ROAD TIPPIN! 9 Days Through A New Set of Twists, Turns

 


Hey, we’re back. Nine days on the road with the Silvertips, Dec. 28-Jan. 5, covers New Year’s, four Canadian cities, an NHL run-in, and a whole lot of driving.

Let’s recap what’s happened:

DAY 1: SATURDAY, DEC. 28
KAMLOOPS, BC
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 260 miles (4.5 hour drive)

 Last time the Silvertips will see the Kamloops Blazers for the regular season. The quick trip was nothing out of the ordinary: late arrival into B.C. after the Tips final home game of the decade against Prince George, late out of bed and right to work after the 4pm hour.

Among the esteemed guests in the house: Tips prospect forward Austin Roest and father Stacy, currently assistant general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Austin joined us on air for a few minutes during the second intermission, and is honing his game in West Kelowna before his first full eligible WHL season next year.

One Tips win and 12 goals later, they’re off and running to a 1-0 start. There’s a day off the following day, so no rush to get out of town: a full night’s sleep is the best medicine for a six-game, nine-day sprint out of the gate following the holiday break.


DAY 2: SUNDAY, DEC. 29
KAMLOOPS TO RED DEER, ALBERTA
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 470 miles (8 hours)

By the time we got into Red Deer, Sunday night football was underway between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. And if you, dear reader, are a diehard member of the 12s, you’re already interested in skipping this part. Just move onto day three.

The restaurant was packed with the entire Silvertips team enjoying dinner, and a separate table for hockey staff to take in every snap, including no bigger Seahawk fan than longtime Puget Sound resident and Tips equipment manager James Stucki. He handled the goal-line stand defeat in stride, and the entire team retired for the night.


DAY 3: RED DEER, ALBERTA
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 0 MILES (HERE ALL DAY)

My visits to the Enmax Centrium are always a treat with a visit to esteemed colleague and fellow Los Angeles Dodgers fan Cam Moon. He is a great listen, a great hockey mind, has been in the actual trenches, and runs a smooth operation.

Of course, he warns me about the climb up the stairs at the Centrium. There’s no elevator in the building. Otherwise, it’s one of my favorite venues: pristine sightlines, first class press box amenities, and a well-polished building from the inside that hosted the Memorial Cup only 3.5 years ago.

Doug Sinclair, Tips senior scout (MB), who’s never dry of a word, was great joining me on air.

Tough scene for the Silvertips: up 2-0, then Red Deer storms back with six unanswered in the last two periods (topped with a pair of empty netters). Time to forget this one and move onto Edmonton for three days.


DAY 4: RED DEER TO EDMONTON, ALBERTA
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 95 miles (1.5 hours)

The Tips got in overnight, and a good idea for reasons: 1) more time to sleep in a hotel bed, 2) the Edmonton Oilers were preparing for a home game against the New York Rangers, so getting shop set up made the day run smoother, and 3) enjoying the hub of convenience in downtown Edmonton. Everything’s there.

The Tips will be spectators after their late morning practice at Rogers Place’s practice sheet for the Rangers and Oilers. More on that in a bit. Getting through the morning was akin to rubbing shoulders with some of hockey’s finest. A few players snuck a peek at Connor McDavid doing his thing in morning skate. The Tips dressing room was only 30 feet away. It was hard to avoid it. Henrik Lundqvist scooted on by in a peacoat and scarf I’m very certain cost more than my bi-weekly paycheck.

As the Tips made their way to the ice, they moved right past the pearly gates of the Oilers dressing room, and patiently awaiting media scrum. Oilers broadcast voice (and good seeing a longtime friend in the business) Jack Michaels was present, bumping into Tips assistant coach Louis Mass for a wide-smile, friendly hello – the two were together with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL from 2003-10. James Stucky, Tips equipment manager, enjoyed a few moments with colleagues from the New York Rangers side.

Garry Davidson crossed paths with Tips alumnus Jujhar Khaira (more on him, soon), tending to morning business in the Oilers equipment storage room. I bumped into Oilers color analyst Drew Remenda, previously working very close by, during time in Northern California. Finally, Oilers head coach and former NHL Seattle senior advisor Dave Tippett popped out of the hallway as I was moving along to Tips practice, and exchanged a delightful hello/catch-up for a few moments with me before moving onto the news of the day with the awaiting media scrum.

I won’t forget his time visiting downtown Everett last season, and the people who back up Tippett with the appropriate label, “world class” are never wrong about him.

