HUB CITY NOTES: Bubble troubles less painful than making Hub City exit

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Robert Tychkowski  Post Media

Living in a bubble is a tough gig that nobody likes. Why do you think fish usually float to the top within the first year of moving in?

But for NHL players, the only thing worse than being trapped in a hub city biosphere is being kicked out of it. Staying in the playoffs, even if it means watching the hotel room walls slowly closing in on them, is all that matters.

“I think you get cabin fever a little bit,” said Vegas Knights forward Reilly Smith. “There’s not a lot of sunlight or grass that you get to see.”

Aside from the obvious — not being able to see family and friends — bubble dwellers find themselves missing out on some of the most basic elements of freedom.

“It really is a study in human nature,” said Vegas coach Pete DeBoer, who spends most of his day in a windowless meeting room. “It really is interesting, some of the things you crave. Things like fresh air and windows. We do have access to those things, but we don’t have the immediate access that you do when you’re living your normal life.”

The intense boredom of being limited to a hotel, arena and concrete courtyard for a month, with another month to go for the lucky ones, seems to be the biggest challenge facing everyone. They do what they can to stay amused with video games, cards, movies and occasional trips to Commonwealth Stadium to play soccer or football, but it can only divert their attention for so long.

“It kind of feels like a long road trip for us,” added Dallas Stars centre Radek Faska. “The NHL did a pretty good job with the set up, but mentally it’s tough to be doing the same routine every day. But we enjoy being together and it’s playoff hockey, it’s what we play hockey for, so hopefully we’ll go far.”

That’s just it: As much as bubble life drives them crazy sometimes, nobody wants to leave. At least, not until the job is done.

“No one is complaining, this is what we all signed up for,” said Stars coach Rick Bowness. “There’s no other place we’d rather be than right here, playing playoff hockey.”

ROLE MODEL

Vegas defenceman Zach Whitecloud is well aware he has become a role model for indigenous people in Canada and the United States. The 23-year-old member of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Manitoba and says response to his hockey evolution was almost immediate.

“Right when I left (for college in Minnesota), I started having people reach out from back home, people started to show their support,” he said.

“Then I started hearing from people from other areas of Canada who wanted to show their support. Other areas of Minnesota, too. I have a good grasp on where I’m at as a role model for my people. Hearing everyone’s support is huge for me, a reminder that everyone is watching and I’m making people proud back home.”

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INSTANT IMPRESSION

It didn’t take Jay Beagle very long to realise that the Vancouver Canucks had something different in defenceman Quinn Hughes.

“I almost saw that immediately,” said the Canucks veteran. “It wasn’t one of those things that you see over time, a month in you could see that he’s a special player.”

Beagle spent eight seasons watching Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson do similar things in Washington, and while he says they are very different players, their similarities are exciting to watch.

“They have an offensive ability that you don’t see too often. It’s going to be really fun to see how he grows.”

NO-FLY ZONE

One of the hidden benefits of contending the playoffs in hub cities is there is no travel. Other than the final two Eastern teams moving from Toronto to Edmonton for the conference finals, nobody ever sees the inside of a plane.

That’s saves an enormous amount of energy, particularly for the Western Conference teams, which have a much tougher travel schedule than they do in the east.

But DeBoer doesn’t think we’re seeing fresher teams as the result of it. Not with a compressed schedule coming on the heels of a long pre-tournament layoff.

“The travel definitely takes a bite out of you,” he said. “The fact we’re not travelling is definitely helpful, but when you factor in the fact we didn’t play hockey for four months and came back on a shortened camp, it probably offsets it. There is real fatigue there with the condensed schedule.”

INTERIM BONES

Bowness has the Stars on a pretty nice playoff run so far, which should bode well for him when it comes to deciding whether or not to remove the interim label from his title. But he isn’t spending any time thinking about it.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “That never enters into it. (General manager) Jim Nill and I have an agreement — we’ll talk about it at the end of the year and that’s all that matters.

“I haven’t given it any thought whatsoever. There’s no time for that. I tell our players to stay in the moment, I want our coaches to stay in the moment as well.”