In lieu of “take me through it,” which appears every Wednesday, “Road Tippin'” makes its annual return for the next week and a half. In case you’re new to the concept, it’s a long-running tradition by Silvertips play-by-play voices designed to bring the Silvertips road trips to the Eastern Conference to life.
Sometimes people don’t want to watch a video or are in too noisy of a setting to put on earbuds and hear us talk about it. Sometimes the written word will do just fine. This is one of those times.
Here’s what’s happened:
DAY 1: EVERETT, WA TO LETHBRIDGE, AB
DISTANCE: 674 miles
DRIVE TIME: Approximately 15 hours (including stops)
The alarm went off Tuesday morning, Oct. 16 at 2:45am. And 2:50am. And 3am. By that time, if I wasn’t out of bed, I fully gave my wife rights to punch me in the arm for two reasons: 1) because I was lazy getting out of bed, and 2) she’s up enough for our 10-month old son, Liam.
I had to get to the arena by 4am. Bus was to pull out at 5am. Mission accomplished. By this time, I’m so doped up on coffee that it’s impossible to fall asleep. There are a few items to handle on the laptop, and by 7:15am the caffeine wears off enough that crash-and-burn is unavoidable.
The Silvertips make 3 stops on the way, scripted: 1) crossing the Canadian border, 2) stop at Tim Hortons (you know you would too), and 3) brunch at a local diner – where the team has the option of a sit down restaurant, Taco Bell, or McDonald’s at 11am.
Fernie, BC is the next stop, where Boston’s Pizza awaits. Ask Dennis Williams: he’s a fan of the “Great White North.” But you can’t go wrong with any flavor of slice at Boston’s. There’s a pie called “The Meateor.” You can guess what kind of protein is on it. Delish.
Finally into Lethbridge, several of us among coaches and staff settle in for the riveting 13-inning Game 4 of the NLCS, won by the Dodgers on Cody Bellinger’s RBI single. We had a famous guest stop into say hello, if you’re familiar with the Sutter clan, while hanging out with nephew Riley.
Rich is good people.
DAY 2: LETHBRIDGE, AB TO BRANDON, MB (stop in Medicine Hat, AB)
DISTANCE: 10 hours
DRIVE TIME: Approximately 9 hours
Why waste time: 8:30am is the perfect time to jump back on the bus after a relaxing night’s sleep.
By the time we hit Medicine Hat at 10:45am, it’s the perfect time to shake off the legs and get a full skate in. At the same time, the league breaks news of the upcoming Canada Russia Series roster, and for the fourth straight year, the Tips will have their own on it – this time it’s Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter.
Me: “Connor, congratulations!”
Dewar (deadpan): “…. Thank you.”
(This is why he’s captain: little emotion invested in something that’s still several weeks away.)
We’ve only been in the door for 30 seconds when we’re approached by Mr. Bill Yuill, the owner and head of the Silvertips as CEO / Chairman of parent company, Consolidated Sports Holdings. It’s enough for a several hellos, including Williams, Dewar and Jake Christiansen, then back to the office for more of the work day.
I’ll always have a soft spot for Canalta Centre. Yes, as a 3+ year old building, it still has some “new car smell” that’s the direct antithesis of charm, storied, and nostalgic. I never set foot in Medicine Hat Arena. I’m aware of all the detailed stories surrounding it’s mystique, aura, and at times, intimidation factor. I still love Canalta Centre for it’s modernization, comfort, and amenities. It’s a new building that doesn’t feel “cookie cutter.” I’ve seen much worse, much more bland, much more vanilla.
We’re gone, off to dinner in Regina, SK, and back on the bus. Brandon, Manitoba is right around the corner. We’ll probably get in at 10pm (I’m still filing this on the bus). I need to workout. I’ve been challenged it may not happen tonight. I still have some fight left. We’ll see.
By the way, it’s assistant coach Louie Mass’ birthday. He’s 42 going on what seems 32 (and keeps in incredible shape — he owns an athletic training facility in Anchorage, Alaska).
DAY 3: TO BRANDON, MB
DISTANCE: 0 miles (we’re here all day)
DRIVE TIME: Same as above
Finally – a day where everyone can stretch out the legs. The drill is pretty simple and routine: breakfast, practice, meetings, study hall (for those under 18), dinner, unwind.
This brings us to
Keystone Centre Westman Place Westoba Place, built in the 1970’s and on the golden years side of longevity and amenities. But ask some folks, not all hockey barns are designed to cater to modern, new, and freshly unwrapped.
