The Vancouver Canucks had just put in arguably their best and most complete 60-minute performance of the year, but it was clear from his answer — and from the emphasis he placed ahead of the word “long” — that Thatcher Demko was missing home.
“It’s been — phew — a long road trip,” Demko said. “Sometimes these last few games are tough, you’re excited to get home. We’ve been on the road for 13 days now. Everyone is excited to see their families and stuff.”
The Canucks opened the season with a full two-week road trip, which is a bit of a behemoth — even by the exacting standards the NHL calendar imposes on teams in Western Canada. But to their credit, Canucks players remained focused on the task at hand and finished off the trip strong with a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators.
Drance: Canucks’ dominance in Nashville an exclamation mark on a promising start
If it was a long trip for more established Canucks players, the schedule logistics for a trio of newcomers — goaltender Casey DeSmith, forward Sam Lafferty and defenseman Mark Friedman — who were acquired in a trio of trades spanning from mid-September through mid-October were especially daunting.
Relocating families is difficult at the best of times. It can be particularly complicated, however, when you’re scheduled to hit the road for two full weeks within a few weeks of landing in your new home.
“My family is back in North Carolina with my wife’s parents, down in Wilmington,” explained DeSmith, whose family — including his baby daughter Kingsley — have yet to visit Vancouver, even though the Canucks acquired him over a month ago.
For DeSmith, who spent his entire professional hockey career with one organization prior to this summer when he was dealt twice, from Pittsburgh to Montreal and then Montreal to Vancouver, there’s been a lot to wrap his head around.
“I’ve been with one team my whole career, the most movement I’ve had to do is make the drive from Wilkes/Barre to Pittsburgh a couple of times a year, which, you just jump in the car,” DeSmith laughed. “You’re not crossing the border, getting work permits, bank accounts and babies and travel. I mean, you name it. So it’s been challenging for sure.”
And while DeSmith has been able to lean heavily on his in-laws and his wife, he’s also been away from his young family for nearly six weeks while settling in with his new club.
“My family is going to join me only when I get back to Vancouver,” DeSmith explained. “It was kind of good we have a young baby, so I was able to get our apartment situation figured out, find a place, you know, build a nest before they get into town.”
Part of what’s sacrificed by professional hockey players in pursuing the sport is time with family, including critical moments with your newborn daughter. As challenging as that can be, however, the brunt of the sacrifice often falls on the support system of the player, rather than the player themselves.
“Definitely it’s hard, but it’s harder on my wife,” DeSmith noted. “I’m so thankful for her and what she’s done for Kingsley and for me and taking care of her, and obviously her parents too, giving them a place to stay and extra help, extra hands. Letting my wife get some sleep. I mean, it’s been a whirlwind couple of months.”
Lafferty, who was acquired by the Canucks during the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, likewise has a newborn baby. He’s similarly excited to get back into town this week so he can be reunited with his young family.
As challenging as it was to be traded this time around, however, the experience of being dealt right before the opening-day roster deadline and having only a few days to settle in, join a new team and find a furnished rental for him, his wife and his newborn baby, paled in comparison with the complications he faced when he was dealt from Chicago to Toronto at midseason last year.
“Last year when I was dealt it was midseason, my wife was seven months pregnant and we were planning on having the baby in the States,” Lafferty said. “So to cross the border at that time made the whole thing a lot harder. In comparison, this felt like a breeze!”
With his wife back east in Toronto, Lafferty likewise relied heavily on the support of his partner and his extended family as he settled in with his new team despite the challenges that come with caring for a baby.
“There’s a lot of that work behind the scenes, I have to give a lot of credit to my wife and my other family members for that,” Lafferty said. “Shout out to our folks.
“Of course, it’s going to be really nice for everybody to be back together,” Lafferty concluded. “I mean it’s a challenge to go three weeks without seeing each other, but that’s the business and we all make that sacrifice.”
While Lafferty and DeSmith have at least been to Vancouver following their acquisitions, Friedman, the newest Canuck, met the team in Philadelphia last week. Not only has his partner yet to join him, but he hasn’t been able to visit the city himself, aside from several visits as the road team while he was a member of the Penguins organization.
When Friedman spoke with The Athletic about his family’s travel challenges, he, his girlfriend and his dogs Maple and Milo were still working through the precise timing and logistical challenges of their arrival.
“My girlfriend is planning on coming to B.C. when we get back,” Friedman noted. “She’s not going to fly, we’ve never flown with the dogs.
“So she’s going to drive out and it’s 40-plus hours. I think her dad is going to help out and fly back after the drive. But it’s tough, I mean, it’s not an easy drive. We’re in the middle of Pennsylvania and you have to drive all the way across and drive into another country. I don’t even know.”
Vancouver will be the third organization of Friedman’s career, but his previous move — a trans-Pennsylvanian relocation from the Philadelphia Flyers organization to the Penguins — was far less geographically taxing than what his girlfriend and her father have navigated over the past few days.
“She’ll probably get in a day or two after I get back,” Friedman said with a laugh. “There’s no rush, I’d rather she get there safely and with everything, as opposed to forgetting a passport or a dog. So I’ve just been telling her to take her time.”
(Photo of Sam Lafferty: Perry Nelson / USA Today)