As the Toronto Marlies begin their stretch drive through the closing weeks of the season and into what they hope is a lengthy playoff run, it’s time to focus on the man who gets them from a to b. In the coaching world that man would be Dallas Eakins. In the travel world that man is our bus driver, Casey.
Casey started driving hockey specific trips for Great Canadian Coach lines ten years ago. As he remembers, it was a long first season, then with the Marlies arch rival: the Hamilton Bulldogs.
“I did not know anything about the AHL. I was a true NHL fan. My season started that year in September and Hamilton ended up going to game 7 of the Calder Cup finals, which brought the year to an end in mid June. I asked myself at season’s end if I wanted to do this every year, but thankfully I came back for the next season and I haven’t looked back from there.”
Eventually Casey would get his wits about him and start driving for a Toronto based team. It was not the Marlies, however, instead the Road Runners.
“It was funny because I worked for Hamilton the year they had a split affiliation between Montreal and Edmonton. The next year Edmonton moved their franchise to Toronto to become the Road Runners. I did two years with them at the Ricoh Coliseum before transitioning into the Marlies gig.”
Part of the Marlies family for seven years now, Casey has become a familiar face around the rink for generations of players and coaches and can relate to the team’s slogan this year: every game is a tryout.
“Including some work with OHL teams and now in the AHL, I have seen a total of nine coaches move on to the NHL. I’ve met many hard working people behind the scenes, including training and equipment staff, of which 8 have made the jump to the show. The list also includes 3 PR people. There’s good news for you too, Jon, I’ve traveled with two radio guys who have progressed to the NHL. Maybe you’ll be my third!”
While Casey has been part of many Marlie teams made up of great people from head to toe, one player stands out when asked which was his favourite to move from rink to rink.
“I would say James Reimer is one of my all time favourites. Over the years I have seen a lot of players come and go. Some have retired, or have moved to Europe to play. But those that have stuck at the NHL, especially in Toronto, are always fun to keep track of. I see those guys the odd time around the rink, and try to keep up with them by talking with them on the computer. If I happen to be traveling through their home town in the summer, often I’ll try to meet up and have lunch, or something, just to keep in touch.”
While Casey has many fond memories of past road trips, including one that Leafs GM Brian Burke made from Grand Rapids to Toronto, it is a different Michigan journey that stands out when asked how many battles he’s had with the weather.
“Years ago we were driving from Rochester, New York to Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was such a bad snow storm that we considered staying over in Toledo. However, we made it to Cleveland and decided to keep going. It was white knuckling the whole way, but we arrived safe and sound. I take pride in making sure everyone is safe. We’re like a family. The friendships that we develop over the year progress into the one that follows. When rookies become veterans over the years, it just continues the great relationships. The season moves so quickly, before you know it is September and it’s old home week, asking how everyone’s family is doing and welcoming back the guys for another year.”
The Marlie family spends a great deal of time on the bus and a rough estimate (likely low) is 20 thousand KM’s traveled each regular season. While that is a lot of time spent between the lines, Casey would be overjoyed to take the team on a ride that brings the Calder Cup to Toronto.
“I bleed blue. I really enjoy the organization, it is first class. I love helping out behind the scenes with the trainers and equipment staff (Henny, Will, Nick, Tom, Paul) when we load and unload the bus. Everyone from the coaching staff to the office staff are so great to deal with. I would love to pack the Calder Cup on the front seat of the bus and bring it home. Just to reach out and touch it and know that the Marlies are champs would be a true joy.”
Casey, my friend, that would deserve a victory lap.
Thanks for logging on and reading my blog. With only three road trips to go, I know the hockey club is looking forward to post season travel and I’ll enjoy bringing you further insight into the Marlies as they push towards the playoffs. Until next time…..