ROAD TIPPIN: Through Alberta, and Back, 2017-18 Edition

This continuous blog is meant for more just to give you a location of where we are and what we’re doing. As the Everett Silvertips roll through the reaches of Alberta (and Cranbrook, B.C.), it’s our duty to make this road trip come to life. As Vin Scully once said, “pull up a chair.”


OCT. 14-16
MILES: 189 / 484
DRIVING TIME: 3.5 hours to Cranbrook, BC / 8 hours back home 

One more run to go, then it’s back home. Patrick was actually spotted walking the golf course in the morning (hey, whatever gets you going!).

Nobody touched the ice until game time, save the middle-of-the night drop the players off/then head to the arena/drop off bags at the dressing room/go back to sleep and hit lights out at 4:45 am.

Team breakfast wasn’t until 10:30 am. You bet there was an alarm for 10am.

For some reason, the St. Eugene Resort had a feeling we’d have Instagram ready to go.

2 hockey nets outside the hotel. It's autumn. Greetings from Canada. 🇨🇦🍁

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Western Financial Place is the tiny, compact home of rising star Peyton Krebs, and a projected renaissance under GM Matt Cockell and head coach James Patrick. Former NHL’ers Jon Klemm and Roman Vopat are on staff. The Ice (or, “ICE” as they prefer for marketing purposes) have a new logo, so it’s a new look in more ways than one. They want the glory days of last decade again.

Tough loss for the Tips, who hadn’t allowed a goal to Kootenay since the Obama administration (2014-15, when Kootenay won 4-3 in OT at XFINITY Arena). Jeff de Wit broke a shutout streak in the series of over 125 minutes. The Tips took awhile to get on the board, but finally broke through on Jake Christiansen’s power play goal. It looked good when Riley Sutter deflected a 3-2 goal at the crease.

Then, on the fourth game in five days, the car ran out of gas. Kootenay scored three times to take a 5-3 win. Happy or not, the finish line of the longest road trip of the season finally had arrived. A quarter of the road schedule is done, and we’re not even at the World Series yet.

Four hours of sleep on the bus led to an arrival at 6am. After putting a few things away, the time to hit pillow at home majestically came at 6:45. That’s good for a 15 minute nap because my nearly three-year old son was up at 7am. I hit a wall at 10am. My lovely pregnant wife, Amy (who is a rock star for taking care of the house and family during the trip), encouraged a one-hour nap on the bed while she watched Hallmark and Lukas enjoyed a Blippi! video on the iPad). She had an ulterior motive.

What do you get when you mix a 7am arrival, one hour nap, spare toddler toys and a mischievous wife?

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Good to be home.


OCT. 11-13 – RED DEER TO MEDICINE HAT TO LETHBRIDGE
MILES: 253
DRIVING TIME: Four hours (the RD to MH part) 

WEDNESDAY: Canalta Centre is a pretty swanky place. I know, it doesn’t have the history dripping from the rafters that are splashed from the hockey gods blessed residue of Trevor Linden, Kelly Hrudey, Lanny MacDonald, and so on. Unfortunately, I never touched the place. My first year with the Tips was 2015-16, the Tigers first season in their new state-of-the-art digs and at one point had a dicey situation.

But it’s got every bell and whistle you could ask for. The dressing room is spacious and adequate, the walk to the bench is short, the broadcast booth is adequately well-wired and clean, and the infrastructure is terrific. It’s better than some venues that host American Hockey League teams.

Trevor Linden was here (sort of).

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The day is routine: prepare with a meal, head to the game, say hi to the mic grandmaster Bob Ridley (when you have a press boxed named after you, it’s fine for people to seriously call you “legend”), wrap it up after. The Tips lost a heartbreaker 5-4, almost tied it with 7.2 seconds left on an extra attacker, and could have taken a different outcome if not for mistakes leading to two early first period goals and one with 1.3 left in the period.

We’ll be staying here awhile … all the way until Friday as well. That’s fine.

Shout out to video coach Patrick Pajak and his trusty portable printer that follows him everywhere on the road. I had issues with printing my broadcast homework (read: “spotting boards,” that have 2-3 hours worth of research at your fingertips), failed to get the hotel printer working, and was saved by Patrick’s offer to print the collateral on the bus, en route to the game. Patrick’s a good dude, serious golfer, follows the Colorado Avalanche, loves the Houston Astros, and always a riot of a dinner guest. Give him a shout on Twitter sometime  (even though he unfollowed me for welcoming his once beloved St. Louis Rams back to my longtime home of Los Angeles).

