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.

ROAD TIPPIN’ / To the East and Back (UPDATED FREQUENTLY)


In lieu of “take me through it,” which appears every Wednesday, “Road Tippin'” makes its annual return for the next week and a half. In case you’re new to the concept, it’s a long-running tradition by Silvertips play-by-play voices designed to bring the Silvertips road trips to the Eastern Conference to life.

Sometimes people don’t want to watch a video or are in too noisy of a setting to put on earbuds and hear us talk about it. Sometimes the written word will do just fine. This is one of those times.

Here’s what’s happened:


EasternSwing_Day1DAY 1: EVERETT, WA TO LETHBRIDGE, AB
DISTANCE: 674 miles
DRIVE TIME: Approximately 15 hours (including stops) 

The alarm went off Tuesday morning, Oct. 16 at 2:45am. And 2:50am. And 3am. By that time, if I wasn’t out of bed, I fully gave my wife rights to punch me in the arm for two reasons: 1) because I was lazy getting out of bed, and 2) she’s up enough for our 10-month old son, Liam.

I had to get to the arena by 4am. Bus was to pull out at 5am. Mission accomplished. By this time, I’m so doped up on coffee that it’s impossible to fall asleep. There are a few items to handle on the laptop, and by 7:15am the caffeine wears off enough that crash-and-burn is unavoidable.

The Silvertips make 3 stops on the way, scripted: 1) crossing the Canadian border, 2) stop at Tim Hortons (you know you would too), and 3) brunch at a local diner – where the team has the option of a sit down restaurant, Taco Bell, or McDonald’s at 11am.

Fernie, BC is the next stop, where Boston’s Pizza awaits. Ask Dennis Williams: he’s a fan of the “Great White North.” But you can’t go wrong with any flavor of slice at Boston’s. There’s a pie called “The Meateor.” You can guess what kind of protein is on it. Delish.

Finally into Lethbridge, several of us among coaches and staff settle in for the riveting 13-inning Game 4 of the NLCS, won by the Dodgers on Cody Bellinger’s RBI single. We had a famous guest stop into say hello, if you’re familiar with the Sutter clan, while hanging out with nephew Riley.

Rich is good people.


Canalta CentreDAY 2: LETHBRIDGE, AB TO BRANDON, MB (stop in Medicine Hat, AB)
DISTANCE: 10 hours
DRIVE TIME: Approximately 9 hours 

Why waste time: 8:30am is the perfect time to jump back on the bus after a relaxing night’s sleep.

By the time we hit Medicine Hat at 10:45am, it’s the perfect time to shake off the legs and get a full skate in. At the same time, the league breaks news of the upcoming Canada Russia Series roster, and for the fourth straight year, the Tips will have their own on it – this time it’s Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter.

Me: “Connor, congratulations!”

Dewar (deadpan): “…. Thank you.”

(This is why he’s captain: little emotion invested in something that’s still several weeks away.)

We’ve only been in the door for 30 seconds when we’re approached by Mr. Bill Yuill, the owner and head of the Silvertips as CEO / Chairman of parent company, Consolidated Sports Holdings. It’s enough for a several hellos, including Williams, Dewar and Jake Christiansen, then back to the office for more of the work day.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Canalta Centre. Yes, as a 3+ year old building, it still has some “new car smell” that’s the direct antithesis of charm, storied, and nostalgic. I never set foot in Medicine Hat Arena. I’m aware of all the detailed stories surrounding it’s mystique, aura, and at times, intimidation factor. I still love Canalta Centre for it’s modernization, comfort, and amenities. It’s a new building that doesn’t feel “cookie cutter.” I’ve seen much worse, much more bland, much more vanilla.

We’re gone, off to dinner in Regina, SK, and back on the bus. Brandon, Manitoba is right around the corner. We’ll probably get in at 10pm (I’m still filing this on the bus). I need to workout. I’ve been challenged it may not happen tonight. I still have some fight left. We’ll see.

