03/17/2004 9:46 AM - When it comes to life away from Van Andel Arena, there are some things that test the patience of professional hockey players.
Story and photos by Mark Newman
Darryl Bootland isn't likely to ever become a spokesman for Frommer's, Fodor's or even AAA.
Simply put, the Griffins' popular winger doesn't care if he ever stays in another hotel again in his life.
I hate all hotels, Bootland says. After three months up and down last year, training camp in a hotel and two months in Detroit this year, I've had enough.
Chances are Bootland has hundreds of nights in hotels ahead as he pursues his dream of playing regularly in the NHL. Like it or not, every professional hockey player will spend half of his career on the road.
Griffiti magazine quizzed Griffins players and staff on what they like -- and dislike -- about life away from Van Andel Arena. Not surprisingly, there were a few things they agreed upon, and more than a few things about which they have a difference of opinions. For the sake of impartiality, players couldn't list anything pertaining to Grand Rapids for their choices.
As far as their favorite travel destinations during the hockey season, it's pretty simple. All they're looking for is a little sun, according to Griffins captain Travis Richards.
It's nice to have weather where you can play golf if you want, Richards says. Adds teammate Kory Karlander: Any time you live in a winter climate, it's nice when you go to a southern city where it's warm.
San Antonio and Houston , naturally, were the two most popular AHL cities among the Griffins. San Antonio , with its quaint downtown Riverwalk area near The Alamo, was the runaway favorite.
It's got a bit of a surreal atmosphere, Karlander says. With all the shops, bars and restaurants, and the tour boats on the river, it really comes alive with the nightlife.
The Riverwalk has all the amenities to make a road trip enjoyable, says Griffins trainer Rob Snitzer.
Naturally, the nearby hotel in San Antonio got high marks from the players. Veteran Derek King says that Adam's Mark has good beds. What defines a good bed in the mind of a hockey player who wants to rest his weary bones?
They're big and thick, King says, noting that they're the kind that don't sag in the middle, where you wake up in the morning and you've got the bad back going before the game.
Chicago 's Sheraton Suites, although not the first choice of most players, probably earns the strongest raves. Goaltender Joey MacDonald says the hotel has the best beds in the league. The hotel also ranked as the favorite of Dave Van Drunen and Kevin Miller.
Everything about their beds -- the mattress, the sheets, pillows -- is unbelievable, MacDonald says. I get the best sleep ever. I just want to go there and buy everything off that bed.
When you get to the hotel after a long bus ride, it's nice to hit a bed where you can fall asleep right away, Van Drunen says. Sometimes sleep is the No. 1 ingredient to a successful game.
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Next to getting a good night's sleep, finding a good meal is the second most important pursuit on the road.
Generally speaking, Oriental food rates highly on the players' menu a change of pace from all the pasta and chicken they usually eat when they're at home.
Tokyohana Grill & Sushi Bar in Houston is the top choice. We always go there, says Michel Picard, who has made numerous trips to the Texas city over the years. We always get the same cook -- he even knows us. They have good sushi, good steaks.
Morton's Steakhouse, which is located in various cities, is another popular stop for the players. They have good steaks, of course, but they have a really nice wine list, too, says King, a wine connoisseur who became a regular at the establishment during his NHL playing days.
P.F. Chang's China Bistro, another restaurant found in many cities, also earns high praise, even though the players can encounter a 90-minute wait for a table in Houston .
It's worth the wait, says Griffins trainer Rob Snitzer. If you like Chinese, the food is unbelievable and it's fairly inexpensive. It's a chain restaurant without the chain attitude.
Occasionally, hockey players will find a favorite spot away off the beaten path. Griffins general manager Bob McNamara has been frequenting Jay's Oyster Bar in Portland , Maine , since his playing days.
It's a little hole in the wall at the end of a pier, McNamara says. It's like the local seadog hangout -- there are very few tourists. You're surrounded by guys who just came in from fishing trips on the ocean.
When the Griffins fly, the team never minds going through the airport in Minneapolis-St. Paul. They have a lot of great food options -- it's all we care about, Richards says. Plus, it's in Minnesota . (Ed.- his home state)
Some Griffins like Chicago 's O'Hare best, but more disliked America 's busiest airport. It's a second road trip from one gate to another, says Griffins broadcaster Bob Kaser.
Nobody is too fond of the Houston airport, which has been renamed George Bush Intercontinental, where it's always a case of hurry up and wait. There's always a big line at security, Picard says.
Like most people, hockey players aren't crazy about flying, but it sure beats those long bus rides. Asked to pick a favorite, the Griffins narrowly favor Northwest over United Airlines.
Northwest people are always helpful, says equipment manager Brad Thompson, who is responsible for getting the Griffins gear safely from one city to the next. They're the nicest airline to deal with.
Houston 's Toyota Center garnered the most votes for best visiting locker room, in part, because of having amenities like televisions. The fact that it's a new rink registered highly with the players. Every shower works and you've got hot water right away, King says, noting that hot water is sometimes in short supply at other arenas.
You go in some rinks and there are four showers and only one works, so everybody's got to take turns, King says. Somtimes you've got to start the showers after the second period, so you've got some hot water by the time the game's over.
Utah 's E Center also grades high. It's better than some home team locker rooms in other cities, Snitzer says.
On the other hand, the players dislike going to the Cincinnati Gardens , an aging facility that was built in 1949. It's old and worn out, Karlander says. Griffins head coach Danton Cole dislikes everything about the arena
Binghamton 's Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena doesn't score any points with the Griffins' medical trainer. It's a user-unfriendly facility, Snitzer says. They have no training room -- I have to do treatments on a table out in the hall.
For good ice, it helps if the air is cold and humidity is low. It's no surprise that the Manitoba Moose play on the best ice, while the Griffins say the San Antonio Rampage have the worst.
There's some good ice in this league, but it's tougher when you play down south where it's hot, Van Drunen says. Naturally, they have pretty good ice people in Winnipeg.
In San Antonio , the ice is a little bit softer. When it gets slushy, it becomes harder to control the puck, you get snow on your stick and the puck tends to bounce a little more. It's harder to skate, too."
The Griffins played in Wilkes-Barre for the first time during the playoffs last season and they were impressed by the level of fan support. I'd never seen anything like it, Richards says. It was crazy how loud it was. It was definitely an advantage for the home team.
Kaser split his vote between Chicago and Wilkes-Barre . My ears ring for two days after leaving those arenas, the Griffins broadcaster says. Chicago fans are loud and always into the game, according to defenseman Aaron Schneekloth.
The same can't be said for Cleveland , where the attendance is disappointing. The lack of support makes it a dreary place to play, Van Drunen says
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