This is the town where Brian Propp, Brad McCrimmon, Jordin Tootoo, Ray Ferraro, Ron Hextall, Brayden Schenn, Ivan Provorov, and Nolan Patrick honed their craft before jumping to the NHL. It drips history, heritage, and charm. Just walking through the concourse delivers a pretty special feeling.
Westoba Place is one of the few left over “old school barns,” and by that I mean even down to bench / penalty box logistics. Like Swift Current, the team benches are positioned opposite ends of the ice: while each respective team’s penalty boxes are located adjunct to their bench.
After dinner, guess who we bumped into: the man himself, Jordin Tootoo.
He’ll be honored before Friday’s game participating in a pre-game ceremony honoring his career in Brandon and a homecoming for him. Beginning in 2003-04 and leading up to his last journey recently through the NHL in 2016-17 with the Chicago Blackhawks, Tootoo was a pillar of strength whenever inserted into the lineup. He was fearless, strong, never met a check he didn’t like, and provided the necessary elements of grit that teams often talk about seeking. In other words, as I like to sometimes call it, he was “nails.”
Up close, he’s engaging, warm, and articulate. We’ll have on Tootoo sprinkled throughout Friday night’s broadcast, where the Tips are aiming for their seventh win in eight games.
DAY 4: TO BRANDON, MB
DISTANCE: 0 miles (we’re here all day)
DRIVE TIME: Same as above
For a pretty routine day, the Silvertips prepared for the first game of the trip in a pretty routine fashion: breakfast, ice time, meetings, game.
They had a pretty big theatre to play with:
Jordin Tootoo carved a 13-year career on guts, aggression, and a kamikaze like approach mainly with the Nashville Predators. Before that, he spent his entire WHL career with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and picked the appropriate time/place to announce his retirement.
Click the link to read more on what he delivered for a career, and the touch he has with a community that will benefit from his humanitarian approach. Before the game, I took a seat in the second row of the press conference, just behind his wife, Jennifer and their two girls, Siena Rose and Avery Grace. What happened in that press conference is something that was so human and special, it almost made me break down.
At one point, Jordin paused to thank his family for being there and after his wife, he acknowledged his two girls:
Tootoo (smiling): “to my lovely daughter Siena Rose … hi Siena.”
Siena: “Hi Daddy!”
Tootoo: “I love you Siena.”
Siena “I love you too Daddy …. are you finished yet?”
Laughter in the room could be then heard all the way to Winnipeg. It brought the house down.
Tootoo said in our post-conference conversation that being a Dad is the “ultimate victory” (I have two young boys, Lukas and Liam – fully agreed). Most of his time will be spent with them for now. You could see the whites of his eyes just light up every time he discusses Siena and Avery, where their victories are like what winning feels like after 60 minutes on ice. What a touching moment, followed by the pre-game ceremonial face-off where a tribute video was followed by the Brandon crowd saluting Tootoo at center ice to Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” (Tootoo is arguably the most popular Wheat King in franchise history).
Even more fitting: the Tips had Connor Dewar involved at the captain’s handshake / photo spot, in a place where Dewar played youth hockey, and had his father Jade there, and later scored a goal.
The Tips took a 5-2 defeat, and then moved on to the next one: Sunday at Regina after a day of rest.
DAY 5: BRANDON, MB TO REGINA, SK
DISTANCE: 225 miles
DRIVE TIME: 4 hours
After breakfast, the Silvertips prepared for a day of travel with a team building exercise and 2.5 hour seminar, then prepared for the road to Regina – coincidentally a place they narrowly fell short by two wins on traveling to with hotel / playing conditions (Memorial Cup).
Last time here in 2016-17, the Tips – en route to the division title – beat a loaded Pats squad, 4-2. The return is under Sunday afternoon game conditions, giving the night for a relaxed team meal and walk back through a gorgeous downtown.
That evening, there’s no work, no Tips game, so naturally where do I find myself?
It’s necessary homework: the Tips get the Pats tomorrow, it’s productive to get a look at Moose Jaw (who the Tips will see on Friday, Oct. 26), and there’s really no more engaging environment to handle broadcast homework.
DAY 6: REGINA, SK
DISTANCE: 0 miles (we’re here all day)
DRIVE TIME: None
With a 4pm game: the goal is simple. Rest, eat, and prepare accordingly because it’s a condensed work environment.
With the Tips missing the nearly clean track-record Dewar to a four-game suspension, the focus shifts onto those who can fill the gaps. You could tell from the get-go that Sean Richards, an ex-Pat, was due for a big game – he just returned to the lineup after serving a five game suspension.
