Morning followed too quickly after a loss the night before. Outside a Vancouver hotel, the frosty air bit and formed little cartoon balloons when anyone spoke.
However, not many of the Washington Capitals were talking much. They squinted against the day, thumbed through newspapers and waited for the bus, which was late, to take them to the airport for another trip to another game in another town in another season.
Life on the road is praised in song by Willie Nelson. ("On the road again, I just can't wait to get on the road again . . . ") Office-trapped fans, who journey to the beach a few times a year, envy this existence of constant travel, probably envisioning first-class accomodations, fabulous meals and a glittering night life.
"Oh, it certainly is glamorous," said Coach Bryan Murray with a sarcastic grin. He was standing in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport with his team, awaiting a connecting flight to Winnipeg. "You can see all the airports, buses, arenas and hotel walls you want. Very glamorous."
As he spoke, a dozen or so players wandered off into the main terminal, in search of reading material -- a week-old Sporting News is available -- and one of those terrific meals. "Not bad, eh?" asked Gaetan Duchesne, gesturing at a hot dog and a soft drink.
Boarding the flight to Winnipeg, Ken Houston asked a flight attendant for a deck of cards. Not that he travels without his own, since in-flight card games are a staple of hockey travel. "Christmas is coming and they're good stocking stuffers," he said. This time, the stockings went unstuffed, since Northwest Orient neglected to pack any cards.
Craig Laughlin looked at the first-class seating before walking to the rear of the plane and promised he'll speak to the team owner about upgrading the Capitals' travel arrangements.
"He does that, he'll be going first class on a bus," Murray muttered.
The hockey circuit is dotted with outposts like Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, cities few U.S. citizens know much about, and anyone expecting the western Canadian equivalent of New York or Washington will be jolted. There is no Georgetown in Calgary.
Winnipeg, where the Capitals began a four-city trek, is drizzly and freezing, its landscape blurred like a drippy watercolor done by a 3-year-old.
Although downtown Winnipeg may offer acceptable cuisine and tourist attractions, the Capitals are bunking in a small, cinder-block-walled hotel hard by the arena, in a setting that looks more like an industrial park in East Rutherford, N.J., than a corner of Canada.
"Nice weather for this time of year here," said Pat Riggin. "Usually it's all snow and a lot colder." Riggin was sitting in the hotel lobby before practice. He's glad to be on the road again, he said, simply to break up the routine at home. The Riggins recently became parents for the first time, and he has been absorbed by the baby.
"This morning at 4 o'clock, I even woke up Jenny (roommate Al Jensen), but he didn't want to be fed," Riggin said.
During a home stand, the players' days follow a slightly different pattern, according to Riggin. "You go to practice, you come home, you go to a game," he said. "Now, instead, you might go out and have a few beers with the boys."
Or even go bowling. After the day's skate -- even on game days, hockey players practice -- Riggin, Dennis Maruk, Randy Holt, Ted Bulley and Mike Gartner rented shoes at the bowling alley adjacent to the hotel coffee shop.
Along with senior citizens and teeny boppers, the Capitals spent the afternoon trying to avoid gutter balls. "It's better than sleeping during the day," Maruk said.
Although some players did take game-day naps, others strolled aimlessly around the shopping mall across from the Winnipeg rink. "You really don't want to stare at your hotel room walls," Maruk said. "You want to keep a little busy."
Later that evening, the Capitals were plenty busy, struggling back from a 2-0 deficit for a 3-3 tie.
"You still going to bowl?" someone asked Maruk, who answered seriously, "Oh, sure."
As the Capitals left Winnipeg the next day, the rain had turned to powdered sugar snow, and windshield wipers were frozen stiff. On a 10-minute trip to the airport, past streets named "Yukon" and "Sargent," the city looked and felt like a hard winter is Winnipeg's next opponent.
Vancouver, the Capitals' next stop, normally is like a cold rain forest. But the night before the game it snowed and game day broke bright and sunny. Grouse Mountain, a white-capped beauty, overlooks the city and the bay, turning a view from downtown into a gigantic postcard.
For six dollars, anyone can ride a gondola to the mountain's peak and ski or sigh over the sights below. But the Capitals had no time or inclination for that. They boarded a bus to practice, and skated through familiar drills in another unfamiliar rink.
Later they checked the hotel newsstand for different magazines, but the same old covers stared back. A Sunday New York Times costs $4.95, but Scott Stevens chose a Hockey News and a candy bar.
Maybe the Capitals should have gone bowling Sunday night. A 3-0 lead disappeared into a 5-3 victory for Vancouver.
The loss still hurt the next morning on the bus ride to the Vancouver airport. A cloud hovered around the middle of Grouse Mountain, but no one looked back to enjoy the scenery. No one wanted to look back at the game, either.
