New Franchise Heats Up Canadian Hockey

Canada is more enamored than usual with hockey, which is quite a lot, but the Stanley Cup finals are only part of it. Host Scott Simon speaks with former NHL goalie and CBC hockey analyst Kelly Hrudey about Winnipeg's new NHL franchise and the challenges of playing a schedule in the Southeast Division while living in Manitoba, 1,246 miles from their nearest division rival.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Vancouver won the first game of hockey Stanley Cup over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. Vancouver returns to their home ice tonight.

On Tuesday, the National Hockey League announced the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to group that will relocate the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba. That move will eventually require a realigning in the league's conferences and divisions, but next season, the Winnipeg, whatever they're going to call themselves, will stay in the Southeast Division. Thats the Southeast United States. They're going to play games against Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina. Their nearest division rival will be 1,200 miles or more away.

Former NHL goalie Kelly Hrudey is now a hockey analyst for the CBC. He joins us from Vancouver, where he's covering the Stanley Cup Finals. Mr. Hrudey, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. KELLY HRUDEY (Hockey Analyst, CBC, Former NHL Goalie): Yeah. Thanks for the call.

SIMON: So, I mean, they've known this sale has been going on for some time. Why didn't they realign the league?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HRUDEY: I just don't think it's quite that easy. I think on the surface it looks as, oh boy, that doesn't make any sense. I think it happened rather quickly. I suspect that for sure by next year at this same time we'll be talking and everything will be rectified. But you're right, definitely, Scott, it's going to be a hardship for the players.

SIMON: Mr. Hrudey, you played 16 NHL seasons. Help us understand what it's going to be like for that Winnipeg franchise next year.

Mr. HRUDEY: Well, first of all, I think the fan base itself is going to be pretty electric, so the players can feed off that a little bit. But...

SIMON: When playing their home, but they're going to be gone for, like, a month at a time or more.

Mr. HRUDEY: You're right. And having said that, though, because I - I'm going to say, fortunate enough to play in California for 10 of my years in the league, and at that time, especially when I started, we only had one California team - we didn't have Anaheim, we didn't have San Jose to lessen the travel burden.

And so we would be at home for two weeks and then on the road for a full two weeks. And I found that actually, Scott, a little bit easier to a certain degree than when I played out on the east coast. I was with the Islanders.

Let's say, for instance, we had a Saturday home game. We might play Sunday somewhere on the road, home again for Tuesday and on the road again Thursday and then start that routine over. So, it seemed as though, although you're in your own bed more often you're going to the airport more often. And I find that to be really grinding.

SIMON: Well, what about, say, the players for Tampa Bay or Carolina?

Mr. HRUDEY: Yep.

SIMON: Going to be rough on them to make that trip?

Mr. HRUDEY: I think you're right. It will add to their burden for sure. I mean, but you look at some of these teams and what I find so exciting about it is that they actually monitor their sleep habits as much as for the regular people, like you and I that aren't in the same physical shape that the players, I think it adds to the jetlag and so on. But these guys are so good and the medical people around them are so good adjusting to that, that I don't think it will be as big an issue as it would have been 20 years ago, that's for sure.

SIMON: 'Cause 20 years ago, you just, what, could get on the plane and, forgive me, have a few brews?

Mr. HRUDEY: That's the point I'm trying to make and you're exactly right, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HRUDEY: These guys, they're so well-conditioned, they understand what you put into your body post-game, and that sort of stuff just doesn't go on any more.

And I can relate a little bit of a story. I was on one of the team charters about three of four years ago, I guess, and it was right near the holiday season. And this particular team was going to have some days off coming up. And so it was short flight but they landed in their city. And I asked the flight attendant how many beers did you bring on and how many do you have left? And she said, we came onboard with 48 and they had 47 left when they landed.

SIMON: CBC's Kelly Hrudey speaking from Vancouver. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. HRUDEY: Anytime, Scott.

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