Richards wasted little time. As the Tips were aiming to answer Nick Henry’s power play goal in the first period, Richards danced into the slot after speeding into the zone from a neutral zone giveaway, and uncorked a shot, bar down, on Max Paddock. That set the tone for a five-unanswered goal Tips win over a Regina team that fell to 0-7 at home, a numerical result from a team that’s in a rebuilding mode after gunning for titles the last two seasons and serving as a Memorial Cup host.
I almost didn’t make the bus – or so it seemed. Brandt Centre is a multi-layered complex, so the bus has to pull into a side building where a large warehouse leads to the arena downhill ramp.
Waling out of Brandt Centre with my equipment, the expectations were to find the door leading to the warehouse. No such door was spotted after 20 minutes, where I began to feel as if time was of the essence before getting a text from someone ready to leave on the bus reading, “hey, bus is pulling out.”
As luck would have it: a Brandt Centre staffer led me into a back hallway that transitioned to the warehouse and loading ramp. Made it with time to spare. Happy days are here again.
DAY 7: REGINA, SK TO SASKATOON, SK
DISTANCE: 160 miles
DRIVE TIME: 2.5 hours
Getting into SaskTel Centre meant one sure-fire rendez-vous:
Bumping into this old friend.
Just a simple stop before the hotel to let hockey laundry dry out meant a quick 10 minute walk through the hallway, scoping the facility, and by chance – spotting the familiar smile and rich, baritone voice of the famed Tips alumnus and newly minted WHL head coach of Saskatoon.
There’s more of these coming possibly this week: Kohl Bauml and Carson Stadnyk currently are suiting up for the University of Saskatchewan.
DAY 8: SASKATOON TO PRINCE ALBERT, SK
DISTANCE: 88 miles
DRIVE TIME: 1.5 hours
The benefit of staying in a hotel for a few days is simplicity. There’s less bags to pack, less moving around, and less moving parts. For the Everett Silvertips, their road game in Prince Albert means just a 1.5 hour bus trip into the small and cozy confines of Art Hauser Centre, the home of the Raiders.
It’s not a building you’ll mistake for Bell Centre in Montreal. With a capacity of just over 2,500, you can simply walk in the door and be at a distance from the glass that would cost you well over $100 for an NHL ticket. It’s a “barn,” in other words.
There’s a lot of pride for this barn, but also dripping with history. Banners from the rafters tell the story of when Mike Modano and Dave Manson suited up for the Raiders before they went onto lengthy-to-superstar careers in the NHL.
I won’t get any closer than this view in my life, unless there’s an assignment to wear a headset in the penalty box.
The Tips lost a game to Prince Albert, 3-0 (and to the top ranked team in the CHL Top 10) in a game that was closer than the score indicated. Prince Albert comes at you relentlessly every shift. Brett Leason, traded from Tri-City for a draft pick, reportedly dropped 10 pounds in the offseason and elevated his skill development to become a 6-foot-4 draft eligible behemoth who can toe-drag out of a phone booth. He’s good.
The Tips fell short on three consecutive power plays in the second period, with the game scoreless and kept it 1-0 as deep as three minutes left in regulation. Chalk that one up for an “almost,” and for the night, they tried to walk away with many positives.
DAY 9: SASKATOON, SK (here all day)
DISTANCE: 0 miles
DRIVE TIME: 0
Right back to home base where bags were dropped off at SaskTel Centre after the Prince Albert game, and then time to settle in for as much sleep as possible for Wednesday’s battle against Mitch Love’s Blades.
I don’t mind SaskTel Centre. The building continues to age, but the gondola brings a tremendous view of the action (similar to Calgary) with ice microphones that make the audio sound like we’re live with you, right on top of the glass. Banners of Howe, Federko, Wendel Clark, and more also tell a tremendous tale of WHL grads or Saskatoon natives who went onto greatness.
About Howe: he’s got a banner in the rafters, a statue outside of the building, a bridge named after him, and a complex going up in Saskatoon. “Legend” to describe a hometown guy doesn’t seem to begin to cover it.
The Tips spoke of positives before the game. They were close the previous night in Prince Albert. They generated several high grade scoring chances that could have turned the game around in a different manner.
And heading into the game at Saskatoon, they felt good.
The scoreboard showed. After the routine game day preparations, the Tips came out with a 1-0 lead after the first period while Dustin Wolf – who looked sharp the previous night in Prince Albert – was even better with no goals allowed through 40 minutes. The Tips smothered Kirby Dach, a consensus first round NHL draft pick this next June.
Dawson Butt came an assist short of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick and put up a key third period goal that steepened the chase for Saskatoon and put the Tips up, 2-0. By the end of the evening, Wolf had his 5th career shutout and dipped his goals against under two per game.
