrow, extending no more than 20 feet from blue line to blue line. The Solar Bears’ “locker room” this morning is fairly spartan compared to an ECHL arena – it’s actually a converted corner of the rink with the glass covered up and a large curtain drawn next to a set of unoccupied bleachers to give the players a sense of privacy – but it serves its purpose today.

Socks and practice jerseys are passed out, sticks are lined up along the wall and the Solar Bears hop on the ice at 8:30 a.m.

Fundamentally, the concept is the same as with any other practice on the road: get on the ice, shake off the rust, get in a good sweat, prepare for the next game and get off.

The practice has a brisk pace, as the coaching staff cycles through various drills. Head coach Drake Berehowsky puts an emphasis on the team establishing a strong net-front presence.

After about 50 minutes, the Solar Bears depart the ice and begin to change out of their gear in the makeshift locker room. With limited shower space at the community rink, the team quickly gathers its belongings.

Practice jerseys and socks are thrown into a nearby laundry bin, which is wheeled out to the bus, and each player brings their hockey bag to the bus, which makes a 15-minute drive to Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville.

The players make their way inside to a locker room that is adjacent to the one typically occupied by the team, but which happens to be in use today; the players unpack their bags and shower. After the players exit, Dexter cranks up the heat up in the room and positions several fans on the floor to circulate hot air to dry the wet gear out overnight. The laundry bin is then brought to a set of washing machines and dryers near the Swamp Rabbits locker room, where Swamp Rabbits equipment manager Shawn Thorns and his staff will wash all of the items and have them returned to the Solar Bears the following day, ready to be used again at morning skate.

On Friday morning, the hockey operations staff will make their way to the game rink ahead of the players and transfer all of the equipment into the proper locker room prior to morning skate at 11:15 a.m. and the process will begin again, albeit in a more traditional fashion.

Tomorrow, the Solar Bears will open up a three-in-three set that will take them from Greenville to Jacksonville, and then back to Greenville, covering a distance of 366 miles in each direction, and plenty of hours on the team bus in between.

But for now, it’s 10:15 a.m., and the Solar Bears are done for the day.

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