As they say in this game, the hockey world’s a small world.

The night for the Silvertips begins at 5:30pm, where the entire team meets in the lobby of the nearby hotel, two blocks away for a quick photo op, then off to the game to enjoy in the lower bowl of Rogers Place. The tickets aren’t cheap, and the night was made possible by several out-of-this-world generous members of the Silvertips booster club, who funded the experience.

Did you know? Olen Zellweger walked away as a new, proud owner of a Connor McDavid autographed jersey, won in a Rogers Place concourse stickhandling attraction. He had to surpass obstacles within 30 seconds. He won the race. And random spectators got an up close and personal look at a Silvertip defensemen, mingling with the common folk, who has an extremely bright future.

The Oilers held off the Rangers, 7-5 in one of the wildest regular season games I’ve ever seen. By the second period, the Oilers went up 6-0, James Neal had a hat trick, and perhaps the only question left about the game at that moment was “could the Oilers get to 10?”

Well, if you count “combined goals,” it happened. The Rangers – after putting Lundqvist in for Alexandar Georgiev, ripped off five straight goals between the second and third period, and nearly tied it in the last 30 seconds of regulation as Mika Zibanejad narrowly missed going “bar down” on a snap shot from the right circle. Ethan Bear and Khaira (funny we mention here) teamed up to get the puck to Kailer Yamamoto (six degrees of WHL separation!) for an empty netter, and as we heard Michaels close the final seconds of the game on radio in the press workroom, “crisis averted.”

Time to head to the Oilers dressing room to get a few official words with Khaira. Have you ever seen photos of the place that looks like the size of Montana? It’s a perfectly symmetrical, state-of-the-art designed team hub chiseled with a fine steel, and darkened wood motif. Khaira shows up for a quick chat, fit into a perfectly tailored suit and still carrying the demeanor of poise, calm, and professionalism. While waiting, cool moment – James Neal was one of the last out of the Oilers dressing room for good reason, he waited before 3 bags of hats were hauled nearby his stall, where he picked out one random hat (actually, two: appropriately, it was a New Year’s black top hat) to pose for photography.

We aired the full conversation the next day during the intermission of the New Year’s Day matinee versus the Oil Kings, and have a brief snippet here, but will have the full length on the Tips website / YouTube soon. Khaira waxed plenty of nostalgia about his time and development in Everett, and his evolution as an Oiler now into year five as an NHL forward.

Time to leave and get out for a moment to say “Happy New Year” to fellow colleagues and get right to bed. The workday begins at 9am, anyway!


DAY 5: EDMONTON, ALBERTA
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 0 MILES

 Weren’t we just here?

As a 2pm game awaits the Tips and Oil Kings – and this one’s a marquee quality as two CHL Top 10 teams butt heads – the day has “condensed preparations” written all over it. 

Out of bed by 8am (my back has been ailing last three weeks) for a quick yoga session and right to breakfast by 9:30, complete with brunch style offerings, lends to getting to Rogers Place at around 10am. It feels like there’s still plenty of residue left from the wild night between the Oilers and Rangers.

Nonetheless, a great WHL matchup is ready to go – and the scoresheet and box office doesn’t disappoint. Over 9,100 took this game in (the upper bowl is usually curtained off for Oil Kings games, unless it’s “Teddy Bear Toss” night) for a 4-3 Tips shootout loss. The decade began with a bang: the Tips earned a pair of goals in the first five-plus minutes and were terrific at five-on-five. Edmonton tied the game on a pair of power play goals in the second period, then took the lead on a Liam Keeler rebound off the rush, only to see it disappear next shift on a Bryce Kindopp rebound goal. He led the entire league in goals for the 2019 calendar year, and picked up where he left off.

The Oil Kings had one more than the Tips, and by the time the game was over, there was plenty of time for the late afternoon / early evening to see friends / family for many players.

Matt Fonteyne is one of them – a consummate Silvertip over the course of five years and nearly leading the Tips to a WHL title in 2017-18, he put the pro aspirations in moth balls this season to redshirt at U. of Alberta (where he’ll play next year after last season’s AHL campaign in San Jose) and cash in his WHL scholarship chips for a higher education.

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Great to see “Fonzie”, looking sprite and full of life.


DAY 6:
EDMONTON TO PRINCE GEORGE, BC
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 458 MILES (over 7.5 hours)

Get your movies, podcasts, popcorn, snacks, water, whatever ready. It’s a long journey, and the Tips made it into Prince George by about 6pm PT after a nine hour ride.