Murray, disgusted with the officiating and his players' lack of consistency, said little. The players checked their bags, boarded an almost-empty Air Canada flight and plugged in their portable stereo headsets to hide briefly from the world.
Even though the Calgary Stampede, the Super Bowl of rodeos, doesn't take place until July, there already were signs advertising it. There also were posters from past Stampedes in evidence, as well as calendars, post cards and caps. Anyone who misses the Stampede just isn't looking.
The Capitals took a long, hard practice when they arrived from Vancouver. The Stampede Corral, home of the Flames, is just across from the under-construction Saddledome.
"It really does look like the Centre (Capital Centre)," said Bobby Carpenter, gazing that the structure. "Did they do it on purpose?"
Murray ran the players through a nonstop skate, then called a closed-door meeting. He was not pleased with the results of this first long trip of the season.
Milan Novy came out from the meeting and just shook his head. "Playing no good." A couple of Capitals watched the Flames practice for a few minutes.
Gartner and Carpenter were talking about the Jetsons, a space-age cartoon series years ago. They say team broadcaster Ron Weber looks like George Jetson, who worked for the mythical Spacely Sprockets.
"Okay, what was their competititon?" Gartner asked. "What was his wife's name?" (The Jetson dog was Astro, according to Carpenter, who even remembers the theme song.) Weber never has seen the show, so doesn't know how to take the comparison. "TV trivia," Gartner said smiling, "but all I know is the cartoons."
Rod Langway, team captain, ordered the bus driver back to the hotel, and reminded his teammates to "meet in the lobby, everybody, 5 o'clock." Originally, Murray had planned to take the entire team to dinner in Vancouver "as a reward," but the reward was delayed. Now Langway is bankrolling the operation, getting the Capitals out on the town in Calgary. "I got the cash," he yelled. "Don't anybody forget."
But don't think Langway really was buying. "(General Manager) David (Poile) and the coach paid," said Carpenter later, after dinner at a downtown Italian restaurant. "No, I guess it was the season ticket holders' treat. They paid. Thanks."
Good Italian food turned out to be the singular highlight of the Capitals' stay in Calgary. The Flames, who should have been exhausted from a lengthy trip of their own, took the game away from Washington, leaving the visitors with just one more chance to escape Canada with more than one point.
Carpenter, Duchesne, Novy and Jensen stopped at the hotel coffee shop for a postgame meal, driving the middle-aged waitress crazy with requests to hold the tomatoes, or add tomatoes, or bring another ginger ale. Novy has developed a fondness for Fresca. "But is that the drink of Czechoslovakia?" Duchesne asked, and Novy admitted that Coke or Pepsi, at more than a dollar a shot, is the favorite. "Did you know they have diet Coke now?" someone asked.
They didn't discuss the game.
A cheerless Calgary morning brought another bus ride, en route to a quick plane trip to Edmonton. Murray, who had smiled so rarely on this trip, shook his head when he started to discuss officiating in the NHL. He didn't want to gripe too much, but said, "Playing against the pretty good teams in their buildings, you're just not going to win that often, particularly if these guys (officials) won't let you. You'll never catch a break."
The Capitals could have used a break in Edmonton -- that's the city north of everywhere, just off the map -- where Wayne Gretzky is a built-in home-ice advantage.
In Edmonton, there is a place called Boston Pizza, one of what seem to be millions of fast-food stops along the road to Northlands Coliseum. Too cold for more snow, but remnants of the last storm were everywhere, the sooty, brownish clumps that give snow a bad name.
Because the Capitals arrived around midday, there was no practice, just a quick lunch as a team, and a few hours wait. No shopping malls or bowling alleys provide distraction here.
The hotel, a red-brick high-rise that stretched just seven stories, offered two views: the parking lot of the Coliseum, and the street in back of the parking lot.
Almost freeze-dried in vending machines, the local "Edmonton Journal" acknowledged the Capitals' presence in one sentence: "Washington Capitals appear on their way to their first respectable season and that could be trouble for Edmonton Oilers."
Canadians always refer to teams as "Winnipeg Jets" or "Washington Capitals": the article "the" is seldom a part of the Canadian form of English. Anyone not used to this space-saving ploy, when reading or hearing such reports, has his brain skip, like a scratched record.
After their game against Edmonton, the Capitals trekked back to their hotel, briefly pondering their four-game results. The next morning they assembled in the hotel lobby, stowed their bags on a bus and rolled through the premorning frost.
They carried no mental snapshots of exotic cities, or memories of scenic tours, just a vague feeling of having done this before. And knowing they'll be at it again too soon.