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Only rookies have ‘roomies’ in new NHL deal

When the Carolina Hurricanes arrived at a Montreal hotel recently, every player on the team picked up his room key and went on his separate way, save two.

Justin Faulk and Michal Jordan headed for the same door. They’re the only roommates on the Hurricanes, the last vestiges of an era in hockey that ended with this most recent lockout.

As part of the NHL’s new labor deal, any player who isn’t on an entry-level contract gets his own room on the road – a long-awaited perk for players who have spent their careers adjusting to early risers, night owls and serial snorers.

“It’s not so much you don’t like the people,” Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis said. “It’s just that your habits are different.”

On most road trips for the Hurricanes this season, Faulk and Jeff Skinner are the only players still sharing a room. With Skinner not making this trip because of injury, Faulk and Jordan ended up in the same room.

The labor agreement that ended the 2004-05 lockout guaranteed players with 600 NHL games and 10 years in the league their own rooms, ending the NHL’s traditional rooming arrangements that harkened back decades and lasted long after other major-league athletes had secured single rooms.

The new agreement that ended this most recent lockout took it a step further. For the Hurricanes, that has meant booking about 10 additional rooms per trip, no small consideration for a team that can spend more than 50 nights on the road in a normal season. Even in this shortened season, it will cost the team about $55,000 more.

The rooming list was also a tool for coaches looking to give a young player some mentorship – as a rookie, Eric Staal roomed with Erik Cole, who had gone through the same experience only two years earlier but was six years his senior – or force interaction.

When Kirk Muller took over the Hurricanes in the middle of last season, he deliberately mixed and matched in an attempt to shake up the team’s chemistry.

So count Muller among those lamenting the passage of this uniquely hockey rite and the bonds it builds. His traveling roommates as a player included Dave Lewis and John MacLean, both of whom are on his staff with the Hurricanes now.

“I think they’re missing the fun,” Muller said.

There’s a certain amount of sepia-tinted hindsight at work there, because for every long-standing friendship built, there’s a sick player trying not to wake his roommate or navigate the mundane difficulties of different schedules and sleeping habits.

While most now appreciate their new privacy, allowing for more personal conversations with their wives and children, others miss the camaraderie. Joni Pitkanen invariably ends up spending most of his free time in former roommate Jussi Jokinen’s room anyway.

“He usually comes over to sit down in my room for a couple hours,” Jokinen said. “It’s the only chance we have to talk some Finnish.”

Skinner said he’s the same way, but he will get his own room next year when his entry-level contract expires. Faulk still has two seasons to run. Faulk got a taste of that life recently when, thanks to players coming and going, he had his own room for half of the Hurricanes’ most recent 12-day road trip.

“It’s a strange feeling, walking into the room and seeing only one bed,” Faulk said. “I’m not jealous of the guys with their own rooms. I’ll have my own soon. Just the rest of this year. And then next year. Then I’ll have my own room.”

Column distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.