ROAD TIPPIN’! Manitoba / Saskatchewan or Bust.

 


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On Tuesday, February 7, 2017, the Everett Silvertips embarked on their bi-annual odyssey otherwise known as the East Division swing. It covers over 2,400 miles, 13 days, six cities/games, and an insane amount of coffee/snacks/movies/manufactured humor which await stops in Brandon, Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and Swift Current. These are the tales.

DAY 1: Everett, WA to Lethbridge, AB
TIME: 11.5 hours (677 miles)

I work in broadcasting but am a husband and father first. So kissing my wife, Amy, and 2-year old son, Lukas, goodbye at 7:45 a.m. was hard to do since I won’t see them in the flesh for nearly two weeks, but am eternally grateful these days for FaceTime (which was accomplished today). Legendary Los Angeles Kings TV voice Bob Miller once joked, since he’s been married to wife Judy since the 70’s (the time when you could only communicate with a hotel phone or pay phone), they’ve “been married for over 45 years but together for about 28.”

A 56-passenger coach bus loads at roughly 8:15am at the corner of Hewitt and Broadway, and we’re outta here by 9:00am. Depending on your role, you’re either working or lounging. Thank heavens for bus WiFi, so opening the laptop and chiseling away at the day’s coal (read: e-mails, projects, off-air assignments) can be done. Players have dialed up 4 movies by 6:00pm.

I had to record the entire Silvertips Hockey Show yesterday, and have that transmitted to our radio magicians at Fox Sports 1380 by early this morning. So, what you heard was recorded talking editing wizardry (thanks again, Tyler Maxwell and Tyler Dietrich!).

There’s nothing really earth-shattering to reveal for now, except for the fact that Boston Pizza (stop for dinner) serves enough pepperoni / meat lovers / great white / supreme wheels for one hour to either feed a hockey team or the population of Bothell.

DAY 1 ROAD TRIP MVP: James Stucky (EQUIPMENT MANAGER). He books the travel, he writes/prints/distributes the itineraries, he picked the meal stops. It’s not an easy job. The pizza hit the spot.


DAY 2: Lethbridge, AB to Brandon, MB
TIME: 9.5 hours (615 miles)

The alarm goes off at 6:45am. Both Rob Tagle (I room with the trainer) and I bounce out of our beds, fully intended to get a good workout in. There will be no time for this for the rest of the day (we’re not due to pull into Brandon until roughly 11:30pm CT).

The bus leaves at 9am after breakfast. The gym has nothing but a treadmill and elliptical, so the sole option on my end is the P90x3 DVD’s in the hotel room, while Rob runs his brains out for the equivalent of four miles within a half an hour.

Road time, which includes nothing but white upon white upon white upon white snow for the ensuing four hours. Then comes the part where we pull into Swift Current, Saskatchewan, where this gets good.

Welcome to Credit Union iPlex, capacity 2,879.

It also has up-close-and-personal sightlines, opposite side team benches, and a four-side high-definition videoboard that hangs as low as the ceiling light in your living room.

Purist hockey barn, I dig the charm.

Practice over.

Then, onto the part where we all put down our books, card games, iPhones, earbuds, etc. and disembark the bus into minus-8 Fahrenheit temperatures, with the cold slashing at your face while your shoes descend into a mound of snow.

There’s a reason for this. It’s time to pay respects.

If you need a refresher, Dec. 30, 1986 is remembered as one of the most tragic days in hockey history, when the team bus for the Swift Current Broncos crashed while en route to a game at Regina, leaving four players killed and others injured. That year’s team included future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, and 10-year NHL forward Sheldon Kennedy. The WHL would eventually christen its Most Valuable Player Award as the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy.

Flash forward 30 years later, exactly on the date (Dec. 30, 2016), a memorial was unveiled to honor the four Broncos who lost their lives. It was an honor to visit the site 40 days afterward.

Onto Manitoba, with a dinner stop along the way.

DAY 2 ROAD TRIP MVP: Mitch Love (assistant coach). For the mere suggestion to the team there would be a stop at the Four Broncos Memorial, this is a grand slam.

DAY 3: Brandon, MB
TIME: None, we’re here.  

No more bus travel. One full day, one whole spot. The Silvertips take the ice at 11:00 a.m., giving yours truly with some time to set up the whole booth: up a flight of stairs, then up a second flight of stairs, then across a catwalk, then down a flight of stairs, then through the fire breathing dragons, then to the booth.

It’s a great set-up. Sightlines that give you action about 100 feet off the ice, and nearly above the playing surface, are the best sightlines.

Practice over. There are seven Silvertips originally from Manitoba, so obviously they’re pumped for this trip.

You may have caught that one bit about curling: it’s not for the weak of knees. Even more impressive, everyone showed up in business attire and managed to pull off the day without a tear in the suit pants. You understand the background and skill in those who looked comfortable sweeping.

