TORONTO – Everyone there lived on boats.
“They have little TV's that they hook up to car batteries on the boat,” he said of the distinct and unusual habitat at sea.
It was less than a month after the Marlies drive to the Calder Cup final and Mike Zigomanis was on the other side of the planet, visiting a remote village on the water in the third-world country of Cambodia.
“I went away and just tried to get away from everything,” said the 31-year-old before the start of the regular season on Friday afternoon. “Turned the email off, turned [off] all the updates, reports, trackers.”
Zigomanis was in the midst of a month-long journey across Southeast Asia where he touched down in the busting Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai, wandered through the northern hills of Thailand, glimpsed the Phi Phi Islands, looked at Tokyo in awe and snapped a few memories of the historic sites of Vietnam.
It was an up-close look at the cultures of those who live differently than us, a valued piece of perspective for the budding traveler. Roaming through a place where few, if any, spoke the English language was a challenge in and of itself, but one that Zigomanis cleverly found his way around. Lost or just searching for his next turn, the Toronto native would pull up a map from the GPS on his phone, show locals where he was looking to go, and then masterfully employ the services of Google Translate for a better understanding of where and what he was to do.
The timing of the endeavor wasn't perfect. It was July and Zigomanis was an unrestricted free agent.
“I had my agent calling me a lot,” he laughed, signing a one-year deal with the organization at the end of July. “I checked my email once before I went to bed every day, returned the email and then go and find the Great Wall, see the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand, or travel through a third-world country so it was good.”
Cleansing the mind and soul without interruption was of huge value to the 12-year pro.
The physical demands of a prolonged playoff run require good amounts of ice, muscle therapy, and rest – plenty of rest. But maybe just as overwhelming as the bodily toll is the taxing of the mind; reaching for the necessary drive, enthusiasm and heightened focus during 17 additional make-or-break games.
It's easy to understand why Zigomanis left the continent in short fashion and perhaps the reason why so many teams dip in the year that follows a deep postseason drive; they simply haven't recovered from the season before. “You see a lot of those teams, they make it to the Stanley Cup finals and sometimes they don't make the playoffs next year,” he noted.
Zigomanis was with the loaded Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-2009, the year after they dropped the Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings. “When I was there we were in second [place] at one point, then after Christmas we were in 10th place at one time. People don't remember that. There was a huge letdown.” Some wheeling and dealing followed before head coach Michel Therrien was let go, replaced by Dan Byslma, who then guided the Penguins to an epic Finals win over those very some Wings.
And so Zigomanis is especially mindful this fall of his current club, who were swept by the Norfolk Admiral in the Calder Cup final late last spring. He's aware of the potential for a lingering hangover after what was a surprising and ultimately successful year.
The Marlies opened their season on Saturday with a resounding 3-1 win over Rochester, following up on Sunday with a dispiriting 4-0 loss to Lake Erie, highlighted by an empty showing on a dozen power plays.
“It's a long season,” concluded Zigomanis. “It takes a long time to mentally regroup. You're kind of excited from the season before, either you win it or you just come close, and you're just go, go, go, go. And if you over-exert yourself, even for one week, if you overdo it one week, two weeks, it's tough to recover. Just have to keep that in the back of our mind when we're preparing.”