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.

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