Most NHL players have reasonable commutes to work during the hockey season. But their commutes back to their NHL cities at the end of summer can be somewhat arduous. Few players remain in their NHL cities over the summer; most return to their homes at various points around the globe. For European players, it’s a long and sometimes uncomfortable flight back to the States for the start of the season. Most of those flights are over in less than 10 hours, though. Lots of players coming from western Canada face drives twice as long as those flights, and those drives generally take more than one day on the road.
This fall, we’re taking a look at some of those commutes back to D.C. Today, it’s Garrett Mitchell’s 2,000-mile journey from his hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan to the District. Mitchell made the drive solo.
“It was just over 2,000 miles,” notes the Caps rookie right wing. “It was like 32 hours. The first day I got up at 6:30 a.m. and left around 7. I got through Chicago and drove until about 3 a.m. Eastern time, until I was just in Indiana. So it was about 19 hours the first day, but I still had 700 miles left, still quite a hike left to go.”
When you’re driving by yourself, a 19-hour drive covering about 1,300 miles is quite an undertaking. Caffeine is a given, and Mitchell likes coffee a lot. He left home with a thermos full of Tim Horton’s, but used it sparingly because of an unwelcome side effect: extra pit stops.
“I’m a big coffee guy,” begins Mitchell, “but I try to stay away from coffee because then I’ve got to go to the bathroom. I try to get through a full tank [of gasoline] before I stop. That gives me about 430 miles or a little bit more than that depending on how it goes.”
Mitchell’s driving routine consists of a steady diet of country music, and a personal alternative to help keep him alert.
“I think I listened to every country music song there is on the radio,” he says. “My saving grace was Sirius/XM. I had it set on that one channel and then let it go. It really was my saving grace. And then some sunflowers seeds when I’d start to get tired – some spit. That’s my little trick to stay awake, eat some sunflower seeds. It keeps you awake, keeps you doing something all the time.”
Like most of his teammates, Mitchell does his best to eat healthy in the largely unhealthy environment of interstate rest stops.
“I try to get something quick but at the same time healthy,” he says. “I had Subway twice and Chipotle once. You try to stay a little healthy but at the same time its tough to eat super healthy when you’re driving because everything is fast food.”
That’s not easy to do, but the right wing was pleased to find a culinary favorite of his along the way.
“You always have your rest stop signs,” notes Mitchell. “I saw the Chipotle signs and that’s something that we don’t have in Canada and something that I really like down here. I jumped on that one right away. Subways are all over the place. Almost every rest stop has one so those are easy to get to.”
Spending double-digit hours behind the wheel is tough on the body, even when that body belongs to a young and very athletic individual.
“Those are some long sits in the car there,” acknowledges Mitchell. “The first couple of days getting back is just about getting your feet underneath you. Being able to come out here and skate, the first day I didn’t feel very good.
“It’s starting to come back. When you go over 2,000 miles, it’s definitely weird. When you get out of the car, your legs get stiff. I wanted to skate the first day and get a good skate in. That’s kind of why I wanted to come in early, a little bit before camp, just to get my feet underneath me and make sure I’m ready to go.”