Blackhawks not worried about succumbing to the ‘Vegas Flu’
GLENDALE, Ariz. — On Feb. 1, 2009, first-year Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville unleashed his young and rowdy players on Las Vegas, giving them a day to blow off steam between games in San Jose and Edmonton during the annual ‘‘ice-show trip.’’
It became a nearly annual bonding side trip, but that first one was special. The Hawks watched the Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at a team party at the posh Bellagio, then did exactly what you’d expect a bunch of rich kids in their early 20s to do, raging deep into the night and the early hours.
‘‘We just blew our brains out for two days,’’ Adam Burish recalled with a laugh. ‘‘We went crazy.’’
Ask any former Hawks player about the practice the next day, and you’ll get one of two reactions: a laugh or a cringe. Seemingly half the team was sweating pure alcohol as the players trudged through a workout before hopping a flight to Edmonton. The Hawks beat the Oilers, it’s worth pointing out. Beat the Flames two nights later, too.
Well, the Hawks had a Sunday off in Las Vegas again. And they’ll have a practice Monday. It undoubtedly will be a little tamer this time around. For one thing, the veterans pretty much have retired as party animals, and this new generation of NHL players is more likely to play video games than paint the town red. For another, this isn’t a mini-break in the middle of a long trip. For the first time, Las Vegas is a business trip, with a game against the expansion Golden Knights looming Tuesday.
‘‘We’ve got a pretty respectful group as far as knowing, ‘Game’s on,’ ’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Guys are smart.’’
The Golden Knights have been quite a surprise early, winning six of their first seven games. Way back in 2014, when the Knights were just a neon gleam in commissioner Gary Bettman’s eye, Jonathan Toews joked Vegas might have the best home record in the league. If the so-called Roxy Flu — named for a popular club in Vancouver — could wreak so much havoc on visiting teams for so many years, imagine what the Vegas Flu could do.
But on the eve of his first game trip to Las Vegas, Toews didn’t sound too concerned.
‘‘It’s a good thing our team has experience going to Vegas here and there and having some fun team outings and bonding, having some laughs, enjoying ourselves,’’ Toews said. ‘‘When we get back to the rink on Monday, it’ll be time to really make sure we’re physically and mentally ready for that game on Tuesday.’’
The Hawks have changed quite a bit since those early years of their turnaround, and the league has, too. Between a healthy fear of social media and pro athletes’ obsession with proper nutrition, smoothies and protein shakes are far more prevalent these days than beers and shots.
‘‘The good thing about this team is everyone’s professional and knows about taking care of their bodies and preparing nights before games,’’ defenseman Connor Murphy said. ‘‘[Vegas] is a big party town. But for the guys here, it’s business.’’
That’s not to say the Hawks aren’t looking forward to having two days off in Las Vegas. Whether it’s sitting by the pool, squeezing in a round of golf or throwing some money around at a table, it’s a welcome change of pace from the typical grind of the NHL season.
‘‘That’s the great thing about playing in the NHL: Sometimes on the road, you have some fun with your teammates,’’ Toews said. ‘‘And I think that’s what makes the game so enjoyable, that camaraderie. But when it’s time to go to work, we’ve got to be professionals about it and be ready.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.