Back to the hotel for the late post-game meal, and to bed.
DAY 10: SASKATOON, SK (here all day)
DISTANCE: 0 miles
DRIVE TIME: 0
Off day. There’s four games in five days the Tips are getting through, not to mention the back end of the East Division swing, so a day of rest means small ice time for a few players to shake off the cobwebs, eat, sleep, and take a brisk walk around town.
I’m a big Pita Pit fan. I haven’t had Pita Pit in a long time. That was a definite lunch stop. The necessary fuel provided enough for a 30-minute round trip walk, sprinkled in with a couple of errand stops at the Saskatoon mall along the way.
Riley Sutter celebrates his 19th birthday today. He’s got Dad (you all know Ron), Mom, and family in town. It’s obvious the hockey commitments for this week call for a strict regiment, but the off was enough for Sutter to get out for a quick bite to eat. He told me there was no birthday cake involved, and the blend of indulgence / discipline involved eggs, other protein, and carbs as well. He’s a Capitals prospect now. No jumping off the “deep end.” So when it comes to nutrition, it’s all about sticking to the plan.
One more team meal at an undisclosed place in downtown Saskatoon had a lovely selection of pasta and meat sauce, chicken alfredo, or tortellini and mushroom in a light cream sauce as well.
Walking out of the restaurant, I noticed a team of over 20 players who were unbelievably connected and engaged with each other. It’s a good sign with just two days left on the trip.
DAY 11: SASKATOON TO MOOSE JAW (pit stop) TO SWIFT CURRENT, SK
DISTANCE: 167 miles
DRIVE TIME: 2 hours, 50 minutes
We see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I hope it’s not a train. The end of the Silvertips odyssey is in sight, and by the end of this evening they will be sleeping in the final bed before going back home.
Onto Moose Jaw. Population: nearly 34,000 and the fourth largest city in Saskatchewan (larger: Prince Albert, Regina, and the largest… no shocker, Saskatoon). There’s no sense in staying overnight because the Tips have a road game a couple hours away after this one.
The visit is to Mosaic Place, my second of the WHL career. It seats nearly 5,000, so it’s not larger than life. But it’s the perfect size venue for the team and city demands. It replaced the Moose Jaw Civic Centre, aka the “Crushed Can.” And many stories about the archaic nature of the old building still flow.
Tips win in overtime, 2-1 on Wyatte Wylie’s 3-on-3 snipe. After a dinner stop at the Mad Greek (my favorite on the trip), it was onto Swift Current. Uneventful drive, except for the fact that Game 3 of the World Series was on full blast with several players tuned in.
The fact that Game 3 was the longest in World Series history, take into account of how much you can cover in seven hours: I walked into the press room for coffee an hour before puck drop, and up on the monitor was the pre-game introductions.
We were nestled in our hotel beds – in Swift Current – a good 20-30 minutes by the time Max Muncy hit his signature walk-off homer in the 18th inning.
DAY 12: SWIFT CURRENT (here all day, sort of)
DISTANCE: 0 miles
DRIVE TIME: 0
Ah yes, here we are again – the place where the Tips magical and deep playoff run ended two wins shy of the Ed Chynoweth Cup five months ago. No player on game day will admit that series loss fueled them for this rematch, but you can tell by the energy in warm-ups, this was a very special game with unique ambitions.
Even more so, for Connor Dewar. The Tips captain just finished a four-game suspension, eligible to come back for this one. Our conversation from a past radio show indicated he let the Finals loss stick around and fuel his summer training regimen.
Here we go.
From the start, Dewar seized the stage. It was incredible to watch it unfold from the booth. Just less than 3 minutes into the game: boom, shorthanded goal.
Dewar finished the night with a fat two-goal, two-assist effort, factoring in every Tips goal to earn payback in the regular season rematch, 4-1. They faced a Swift Current team completely remodeled after last year: many of those playing key roles in the WHL title had moved onto the pros or elsewhere. A few remain. But the atmosphere set the mood, and the Tips embraced the challenge.
Off and running, on the bus, by 11pm. No Dennis Williams or Ronan Seeley on the way back: both were headed to New Brunswick for Hockey Canada. They’re back Nov. 11.
Then, finally, after 4-5 hours of as much shuteye as possible and a quick breakfast stop in Idaho, the finish line.
The tally: 5-2 in seven games, nearly 3,000 miles, and a ton of memories in the books for the Silvertips.
You can’t complain about that kind of an experience.
Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his fourth season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 14th in the game. Tweet at him here.