THURSDAY: Reason? I’m low on laundry. Yours truly forgot the Monday in Edmonton was Canadian Thanksgiving, therefore limited to unavailable services on laundry from Saturday through Tuesday. Luckily the hotel had a sweet and convenient coin-op option, so I’m back in the game.

Practice at Canalta Centre was purely for the intent to get extra touches on pucks and keep the body fresh before the home stretch. Afterward: the equipment gets moved into a spare room, because the incoming Saskatoon Blades need the dressing room for Thursday night, heading into their road game at Canalta Centre on Friday. It’s almost like we had a mini convention.

FRIDAY: Another one of those “three cities in one day venture.” Up and at ’em in Medicine Hat, board the bus at 2pm, into Lethbridge for the big tilt, off and running to the next city (Cranbrook, BC).

Lethbridge has another mid-size feel but stacks in the venue essentials. I’m a big fan of their “gondola” booth set up. You can’t miss any action. Tips executive and Consolidated Sports Holdings COO Zoran Rajcic still has family in the area, so it wasn’t surprising to see him around the place – he may know every face, fan, and food fare in the joint.

The Tips also welcomed new affiliated player call-up Blake Lyda. Though 15 years old and almost five months removed from being selected by the Tips in the WHL draft, his growth over the summer made his signing a top priority, giving the Tips Carter Hart, Dustin Wolf, and Lyda one solid goaltending pipeline.

Dorrin Luding stopped enough to give the Tips a comeback Bryce Kindopp and Riley Sutter tagged the Hurricanes for two goals apiece, and the bus ride into Cranbrook had more of a relaxed, easy feeling after a 4-3 comeback win. The Tips only had one win last year when trailing after two periods. They now gained their second in two weeks.


OCT. 10 – RED DEER, JUST FOR THE GAME
MILES: 95
DRIVING TIME: One hour and 45 minutes

Woke up in Edmonton, head hit pillow in Medicine Hat. In between, game preparations in downtown Edmonton (the Silvertips had no ice availability) which turned the morning into classroom sessions to prepare the mind for the 2.5 task at Red Deer.

Kevin Davis, one of the top defensemen in the WHL, wouldn’t be available for the night due to illness. While Davis needed rest for the day, it led Tips coaches Dennis Williams and Mitch Love to shuffle the defensemen for Wednesday night’s game, giving more opportunity for a row of defensemen looking for boosted ice time. Hence, like the Seahawks preach, “next man up.”

Onto the bus. Red Deer is a smidge less of two hours for a drive from Edmonton, so it’s no different than commuting to Langley for a game against the Vancouver Giants.

Enmax Centrium is a stellar major junior venue. Seating a little over 7,100 fans and hosting the Memorial Cup tourney in 2016, its climb to the press box is steep and a “stairs only” obligation (try that carrying 60 pounds worth of equipment – never skip leg day, boys and girls). Everything else is terrific. The sightlines are crisp, the press box gondola is expansive, and the amenities upstairs are NHL standard.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was here.

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Cam Moon, the voice of the Rebels, is one of my favorite hellos in the league. His call and resume are self explanatory, but he’s an engaged and friendly personality (we also grew up Los Angeles Dodgers fans. Celebrating the 3-0 sweep over Arizona in the NLDS was a pretty easy topic of conversation).

The score? Tips lose 4-1, but for a young team still adjusting to the early season, puck possession times and scoring chances in the third suggested momentum to be carried over Wednesday. Ethan Browne collected his first career assist on a crisp and nifty offensive zone face-off win, immediately snapping the puck into Orrin Centazzo’s wheelhouse for the game tying goal.

Mitch Love expressed optimism on the postgame show.

The bus arrived at 3am to dump bags into Canalta Centre. Finally, bed time – it felt good.

 


OCT. 7-9 – EDMONTON, HERE 3 DAYS
MILES: 0
DRIVING TIME: none. Rogers Place is around the block. You walk there. 