Stopping in Jasper, Alberta for lunch was a noteworthy. The clean, crisp air blended with the sizzling white snowcaps was a treat for the eyesight. Not to mention, the apple chicken ciabatta sandwich with Caesar salad at Earl’s.

Along the way: off the bus to stretch the legs. Mt. Robson’s perfectly slow laced grounds, majestic mountains, and wide open spaces were a prefect match.

Short evening: a team dinner at a local steakhouse was just blocks away, then time for bed.


DAY 7: PRINCE GEORGE, BC
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 0 MILES

It’s the only time the Tips will get into Prince George this season. as this running entry has now surpassed 1710 words and counting, let’s keep it brief:

A routine day was followed up with a not-so-routine defeat: 4-3. It stalled the first win of Braden Holt’s career, earning the net for his first career WHL start on this evening. His family made the trip (they’ve been on it the whole time) and it’s a good thing because of the following evening:


DAY 8:
PRINCE GEORGE, BC
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 0 MILES

It’ll be Holt’s net again because the Tips swung a post-game trade to shore up their goaltending situation: Keegan Karki moved to Prince Albert for a fourth round pick in 2020, teaming Holt with third year Tips goaltender Dustin Wolf, nearly back from the World Juniors.

The Tips hadn’t won in three games, and the fire and brimstone was burning hot inside them from the drop of the puck. They scored two goals in the first 2:03 – Ronan Seeley and Jake Christiansen had the honors – and the Tips never looked back in a 5-2 win.

It reminded me of a story on Holt, who got his first career win this evening – his love for the game developed as far back as near infancy when mother, Melody took him in the stroller to the local rink in the Denver area to watch his older brother, Evan, play.

This time, with all three in the venue, it was Evan enjoying the scene with younger brother, Braden, taking in the milestone win.

The Tips littered the stat sheet with points across the board, and it’s time to come home.


DAY 9:
PRINCE GEORGE TO HOME
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 527 MILES (9.5 miles)

 Back in downtown Everett and the familiar, cozy, damp, and mild Puget Sound weather by 8:45am.

We all slept overnight on a bus, and found our own level of comfort. Time flies: I’m out by midnight, and the next thing I know, it’s 6:45am and we’re ready for a border crossing.

Time to decompress. It’s been a slice, road trip.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his fifth season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 15th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

ROAD TIPPIN: Central Swing, Updates (Dec. 2-8)

 

 


Welcome to “Road Tippin,” a continuously updated blog illustrating life on the road and updates from the Everett Silvertips journey through the Central Division for the 2019-20 season.

As two of my predecessors, Jon Rosen and Travis Huntington, have documented here and allowed me to carry their torch starting four years ago, this is intended solely to give further texture to the adventurous life in hockey. Some days: routine. Other days: unpredictable and spontaneous.

We’ll be hitting in the next six days: Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Swift Current, and Calgary (the rest of the Central comes around New Year’s Day).

Without further delay, updates:

DAY 1
EVERETT, WA. TO LETHBRIDGE, AB.
MILES: 672 (15 hour drive, including stops)

This one’s the longest. Bring a pillow (double stuffed for me) and a good blanket, or you will exit the bus in worse shape than a ripped book from a child’s playroom.

Exiting downtown Everett, breakfast for the entire team (in convenient “to go” boxes) came from the hands of Jim Staniford, owner of Vintage Cafe off Hewitt:

An egg scramble with meat, onions, peppers, potatoes (biscuit and jam too, if you’re hungry).

I was up at 4:30am to get my daily workout in – probably explains my coma between 7-8:30.

Want a cool bus movie throwback? The classic, “Rudy” was on screen before we hit a lunch stop. Fact: did you know? This was Vince Vaughn’s film debut.

We’re cruising after we cross the border into the mountain time zone. Work, music, film, and news sites help pass the time. Before we step into dinner at a local Boston Pizza, there’s a quick FaceTime session with the family.

Into Lethbridge by 10:30pm, and the first time we’ll see Enmax Centre in two years, last with a team that had names like Bajkov, Fonteyne, Hart (off the trip: illness), and Davis.


DAY 2
LETHBRIDGE, AB.
MILES: 0 (didn’t have to drive anywhere)

You can call it routine.

For the first time on this trip, the daily ritual of a road stop finally hits the Silvertips schedule: breakfast, bus, arena, two hours surrounding practice and preparations, booth set up (for me), and enjoying a few personalities from outside the glass.

