The life of a minor league hockey player was not in the mind of a lyricist when he wrote, “Those magnificent men, in their flying machines, they go up tiddly up up, they go down tiddly down down.”
But just like that old movie theme song pro hockey players can suddenly experience the height of success up in the big leagues or the struggle of development or demotion down in the minors.
“Up, down, flying around — looping the loop and defying the ground,” as the song goes on.
Just ask Tyler Gaudet of the newly-minted Tucson Roadrunners. The 23-year-old center got the good news on Nov. 7 that he would make the short jaunt up to Glendale to once again don the brick red of the NHL Coyotes. It wasn’t a new experience for Gaudet — he had already played 16 NHL games over the past two seasons with the ’Yotes.
His latest stay in the bigs totaled one game.
On Nov. 9 the team press release reversed his direction. Tyler Gaudet had been assigned back to the Tucson Roadrunners.
Welcome back, Tyler, your locker is right where you left it.
It helps to understand that the roster of every hockey team, at every level, can and will change without notice, whether planned or not.
Players come and go, often unnoticed, especially at the pro level. The exodus of players in Tucson at the start of this AHL season, for example, emphasized the cold and brutal nature of pro sports: Players are unceremoniously cut or released, and many simply disappear.
That fact makes the emotional rollercoaster of pro hockey a continual challenge for players, young or old, still working to get to the NHL or stay there.
Dealing with a roster that is in constant development and flux — where his lineup will change many dozens of times over an AHL season — is part of head coach Mark Lamb’s job description. “We have a base of how we run things,” he said, referring to the constant blending of new teammates. “We’re upfront on different roles, and guys have to work their way into their roles. It’s a new situation for many players — they’ve always been the best players on their teams.
“For the most part (dealing with new players) is about just being honest.”
That doesn’t always mean that players being sent down or those who believe they should already have been called up will always be happy in Tucson.
“You’re trying to get to the next level,” said Lamb. “It’s a common goal, so that makes it easy” (to adjust attitudes).
Lamb is fortunate to have another experienced coach to help with the constant team building. Like Lamb, assistant Mark Hardy has been through the NHL ups and downs, and together the two seasoned leaders can preach what they have done themselves: make it through the minors to the big leagues.
“Mark Hardy and myself, just through experience, we can talk through that,” Lamb said. “There’s not too many things that happen to these players that we haven’t gone through. The easiest way to explain to a player is to have had that experience yourself.”
So far Lamb and Hardy obviously have struck the best balance with their squad: together they have convinced the Roadrunners to work relentlessly to succeed in the AHL with the vision that it should lead to promotion for many. Tucson — amazingly — still sits in first place in the AHL Pacific Division.
They play like a team, not a hodge-podge of individuals trying to impress scouts all on their own.
That is quite the hockey accomplishment in itself when each player knows — whether in the back of his mind or way up front — that at any moment he may go “up tiddly up up” or go “down tiddly down down.”