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Pack then play

Xbox, cribbage board, iPod, e-book - and slapshot

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By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / January 16, 2011

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Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic takes pride in packing light for road trips. He grabs a laptop case from his bedroom closet and calls it his “main travel bag,’’ filling it with a toothbrush, toiletries, shorts, T-shirt, underwear, and socks. He usually leaves his computer at home.

Yet, when asked for packing advice, Lucic said, “Don’t be afraid to take more than you need.’’ He learned that lesson the hard way.

“I used to only take my suit, so all I’d have for the hotel was my underwear,’’ said Lucic. “The guys would be like, ‘Let’s meet up in a room’ and I’d be the only guy sitting there in my underwear. No shirt, no dress shirt, just my underwear. That was kind of awkward.’’

The National Hockey League season provides ample opportunity for teachable travel moments from forgotten passports to, well, delicately put, overripe dress shirts.

This season, the Bruins will take 27 road trips and cross international borders 18 times. That includes the 10-day trip to Prague that started the team’s 82-game regular season, as well as a recently-completed five-game, 10-day trip that started in Sunrise, Fla., and finished in Toronto.

The Bruins will log more than 45,000 airline miles this season, albeit on chartered flights. And equipment managers will lug roughly 50 bags filled with game uniforms, skates, pads, sticks, and practice gear wherever the team goes.

The players generally keep it simple, pack light, and leave such items as chargers and iPod speakers in their carry-on bags between trips. They try to stick to a routine, even if that translates to last-minute packing.

“I have it down to where everything is ready to go all of the time,’’ said forward Blake Wheeler. “It’s pretty easy. Not much thinking has to go into it. All I ever have to do is put my toiletries in my bag or pack a shirt or two.’’ And remember to bring the 20-inch Xbox monitor and two controllers he takes to “help pass the time’’ on planes.

While the average traveler doesn’t pack an Xbox setup in his carry-on, the Bruins still deal with common travel challenges. Like Lucic, they find experience leads to expertise.

“I don’t lay everything out on the bed and track the days,’’ said forward Shawn Thornton. “I just try to be organized. I’m just old or experienced. When you play in the minors, where sometimes you have 22-day road trips, you learn how to pack.’’

Earlier this season, in a move worthy of a player with 15 years of combined NHL and minor league experience, Thornton used a limo to transport a forgotten passport from the team’s Toronto hotel to the airport. The passport arrived well before the team plane was ready to take off.

“It took about 25 minutes, so it wasn’t that big of a deal,’’ said Thornton. “But I was in full panic mode. I hate being late and holding anybody up. I hate being that guy. It was the one time in 15 years I’ve forgotten my passport. I don’t know what happened. I put my passport on top of my iPod to make sure I wouldn’t forget it. I must have just set it back down.’’

And there are other so-called travel essentials players don’t like leaving behind.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk keeps his cribbage board packed between trips, tucked into the side pocket of his suit bag. “It’s so I never forget it,’’ he said, pulling out the wooden game board, then quickly returning it. A handful of teammates play cribbage for in-flight entertainment. If he left the board at home, Boychuk would never hear the end of it. He received the board as a gift from teammate Marc Savard under the condition that it come on every road trip.

Mark Recchi, at 42 the oldest active player in the league, always brings a book. (To be fair, his Kindle is broken.) General manager Peter Chiarelli won’t go on the road without his portable satellite radio. Matt Chmura, Bruins director of communications, keeps collar stays close at hand.

On the road, the Bruins follow a strict dress code, requiring suits on planes and buses and whenever players venture outside the team hotel. While some pro basketball players might bring a closet’s worth of suits for an extended trip, many of the Bruins try to economize. Sometimes it’s one suit for a pair of road games. Sometimes it’s one suit and an extra pair of closely matched dress pants for slightly longer trips.

“I didn’t pack as many suits when I was younger,’’ said Recchi. “Then, that first day you get in and you spill. You’ve got a huge stain on your suit and you’re like, oh, my God. You look like a slob. So, I tend to lean toward the dark suits when we travel. It makes it a little easier.’’

The Bruins also pointed toward proper luggage as something that makes travel easier, whether a duffel or suit bag.

Of course, the players don’t do the heavy lifting — that’s left to the equipment managers. They are responsible for transporting everything needed for games and practices, finding themselves in a nearly nonstop cycle of unpacking, laundry, and repacking.

The two-person traveling equipment staff makes sure the 50 bags (including 25 game bags for the players), eight trunks (two with video gear for film sessions and game analysis, two with medical supplies, four with tape and tools for skates and sticks), and two massage tables get from city to city.

“It’s unbelievable what we take, and every team does it,’’ said Jim Johnson, assistant equipment manager. “I think on the plane a lot: Did I remember that?’’

If not, there’s always FedEx.

For the players, the equipment managers and trainer can be backups, bringing everything from extra pairs of skates to spare contact lenses. A shortage of socks or ties usually necessitates a shopping trip. On his first road trip with the Bruins, Lucic went to California with clothes better suited for colder climates. He went on a shopping spree, buying shorts and golf shirts. Chiarelli once arrived at the annual general managers’ meetings having forgotten his suit pants. He had to scramble to buy a pair and find a tailor.

“As much free time as you have, when you’ve got something to do of that magnitude on the road, it throws you all off schedule,’’ said Chiarelli. “It happened at one of those resort places. They had a fancy pants shop, so I had to fork over a ton of money for a pair of pants. I remember trying to find another place.

“It came out OK, but it’s a little frightening when you open up your bag and you don’t have any pants. Some people have dreams where they’re walking around naked or in their underwear. I was living it.’’

For Thornton, a forgotten cellphone charger only requires a trip to the front desk. The veteran learned that many hotels keep a collection of left-behind chargers for guests to take, advice he has passed along.

Assistant coach Doug Houda found it helpful on a recent road trip. Much else has changed since Houda traveled as a player.

“When I was younger and flew commercial, some of the veterans used to open up your bag when it was going around the carousel,’’ said Houda, 44. “You might be standing over in a corner at the airport and next thing you know here comes your bag and your dirty underwear on the carousel. People are just laughing at you. I think that’s happened to a lot of us over the years. That used to be quite the event.’’

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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