Cutting to the chase: life is short and a schedule is tight when handling six games in nine days, wrapped around the family holidays.
So, the game of catch-up has finally been conquered in this blog spot. Here’s the recap:
We’ll start with this: in Cranbrook, B.C., did you know you can walk into a hotel bathroom, find a TV and still watch the Canucks game?
MONDAY: Spokane to Cranbrook. Practice in Coeur d’Alene, ID.
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 483 miles (starting Sunday in Everett, to Cranbrook)
DID YOU KNOW? Coeur d’Alene, ID is the home to Frontier Arena, a venue built originally with a thin frame in 1999, its roof crushed by snow and rain, and rebuilt in 2009 under fundraising which called for $800,000. That’s a huge chunk of change.
It now hosts an annual summer hockey event with some guys you may have heard of (who make their summer residence in the town): Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Adam Deadmarsh. Tyler Johnson’s youth hockey jersey (he played there before obviously moving onto bigger and better things) hangs in the venue. The summer tournament drives youth hockey fundraising, providing mite hockey opportunities only costing $50/child – equipment included. Yep, life is now good.
From there, what remains is a five hour drive to Cranbrook, B.C., home of the Kootenay Ice and the brothers-Niedermayer (yeah, those guys).
More photos up on the Silvertips mobile app (if you’ve got a smartphone, get it via the snazzy iTunes App Store and the Android Market).
TUESDAY: Cranbrook. Game day.
Within the tiny 4,000+ seat venue that is Western Financial Place, the Silvertips kept it low-scoring, simple, and methodical. Nothing too much out of the ordinary as far as the “slice of life” factor becoming unique, though the experience of walking into a piece of hockey heritage and see a pair of Niedermayer jerseys was a fascinating stop.
Of note, Carter Hart is still unreal, and Dario Winkler picked a fine time to break a six-game goal-scoring drought. GWG and an assist for his first multi-point game.
Postgame: you ever had Schnitzel? There’s a first time for everything (and it involves this postgame meal on the bus). What a way to expand the taste buds (just eat light during the day, to save room).
WEDNESDAY: Lethbridge. Today, 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a tad moist outside.
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 304 miles
Quick stop and we’re outta here after the game tonight. Or, that was the plan.
The bus broke down. Or so we thought. At about 3am, just 30 minutes away from Lethbridge, we pulled over to the side of the highway in the throes of freezing rain and snow. We thought the bus had a flat tire. Instead, it was hard snow that accumulated inside the wheel.
For the Silvertips, the return home gets sweeter (Riley Sutter’s home in the Calgary grounds is just 90 minutes away – Connor Dewar’s family has made the trip from Manitoba, a 12 hour drive, to visit on game day). No morning skate after maneuvering the icy highways and getting into the hotel at 3:00am.
It’s best to save the legs for game night.
With the only meeting of the season between the Tips and Canes around the corner, the battle of wills takes center stage. Defensively, there’s no one better than the Tips now (1.9 goals against). Offensively, there’s almost no one better than Lethbridge (2nd at 3.9 goals for, and only Kelowna’s better at four even per game). Pace versus structure: it’s a fascinating battle.
Remi Laurencelle was an acquisition from Lethbridge, so motivation won’t be too hard for one of the Silvertips overagers.
On the Hurricanes, looking to end a six-year playoff drought (and two years removed from a 50+ loss season), Brayden Burke is flat-out killing it with 31 points in 20 games. Andrew Nielsen has 22 points in 20 games on the blue line and is drawing the microscope, positively, now as a Toronto Maple Leafs draftee.
No dice on this night, and the Silvertips third period comeback falls short. Gotta work on those last-minute goals. They were also cracked for their first shorthanded goal all season. Mario Petit wasn’t too shabby in his first career start with 25 saves. One backdoor save he made in the first period, requiring athleticism, was a good indication that he settled in.
Lethbridge to Medicine Hat was a little bit more of a serene trip. No problem there.
THURSDAY and FRIDAY: Medicine Hat, Alberta
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 98 miles
… Home of the Tigers. The world’s largest teepee. And a living broadcast legend.
Two days in town meant not just a light practice at the glistening new Canalta Centre (a swift departure from the familiarity and intimacy of Medicine Hat Arena – but an entertainment destination designed to deliver upgraded amenities). I’ve seen more tattered buildings in the American Hockey League. For one, I’m a big fan of the press box. There’s enough space for you to lay materials out appropriately, the “office space” is clean and wired appropriately, and the executive office chairs are a nice touch. The Bob Ridley Broadcast Centre delivers.