MONDAY: No ice for the Silvertips. Four games in five days are coming up, so it’s another day to put the mind to work with one last full day in Edmonton. Two guest speakers met up with the Tips in the morning: former NHL tough guy Matt Kassian (Ottawa, Minnesota), who dropped by the team’s breakfast in downtown Edmonton to share words of wisdom on what it takes to reach the NHL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then with the help of Winnipeg assistant coach (and former Portland bench boss) Jamie Kompon, the Tips earned a special privilege to observe morning skate in the seats of Rogers Arena, and keep their eye on the details of the top players in the world (FYI: all-world talent Patrick Laine is a large man, and has the release of a bazooka). Kompon’s words to the Silvertips, after morning skate, struck a loud tone: “in the NHL, nothing is given … everything is earned.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Kompon coached a Tips U.S. Division rival, the hockey world’s a small world, and his speech was an embodiment of people being willing to help people, regardless of past battle lines. He’s a terrific man.

The Tips had to load bags onto the bus that morning, and move through the Winnipeg Jets hall-wide game of “sewer ball.” Yours truly was the first to ask the Jets to “excuse us for a moment, gentlemen” … while every Silvertip with bag, trunk, and equipment paraded through the paused game.

Thanks for pausing, Mr. Laine, Mr. Ehlers, and Mr. Wheeler.

Evening: Oilers vs. Jets, McDavid vs. Laine. It’s my first ever NHL live game in “north of the border” circumstances, so it’s extra special. Connor McDavid is frighteningly fast. Not to mention, it’s a battle featuring over 10 players on both rosters with WHL ties. Intrigue lies everywhere. The Tips theoretically became the first team to see Kailer Yamamoto (who is eligible to return to Spokane) this season. Another dub grad, Tips alumnus Jujhar Khaira, caught up with us after the game (Winnipeg won, 5-2 on Nikolaj Ehlers’ natural hat trick) for reflection on his time in Everett. He’s a gentleman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oilers voice Jack Michaels and I go back several years, while sharing the experience as former Alaska Aces play-by-play announcers. Other friends across both teams continued to buzz through the press box – so while the night was on working conditions for yours truly, the opportunity to catch up with old friends (and make some new ones) was invaluable.

 

Alaska Aces / ECHL radio alumni reunion.

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(Thanks, Oilers media relations guru and friend-in-the-biz J.J. Hebert for credentialing and the gracious grant of a working space. Rogers Place is a happening scene, and the Oilers are a hot ticket. He’s a pro and even better guy.)  


SUNDAY: Condensed day and condensed preparations for the Tips and Edmonton Oil Kings. It’s also a slightly condensed work environment – the Winnipeg Jets, who’ve followed the Tips from Calgary, are on the practice sheet as the Tips roll into Rogers Place for the 4pm puck drop.

You know what happened: things didn’t come together, and the Tips suffered a disappointing 5-1 defeat on Trey Fix-Wolansky’s three point game.

More on the press box: it’s high, and it’s slightly pushed back. I’m told by an unnamed broadcasting source within the NHL that the only higher booth is Prudential Center in New Jersey. All of that aside (you’re still able to track the puck and players, and reading breakouts are a breeze), it’s a gorgeous venue. Every item you could think of that embraces the 21st century approach to a modern sports structure was thought of and installed. I’m grateful to get a game in this place.

SATURDAY: Into Edmonton after an overnight trip for 3.5 hours into the most northern city in the National Hockey League. The Edmonton Oilers, who also run the Oil Kings, moved into the state-of-the-art Rogers Place last season, an 18,347 seat venue that is an engineering marvel stretching through downtown Edmonton.

The Tips moved into the facilities at 1:30am to deposit bags at the dressing room, and basically gawk for five minutes at the architecture that Connor McDavid presumably will make a work of hockey art out of a slate of ice each night for the next (who knows?) many years.

Once it was “up and at ‘em” for practice at the adjacent practice facility, the Tips returned to the hotel for a 2.5 hour session led by guest speaker and performance coach Barry Jansen of Jansen HR, deeply exploring the structure of an athlete’s psychology. Conclusion? The Silvertips better understand what happens when teams go through a “cohesive” bonding process, how to accelerate it, and better understand what makes each teammate tick. Because after all – they’re humans, not robots.

Dinner time: you know who we bumped into? Zack Dailey. No phones out this time, but he’s doing well and coaching in the Edmonton area.


