SHENZHEN, China — After overnight flights from North America to Southeast Asia, their body clocks off-kilter, the Bruins and Flames were ready to feel skates on ice and pucks on sticks. For hockey players in uncharted territory, it would have done wonders for jet lag.
One problem: No bags.
A customs issue made for one of the stinkiest piles of luggage ever seen at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport. Approximately 100 duffels of hockey gear, property of both teams, were held there overnight and well into Thursday afternoon. The first preseason practices were delayed, then scrapped altogether. The hockey summer was extended one more day.
The Bruins’ charter landed shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, around the same time as Calgary’s. The Flames were scheduled to practice at 10 a.m. local time Thursday (10 p.m. Eastern Wednesday). The Bruins were on at 12:30 p.m. They’ll attempt that schedule Friday, provided the equipment gets the all-clear.
Professional athletes are grateful for routine, and this China trip has made a good mess of that. The only shifts players took Thursday were those in the hotel gym. The cardio equipment surely took a pounding, with players trying to tune up for Saturday’s preseason opener (2:30 a.m. ET).
“I’ll find a way,” said veteran Bruins forward David Backes, his place on the roster not in question. “You start to feel bad a little bit for some of the younger kids that are trying to earn spots.”
The unorthodox schedule does no favors for youngsters such as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka, all candidates for the third-line center gig. Coach Bruce Cassidy is familiar with Sean Kuraly’s résumé. He’d like as many viewings of the pups as possible.
Instead, Cassidy was forced to kibosh an hour-plus sweat session at Shenzhen Universiade Centre. On Friday, he would have built in special-teams work and game prep. Now he’ll have to jam two practices into one, a day before a game.
“It’s frustrating from that aspect,” Cassidy said outside a meeting room at the Four Seasons hotel in the city’s Futian District. He noted that the coaches might have used the extra hours to get ahead on scouting regular-season opponents, but customs also red-flagged their video equipment.
“If it’s the same for both teams, you know you’re both probably a little bit underprepared in terms of what you wanted to get accomplished before you play,” Cassidy said.
“It’s not going to hurt Brad Marchand. He’s going to enjoy his time here. He’s on the team. He’s going to play a big role. For the other guys, it does.
“And for us . . . You lose a day of your eyes on these players, when you have a limited viewing as it is. It’ll make tomorrow and the next day that much more important.”
Cassidy wondered whether the Bruins might scrap Sunday’s off-day trip to the Great Wall, in order to get the day back. No decision had been made as of Thursday evening.
“These are the things that happen; you have to be able to adapt,” Marchand said. “You have to enjoy the experience, too. To come over here and be treated the way we have been, the way we’re going to be, you have to be excited about it.”
The unsung heroes: the equipment staffs, who were watching the bags in the terminal until past midnight, and returned at 7 a.m. Thursday to wait for clearance.
Down the block at the Ritz Carlton, Flames general manager Brad Treliving figured the extra day of rest would help players shake any travel-related cobwebs.
“Now they’ve got no excuses, right?” Treliving said. “I know our coaches are like caged animals. They’re ready to go.”
New Flames coach Bill Peters wanted a first look at his team, which shipped former Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Carolina in a trade for back liner Noah Hanifin and added free agent winger James Neal. Instead, winger Johnny Gaudreau said a group of Flames hit an Italian restaurant for lunch, then were headed for the hotel gym and spa.
“It’s a curveball,” said Gaudreau, like Hanifin a former Boston College Eagle. “First day of camp, you want to get on the ice with all your new teammates, your new coaching staff. But, it’s the way it goes sometimes, I guess. Hopefully they can get it all figured out.”
Until then, they have plenty of opportunity for team-bonding.
When the Bruins landed, Marchand stepped onto the tarmac toting a beige guitar case — an odd-looking carry-on that got him detained for further screening, much to the delight of Backes and several teammates waiting in line behind him. The good-natured goal-scorer took to playing the acoustic-electric axe last spring, as a way to kill time on the road.
“Got a little time right now,” Backes said. “Maybe he busts it out and shows us what he’s got.”