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.

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