FRIDAY, OCT. 6 – CALGARY, HERE ALL DAY
MILES: 0
DRIVING TIME: within city

MORNING: Scotiabank Saddledome has been around since the early 1980’s, but it’s the home of a compelling National Hockey League franchise in the Calgary Flames. They also signed one of the most compelling (and future Hall of Famer) Jamomir Jagr, so like the previous day where we had a view but couldn’t snap a photo, today has no issue.

Morning skate came at an extremely early time: 9:00am. That’s because the Flames needed the ice, and they rule the roost. Once the Silvertips were done, it was time to head to the seats for 20 minutes and watch the world’s finest talent roll through drills with head coach Glen Gulutzan. Watching Jagr, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and more brought an extremely eye-opening experience.

Number 68 came down on his second rush and snapped one off the post and in. No big deal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, it’s always good to see old friends. Flames radio color analyst (and it should be mentioned, WHL play-by-play voice) Peter Loubardias and crew were monitoring practice. We had a good few minutes of catch-up and exchanging Flames / Tips news. He’s extremely dialed in, and he asked A LOT of the Tips on this year’s roster.

AFTERNOON: Nothing out of the ordinary for a game day. Eat, meeting, interviews, sleep, bus.

NIGHT: Go time at the dome. This visit only comes once every other year, so it’s a treat to sit and call the game from an NHL view. You go across the high rising and death defying catwalk (don’t look down), which is yet still safe for human legs – I hauled my bag and a 50-pound trunk of radio broadcast equipment across that thing. The only time it swayed was when it was “in my head.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips win 1-0 behind Dorrin Luding’s shutout. Afterward, it was an ideal time for friends, family, and Tips alumni to socialize and revel in the victory before taking off to Edmonton.

 

 

 

 

 


THURSDAY, OCT. 5 – SPOKANE TO CRANBROOK, BC
MILES: 741
DRIVING TIME: 7 hours, 41 minutes (with a stop in between) 

MORNING: After a 5-4 loss (on a freakish goal with 3.5 seconds to play) at Spokane to begin this massive swing, a 3.5 hour bus ride awaited the Everett Silvertips into the first half of the leg. Spokane Valley to the C of Red is quite a journey, so the trip is split up into two parts: the overnight stay in the quaint and picturesque town of Cranbrook, BC, then the afternoon leg into Calgary.

Did we mention the bus crash? Or the one that almost happened? Or two? Yep. Elk and doe love the nocturnal roads of B.C. Getting past the border was one adventure. Having the fearless bus commander, Kevin Pearson, slam the brakes twice in a span of 45 minutes was another, just because Bambi’s offspring wanted to play traffic cop. Wide awake, now!

Into Cranbrook at 3am. Sleep awaits. Up at 10am and finally the cobwebs are shaken off. I had no idea St. Eugene was an exquisite golf destination (and, I’m a sucker for 18 holes during the summer). This was nice to wake up and stare at.

 

 

 

 

AFTERNOON: Finally hitting the road at 1:30pm (bus drivers have a clock before the “overtime rule” hits, you know), I feared losing my wallet. It was left on the bus, and stayed in the same seat. Crisis averted. Once the wheels began to spin at 70 miles per hour, the ride was routine: electronics for work with the staff, and electronics for work with the team (“Dark Knight” was the movie of choice).

NIGHT: Into Calgary, where the façade of downtown hits you right in the face like an oasis as you emerge from the Alberta plains. For guys who’ve never played in the Saddledome (longtime home of the Flames), it’s like a revelation. For guys returning, it’s a carrot in front of the nose that gets larger (get to the show and this could be your stop for a long time … or home). No surprise that 25 players converged on the visiting team bench for photos while Flames game entertainment rolled through their elaborate opening night introductions, for Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did we mention that there was a Jaromir Jagr sighting? No pics, sorry, for you “Instagram or it didn’t happen” crowd. Better to give the man his space. But as the Tips loaded bags into their dressing room for the Friday morning skate, it was pretty hard to miss an athletically built 45-year old male decked out in a brown leather jacket, jeans, and causal kicks while sporting a man bun and silver lined beard, opening the door to the Flames dressing room. That’s the fun you get while involved in this league and these kind of road stops. The guy debuted in the NHL when I was in fifth grade. He’s an epic human being.

Dinner. Bed. Showtime on Friday vs. the Hitmen coming (5:30pm PT pregame on 1520 AM / Tips App).

Did we also mention some of your favorite Tips alum are hanging around town?

 

 

 

 

 

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

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