Time to give James Stucky, Tips equipment manager from day one (and the double-duty team travel coordinator) his annual due – he laces together a set of unbelievable travel / food accommodations. Tonight’s cuisine, at an unnamed italian restaurant, served family style portions: flatbread pizza, penne pasta dishes (meat sauce and white sauce with mushroom options), and one of the best caesar salads I’ve ever had.

Back to the hotel for the night prep session, while pulling father double-duty: Lukas (my oldest, almost 5) had his pre-kindergarten Christmas program, so the computer had an extra pop-up screen for the streamed presentation!

Time to get ready for another gear, Wednesday, against Dylan Cozens, Calen Addison, and the Lethbridge Hurricanes.


DAY 3
LETHBRIDGE, AB.
MILES: 0 (didn’t have to drive anywhere)

Pretty routine, once we get into the day: a first class breakfast is prepared for the entire team in the hotel lobby, then it’s off to the morning skate session – since my booth is prepared, there’s no sense in heading up where instead I can perch up at a local “rinkside” club seat table, and attend to several off-ice duties.

Everyone’s on the ice today, and Tips assistant coaches Louis Mass and Mike Lysyj have the players moving at top speed through drills lasting approximately 45 minutes.

The Tips addressed a pretty big challenge tonight and knocked off the Hurricanes, 3-1 at Enmax Centre. Dustin Wolf and crew were excellent at neutralizing Dylan Cozens (the league’s top scorer) and Calen Addison, who have been dynamite for the Hurricanes this season.

From the gondola, the opportunity to see plays break out right below you give a new view on how the Tips wrapped up this one: Gage Goncalves, who scored two goals, was all over a turnover at center ice for an early first period goal.

After the game: a quick out to Medicine Hat, Alberta where we’re staking out for a few days.


DAY 4
LETHBRIDGE, AB TO MEDICINE HAT, AB
MILES: 104 (drive: 1 hour, 53 minutes) 

Laying our belongings down in the hotel room late at night, I looked at our trainer Blake Draughon (my roommate: and I hope I’ve been a good one, heh) and said “well, essentially this is it” (we’ll have one more stop – and it’s a short one, in Calgary).

Canalta Centre brings an afternoon practice at relatively shiny, new venue still letting go of it’s “new car smell” – it’s got awhile to build up to the history of the old Medicine Hat Arena, but all of the Tigers history has been transferred over to the countless banners lined up in a row behind the end zone to the right of the press box. Linden, Hrudey, Osgood, and more are alive and well from those relics.

Silvertips owner and chairman/CEO of Consolidated Sports Holdings, Bill Yuill, made his first appearance at practice today and will host a gathering for the Silvertips at a private lodge within town this evening.

UPDATE: The holiday party was an absolute smash. Video is coming, and the team-bonding element delivered a holiday party sing-a-long battle. Michal Gut brought the house down: the first year forward out of the Czech Republic was elected “maestro” for his group, and conducted with essentials: a fork and knife.

Whatever works!


DAY 5
MEDICINE HAT, AB TO SWIFT CURRENT, SK
MILES (round trip): 280 (drive: 2 hours, 10 minutes, one-way)

This day began on a challenging note.

The blessing of Jake Christiansen, returning from the American Hockey League (who was  embraced by his teammates, one-by-one, late Thursday night), also delivered a tough decision on the Silvertips roster. They have four overage players, and are only allowed to keep three.

Early Thursday morning, a deal was done: the Seattle Thunderbirds acquired Max Patterson from the Silvertips in exchange for a fourth round draft pick in 2020.

The Tips, by league rules, had two weeks to figure out the roster situation. As Garry Davidson pointed out in a team news release, the timing delivered an opportunity to find a home for Max (he can finish his WHL career in an established role), while the Silvertips got a return element from the transaction: another mid-round WHL draft pick, where they’ve been very successful at finding future talent.

Max is a “heart-and-soul” player who’s logged a ton of ice time as a WHL forward. The good-bye was emotional. Since I speak from the heart, he’ll always be considered a part of the Silvertips family.

With the Tips roster situation locked in place, the day called for a commute to Swift Current for game night, and back to Medicine Hat immediately after. There’s no ice available at Canalta Centre because of a concert. You manage with what you have: the Tips got a workout and stretch at the hotel, then hopped the bus for the two-hour drive (which almost felt like three, because time speeds up: crossing the border into Saskatchewan, you lose an hour and move to the central time zone).