All of this went down in Souris, Manitoba – the hometown of Garry Davidson and former Los Angeles Kings/St. Louis Blues head coach Andy Murray. A bus tour ensued. During the middle of said tour, the invitation was delivered to cross Canada’s largest suspension bridge – stretching 600 feet (that’s a lot of time for you to consider if you’re going to die while on a swaying bridge) – called the Swinging Bridge. The bridge was twice wiped out – most recently six years ago – due to severe weather.

Keep your phone in your pocket.

Made it alive. Onto game day, for what we all came for.

DAY 3 ROAD TRIP MVP: Anyone who jumped in for curling, and hadn’t done it before. Nothing wrong with trying something new, no matter how north or south pole your game is.

THE WEEKEND (Days 4-6): Brandon, MB to Regina, SK
TIME: 4 hours 

Things get whirl-crazy on a game day (that happened Friday and Saturday) plus a few projects called the attention on Sunday, so we’re lumping all the good stuff here.

FRIDAY
The Westman Place is connected to a hotel and several eating/watering hole establishments that make up Keystone Centre, which is good because for this California bred guy it feels like it’s -108°F.

The Tips drop a close one to Team Nolan Patrick (the kid is legit with a full skill package, and there’s zero wonder why he’ll be top choice in the NHL Entry Draft), 2-1. I loved the rhythm and speed the game developed. Tips MB scout Doug Sinclair (who seems like he knows everyone in the building) is an incredible fill-in analyst. And Perry Bergson / Branden Crowe make good company / hosts.

We’re outta there right after the game and several good byes. Because there are seven members of the Tips hailing from MB, about 1/4 of Westman Place seem to be filled even an hour after the final horn.

Good to see the fam jam 😋

A post shared by Lucas Skrumeda (@lucasskrumeda) on

Four hours of a drive ahead to Regina, SK.

SATURDAY
We’re staying in Regina despite playing in Moose Jaw on this night (it’s only a 45 minute commute, which makes a logical roadie outpost).

Tips win 2-0 in their bi-annual appearance at Mosaic Place. The last guy to score for the Warriors, against the Silvertips, happened in the 7th year of the Obama Administration (Brett Howden in the 2nd period on Jan. 9, 2015 – Tips have blanked them for 156:53. Moose Jaw has never scored in two games on Carter Hart).

Mosaic Place is now one of my favorite road venues in the WHL, period. While intimate: it’s clean, pristine, eye-catching, and thoroughly planned with logistics. The “Crushed Can”, it’s not.

Now that we have the game matters covered, how about the postgame food? Ah yes, that bubbly, greasy, tasty, delectable piece of postgame food …

Behold.

Belly is full, brain is satisfied with working all that out of the pores on Sunday.

SUNDAY
Off day in Regina. Patrick Bajkov (like many players) have asked, “so what do you do on days like these?”

Fair question: it’s the weekend, and family is more than a thousand miles away. I miss them. So, we FaceTime twice. I put some production work behind the scenes with a few digital media projects. Clothes, quarantined from the Brandon (remember the mumps breakout news?) swing and a workout, have been returned from the hotel laundry.

Tim Horton’s is a block away for lunch. I am happy.

Dinner is at Earl’s. I am happy.

All of that closes out a day of rest, much needed through a swing like this.

MONDAY
Pretty straightforward day: breakfast, practice, lunch, hotel room for work, dinner. 

It’s my first visit to Brandt Centre, home of the Regina Pats. Formerly the Agridome and opening in 1977, it drips with history. There’s no elevator, so the climb upstairs to the press gondola is a leg day workout in itself.

But stop, take a deep breath, and soak it in. You’ve got a fine atmosphere, Regina.

Comments from Brad Richards (former Pat back in his old stomping grounds), Connor Dewar (who’s slamming these interviews) and Lucas Skrumeda are coming later. Not to mention, we bumped into good ol’ former Tip Dawson Leedahl prior to Monday morning. That was fun. He’s still fun.

UPDATED ROAD TRIP MVP’S
DAY 4: 
At the risk of tooting my own horn (it’s good to bundle up), here’s James Stucky:

Thanks Stucks. Check’s in the mail.

DAY 5: Assistant coach Mitch Love, for a slam bang postgame interview and delivering a D-corps that helped Carter Hart whitewash 42-goal guy Jayden Halbgewachs and Tampa prospect Brett Howden.

DAY 6: Silvertips MB scout Doug Sinclair. “Sinkie,” as we know him, has exceptional communication skills and is always good for 26 stories each time we see him. He delivered top notch entertainment at/after dinner. And he’s good for mobile phone cartoons, that anyone of all ages can enjoy.

