FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Lighthouse Press) _ When New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano describes team as "passengers," he means they are playing a passive, ineffective game. He's made clear in press briefings and on the bench that being a "passenger" is not acceptable.
Now, he's making his point in a different way: by turning the players into actual passengers.
During this week's four-game home stand, the Islanders will live as a group aboard a Lufthansa 737 Airbus parked at Long Island's Republic Airport. They will return to the airliner after all practices and games, eat all their meals and even sleep on the plane until at least next Friday.
With a 2-2-1 record and some long stretches of sloppy play, Capuano feels too many of his players have been "passengers" this season. So they will cram onto a mid-sized plane for two weeks and feel the true misery of being a long-term passenger.
"They wanna play like passengers, then we're gonna treat them like passengers," said Capuano as he and assistant coach Doug Weight boarded the plane with a pair of flight attendants. "Sitting back and waiting your turn is okay on a plane. But not in the National Hockey League. We hope by immersing the players in the passenger lifestyle, they'll grow out of it and understand what we want from them."
Capuano admits that having his team eat, sleep and live on an airbus designed to carry 125 people on medium to short flights between cities is an unusual step for an NHL coach to take.
But even at this early juncture in the season, teams like the Islanders cannot afford to let games and points slip away and Capuano wants to change the players' attitudes before it's too late.
"We need to be better and we need to lose the passengers, plain and simple," said Capuano. "Sitting in small seats, eating bland, pre-packaged meals, using that cramped toilet with the tiny sink you can barely gets your hands in and watching heavily-edited versions of today's box office bombs is all part of the learning process for these players."
A crew of full time flight attendants will take care of the team while on the plane. They are required to follow all safety procedures, serve food and beverages and generally attend to all the players' needs even though they won't be flying anywhere.
"I'm not a sports fan. Is this normal for teams?" asked veteran flight attendant Mitzi Melcuri, who is originally from nearby Huntington. "I once spent 21 hours on a flight to Brisbane with Gogol Bordello, so this will probably be kind of like that I guess."
To a man, the players are looking forward to the unique experience and said they understand Capuano's insistence on playing an aggressive game. The team was successful last season with an up-tempo style that carried them to the playoffs and helped them play well in a six game loss to the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins. They say they've already made a temporary home of the 737 and are embracing the message.
"We're happy for the opportunity to live on a plane for two weeks," said captain John Tavares. "We need to demand more of ourselves if we want to be a top team in this league. If that means eating little bags of peanuts and sleeping with tiny, flat pillows then that's what we'll have to do."
The Islanders face Buffalo, Edmonton, Carolina and Vancouver this week before heading out to Pittsburgh on Friday, the 25th. Capuano hopes that by the time his team plays the Penguins that the "passengers" will have disembarked for good.
"Living on a plane for a few weeks, I hope, will eliminate the passengers on this team," he said. "Once they get a load of me snoring, spending a half hour in the toilet and hoarding all the Diet Coke, believe me, they'll get the point."
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This is a satire. The Islanders are not actually sleeping on a plane. But feel free to be outraged either way if it makes you feel better.