Speaking of Bob, it was my first experience having a conversation with the gentleman, and it was everything I hoped for. Bob delivers authenticity, joy, is extremely articulate and a grounded individual. It’s no wonder he’s got the press box named after him and is widely regarded as a “living legend,” when you combine those traits with his years of service.
The night before the Silvertips took on the Tigers, the team, coaches and staff enjoyed a wonderful rendezvous and dinner with owner Bill Yuill, Chairman and CEO of the Monarch Corporation (their offices are in Medicine Hat).
What you can chalk up to a 2-1 loss: a second period that got away from the Silvertips. A mistake at the blueline led to Chad Butcher’s shorthanded goal. The Tips fell short in the special teams battle. That’ll lead to an undesirable result on the scoreboard.
On the side, family matters brought several related to Silvertips players. Notably, Riley Sutter had his own cheering section (Ron Sutter said later, “no one was louder than Riley’s mom”) for his first career WHL goal. Save Calgary, it couldn’t have come in a better place – his hometown province of Alberta. Quite fitting his Dad, Mom and Sister could take it in.
I said before the season that “I live to unfold a story each night,” and these are the storylines that drive my broadcast engine. They’re awesome.
Onto Calgary. Postgame meal: caesar salad, roasted potatoes, pork medallions.
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 183 miles
The names of MacDonald, Fleury, Nieuwendyk, Iginla and “Johnny Hockey” permeate this longtime NHL home of the Flames.
Scotiabank Saddledome – where we pulled in at 1:00 a.m. – is obviously not just another road trip stop. For players who grew up with the Flames, or have been exposed to this venue with rooting interests for another team facing the Flames, the stop means enjoying the same playground that names like Fleury, Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, Ovechkin, Iginla, etc. have used. The dressing rooms are meticulously manicured. The benches offer extra wide walking space, not to mention, a 28-inch flat screen video monitor buried in the floor of coaches platform. It’s an engineering marvel worthy of an NHL stamp.
It’s my first visit to the Saddledome (and second NHL building on a broadcast work night – during the last NHL lockout, I once called a game at San Jose in December for the Stockton Thunder), so naturally, the experience exceeds the expectations. The sightlines are majestic, yet steep. The “Peter Maher Press Box” hangs in the rafters of the Saddledome, offering spectacular bird’s eye views of the action which enable a broadcast call to inject more detail with breakouts. But the view is extremely high, and not for the individual quivering at heights.
Back to Sutter: it’s official ground zero for his “old stomping grounds.” I’ve rarely seen someone beam so brightly to play in the city he grew up in. Ron shared a spectacular story with us later that night, on how a five-year old Riley kept the Calgary Flames loose in the dressing room during the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, after he took a rip on the Saddledome ice.
Just three minutes into the call with Doug Sinclair, a familiar NHL executive and hall-of-famer take a seat five feet away in the adjacent booth. They can hear our call.
Brian Burke and Joe Nieuwendyk.
It’s a marvel at how the Silvertips have become so good – borderline automatic – at scoring the first goal. Saturday night brings no exception. Dawson Leedahl and Carson Stadnyk engineered a textbook rush up ice, finished with Laurencelle slamming Stadnyk’s ricochet at the left post for a 1-0 lead.
Things looked bright all the way until the halfway point of the third, after Matt Fonteyne hammered a power play goal off a one-timer at the right circle. But two goals that uncharacteristically fooled Hart – one from the side of the right circle by Jordy Stallard after a fanned point attempt and a short-side goal from Hitmen captain Colby Harmsworth following a defensive zone turnover. Ouch.
Radel Fazleev – Philadelphia Flyers property – scored the only goal in the shootout, and the bus ride home began a tad quieter than what many associated with the Silvertips envisioned two hours prior.
Road trips aren’t easy, and the Tips gaining three points indicated a small speed bump. No problem. The record at the end: 11-7-0-2 (4-5-0-1 on the road). It’s apparently a good lesson to be learned about playing in hostile territory.
I’ll think about that, over the Tim Hortons coffee that made its way back home.
NOW LISTENING: Let it Die (Foo Fighters)
More photos that are not included in this blog, but are pretty fun to look at, are available on the Tips Mobile App. Get it on the App Store (iPhone) or the Android Market.