The SteelHounds suffered many injuries during their inaugural season.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- During the final weeks of the Youngstown SteelHounds' inaugural season, season-ticket holders might have thought that the home team's bench at the Chevrolet Centre was expanding.
But the reason that the SteelHounds' bench appeared roomier is that the team rarely skated a full contingent of 16 forwards and defensemen permitted in the Central Hockey League.
Injuries took a major toll on the SteelHounds last winter. Bus travel was a factor in leg injuries and conditioning.
Kevin Kaminski, the SteelHounds' new coach, is aware of the deluge of injuries that plagued the expansion ice hockey team and has plans to prevent a recurrence.
"Travel is a concern," SteelHounds owner Herb Washington said. "Travel is travel, we just happen to be [the team] furthest east. Last year, they had some long trips [but] there were a few times we flew."
While most SteelHounds executives would rather visit the dentist for a root canal than talk about the team's extensive travel, Kaminski says he intends to give his players more workouts by breaking up bus trips.
As quick as possible
That was not the case last season when Jean Laforest was the coach.
Chris Richards, the CHL's fourth-leading scorer in 2005-06, said that the team's primary goal last winter was to get to their road games and back as quickly as possible.
"We stopped [occasionally] but for the most part we just tried to get to our destination a day ahead of time and then hit the gym and the rink," Richards said.
In August, Laforest, the SteelHounds' coach for their expansion season, resigned and was replaced by Kaminski in September.
Kaminski's SteelHounds remain the only CHL team based in the Eastern Time Zone. The majority of league teams are in the Desert Southwest.
"Travel is not going to bother me," Kaminski said. "What we really have to do is plan the trips right, make sure we are physically and mentally prepared as professionals for these long trips.
"If we have to stop along the way to have a morning skate somewhere, to get the legs out from under us, then we'll do that or stop in a gym somewhere," Kaminski said. "Conditioning is going to be a big factor for us.
"When the third period comes around, we're going to be a team that just takes over."
Like last season, most of the SteelHounds' trips will be by bus. (Many of the CHL teams who made one visit to Youngstown for a weekend series utilized air travel).
More workouts on the way to and from Ohio makes sense to Richards.
"It's probably a good idea, especially a morning stop when you've been traveling through the night, whether it's just a jog or a walk," Richards said. "Just to get your legs moving and [shed the effects of] the junk you've been eating on the whole bus ride out."
The good news for the SteelHounds is that they have a few less one-night stands this season (followed by late-night travel to the next city).
This weekend, they played twice in Memphis.
"We're looking at flying on some of our trips this year," Washington said.
"We're looking for an affiliation with airlines that would really make flying easier."