Ah yes, that building:

It’s a motivating piece for Tips players still here from two years ago. With Jake Christiansen returning, they belted the Broncos for a 5-1 victory (Fonstad to Christiansen, saucer pass, cross-ice, one-timer was pretty sweet).

As for me: be careful in choosing your office.

Innovation Credit Union iPlex is famous for it’s unilateral method of press box entry:

by ladder.

My equipment is stored in a steel framed trunk. It weighs 45 pounds.

Kids, never skip leg day.

In the past, I’ve required help to get the thing up the ladder. I’m once told my dear friend and predecessor Travis Huntington almost had the thing fall out of the booth as he was moving it, and land on his head.

Today, I felt brave. I had a master plan. I had nobody in sight across the entire venue when we arrived at 4:45pm. I was going to get that thing up by myself.

It required some moving parts: first, dismantle the components inside and lift onto the loft, one by one (the soundboard, the phone unit that gets us connected to the radio station, headsets, cables, and more) so the case is lighter in weight.

Then, hoist the case myself, using body weight. After some teetering, I did it.

Then, up the ladder I go.

Then, look at my door, thinking “this isn’t familiar.”

I look at another loft to my right: “RADIO PLAY-BY-PLAY.”

I went up the wrong ladder. And I could have spit nails.

Oh well. Big thanks to Broncos associate Ryan Switzer for helping me loft the case up a 2nd time.


DAY 6
MEDICINE HAT, AB
MILES: 0 (here all day)

With late night travel bringing the Silvertips back into Medicine Hat, the day was kept very low key. A light morning skate session was followed by team meetings, a stretch, and then into the afternoon prep for the game that night.

I’m pumped every visit here. Bob Ridley, about to finish his fifth (!) decade as voice of the Tigers, has his name plastered on the press box and delivers youthful exuberance. We catch up for about 20 minutes, go over name pronunciations, and what’s to come (two teams that love to push pace, and the Tips who will try to tame a Tiger team under the return of Willie Desjardins).

Let’s say that went off with flying colors. They stunned the Tigers with a 2-0 lead, and a highlight reel save by Wolf in the first period on Cole Sillinger. They went onto run away with it and hand the Tigers their largest margin of defeat all season.

I could see Tips head coach Dennis Williams visibly applaud after the team left the bench with a 4-0 lead after the second period. This effort was very, very good.

Late finish (7:30pm MT game): onto Calgary.


DAY 7
MEDICINE HAT, AB TO CALGARY, AB
MILES: 182 (drive: 3 hours)

Well, it says three because my Google.com research told me, but it’s longer because of snow packing the hills. We had to slow down. Safety first.

With that, we didn’t get into Calgary until about 3am. Typically, these trips mean a team drop off at the arena, while equipment James Stucky (who tirelessly works his tail off) gets a helping hand by Draughon and me to haul bags off the bus and deposit into the visiting dressing room, inhabited only hours ago by the Los Angeles Kings in their 4-3 loss to the Flames. That meant a 4am “lights out” time for the Draughon/Benton room.

The turnaround was swift, and if you’re into a comfortable walk around an NHL building to soak in the history of the Flames before the game, you’ll lose ground. The 4pm puck drop time meant condensed preparations: I took a 12:30pm cab over after brunch just to make up for the long elevator and walk to the press gondola, and efficiently prepare the broadcast in an office environment because of the early start time.

(Note: ask James Stucky or any players about the meal in Calgary. It was good, and delivered something for everyone: I combined chicken breasts with french toast and syrup, an ode to the “chicken and waffles” combo. Hmmmmm, good.)

Oh and that gondola: you can get there by taking an elevator from the dressing room side of Scotiabank Saddledome and right over the press box, where doom awaits with one false move. No big deal.

The Tips had to shake off sleepy first period, down 2-0, and eventually a 3-1 deficit in the second period. Once they did, there was no stopping them.

Five unanswered goals, including four in the third period brought a memorable 6-3 comeback win against a very good Hitmen team, better than their record indicates at fourth in the Central. To finish four games in five days with a gut-check victory brought on a strong indication of team progress, and resolve when not much was left in the tank.

Time to come home. Once the 12 hour drive is complete, it’ll be good to be back.

(Just in time, too: December 9 means oldest, Lukas, has his 5th birthday.)

Four wins, five days, and plenty of memories in the books.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his fifth season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 15th in the game.  Tweet at him here.