DAY 7: Assistant coach Brennan Sonne, who organizes the alumni corps – many of these guys come into play each East Division swing (based on their hometowns of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, etc.). It was like old times for Sonne and the coaching staff to have a rendezvous with Cody Thoring, but it was my first time meeting the gentleman. Brennan arranged the moment, and it’ll last forever.

TUESDAY
For the magnitude of two WHL beasts butting heads at Brandt Centre, the day’s vibe gave a direct indication the Silvertips were ready, prepared, and driven. As I interviewed Dawson Leedahl, peeking his head around the Regina side of the curtain at morning skate, suddenly my company was joined by Lucas Skrumeda and company intended to have a playful moment with the former Tips captain (hey, they’re brothers off the ice, but the battle lines are drawn on the ice). Flash forward: by the time it was 4-1 at the end of the second period, Brandt Centre sounded quieter than your local public library. Final: 4-2, big win, end of story.

DAY 8 MVP: Silvertips trainer Rob Tagle, who got one of their leading goal scorers back on the ice in the blink of a stitched eye. After Zwerger drew blood at 1:17 on Connor Hobbs’ high stick, Tagle contained the bleeding with Zwerger’s face, patched him up with two stitches and helped him return to the ice in a little over two minutes to go on the Silvertips double minor power play. That’s not a drill, and that’s skill.

WEDNESDAY
Saskatoon is the home base for the Silvertips, where they get into the hotel at a little before 1am. Bags are hauled to SaskTel Centre: Rob and I give a helping hand. James Stucky playfully tells us to scram, and he sets up the room in solitude for who knows how long … while Rob and I head back to the hotel to crash and burn.

Carson Stadnyk’s in the house to join only a few Silvertips on the ice that morning, participating in a two-on-two battle resulting in a pulsating 7-5 win over the players, whilst I tend to work in the press box. Stadnyk’s now playing for U. of Saskatchewan after grinding his way into the top 10 list, all-time games played in Tips history and ending his WHL career last year as an overager.

Great seeing “Stads,” a poised, calm and cool cat.

As for the 2-1 Tips shootout win, concluded with a jump back into first place and the call from the gondola of the House that Brodsky built/Gordie Howe became immortal, I had to stop and collect thoughts on another tremendous building with character. SaskTel Place was designed a few years after Saskatoon pursued the St. Louis Blues (it almost happened) in the 80’s. Times have changed and while amenities may be out of date, the place seats nearly 16,000, the press facilities hang in a well manufactured hovering office space with incredible sight lines, and provides near tangible charm with the names of Clark / Skrudland / Ashton hanging from the rafters. It’s a swell place to take in a game. It could host an AHL team, based on capacity.

DAY 9 MVP: Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine. From my instinct and communication during our pregame conversation, he got this team prepared and turned the page from the Regina thriller the previous night.

THURSDAY
Off day. Let them bones rest, get some work done, go the mall (my little guy’s getting a present when we’re back home), then take in the scenery.

Yeah, there’s some liquid gold in that cup.

DAY 10 MVP:  Kohl Bauml. Yes, he was here too, though not skating with Stadnyk the previous day (that sound familiar?). He’s his teammate again at U. of Saskatchewan, and we caught up in the hotel lobby after a quick rendezvous after Wednesday night’s win. I never had a chance to call one of Bauml’s games, but spending an hour with the guy leaves you soaked with his communication skills, maturity and character. He oozes it.

DAY 11: Tips win 3-1 over Prince Albert, after an hour commute to the confines of Art Hauser Centre. It’s easily the smallest building I’ve called a game in, but the venue seating 3,567 drips history like the other buildings we’ve visited. Mike Modano and Dave Manson have their numbers in the rafters.

In addition, the press box overhangs the penalty box. Twenty five feet above. You can hear the players breathe.

DAY 12: Overnight drive to Swift Current (only about 3 hours). Tips win 3-2 in OT. And we survive the good ol’ ladder climb (thanks, Shawn Mullin for the help with the 40-pound case downward after the game, and for trading interviews beforehand).

DAY 13: Stop in Lethbridge to sleep from 3-9am. Stop for breakfast (two pancakes, eggs over easy, bacon, sausage and coffee). Stop for the border. Stop for the driver change at a local filling station. Don’t stop the rest of the way.

UPDATE: I stopped blogging for a few days. We all got off the bus and went home. No practice Monday. I was face-planted in bed. The rest of the team? They’re doing whatever they can away from the confines of XFINITY Arena to decompress. Tuesday called for a return to work and, essentially, feet to the schedule fire (emcee two appearances, a radio show, and co-host Tip-A-Tip at the Silver Lake location). I’ve now finally had time to return to this blog space and give one quenching approach to completing the odyssey, as shown below:

Back from the road. Reunited and it feels so good. 👪

A post shared by Mike Benton 🎙 (@bentononthemic) on

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.