By the way, it’s assistant coach Louie Mass’ birthday. He’s 42 going on what seems 32 (and keeps in incredible shape — he owns an athletic training facility in Anchorage, Alaska).


DpzUcrSXUAM1IqsDAY 3: TO BRANDON, MB
DISTANCE: 0 miles (we’re here all day)
DRIVE TIME: Same as above 

Finally – a day where everyone can stretch out the legs. The drill is pretty simple and routine: breakfast, practice, meetings, study hall (for those under 18), dinner, unwind.

This brings us to Keystone Centre Westman Place Westoba Place, built in the 1970’s and on the golden years side of longevity and amenities. But ask some folks, not all hockey barns are designed to cater to modern, new, and freshly unwrapped.

This is the town where Brian Propp, Brad McCrimmon, Jordin Tootoo, Ray Ferraro, Ron Hextall, Brayden Schenn, Ivan Provorov, and Nolan Patrick honed their craft before jumping to the NHL. It drips history, heritage, and charm. Just walking through the concourse delivers a pretty special feeling.

Westoba Place is one of the few left over “old school barns,” and by that I mean even down to bench / penalty box logistics. Like Swift Current, the team benches are positioned opposite ends of the ice: while each respective team’s penalty boxes are located adjunct to their bench.

After dinner, guess who we bumped into: the man himself, Jordin Tootoo.

He’ll be honored before Friday’s game participating in a pre-game ceremony honoring his career in Brandon and a homecoming for him. Beginning in 2003-04 and leading up to his last journey recently through the NHL in 2016-17 with the Chicago Blackhawks, Tootoo was a pillar of strength whenever inserted into the lineup. He was fearless, strong, never met a check he didn’t like, and provided the necessary elements of grit that teams often talk about seeking. In other words, as I like to sometimes call  it, he was “nails.”

Up close, he’s engaging, warm, and articulate. We’ll have on Tootoo sprinkled throughout Friday night’s broadcast, where the Tips are aiming for their seventh win in eight games.


DAY 4: TO BRANDON, MB
DISTANCE: 0 miles (we’re here all day)
DRIVE TIME: Same as above 

For a pretty routine day, the Silvertips prepared for the first game of the trip in a pretty routine fashion: breakfast, ice time, meetings, game.

They had a pretty big theatre to play with:

Jordin Tootoo carved a 13-year career on guts, aggression, and a kamikaze like approach mainly with the Nashville Predators. Before that, he spent his entire WHL career with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and picked the appropriate time/place to announce his retirement.

Click the link to read more on what he delivered for a career, and the touch he has with a community that will benefit from his humanitarian approach. Before the game, I took a seat in the second row of the press conference, just behind his wife, Jennifer and their two girls, Siena Rose and Avery Grace. What happened in that press conference is something that was so human and special, it almost made me break down.

At one point, Jordin paused to thank his family for being there and after his wife, he acknowledged his two girls:

Tootoo (smiling): “to my lovely daughter Siena Rose … hi Siena.”

Siena: “Hi Daddy!”

Tootoo: “I love you Siena.”

Siena “I love you too Daddy …. are you finished yet?”

Laughter in the room could be then heard all the way to Winnipeg. It brought the house down.

Tootoo said in our post-conference conversation that being a Dad is the “ultimate victory” (I have two young boys, Lukas and Liam – fully agreed). Most of his time will be spent with them for now. You could see the whites of his eyes just light up every time he discusses Siena and Avery, where their victories are like what winning feels like after 60 minutes on ice. What a touching moment, followed by the pre-game ceremonial face-off where a tribute video was followed by the Brandon crowd saluting Tootoo at center ice to Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” (Tootoo is arguably the most popular Wheat King in franchise history).

Even more fitting: the Tips had Connor Dewar involved at the captain’s handshake / photo spot, in a place where Dewar played youth hockey, and had his father Jade there, and later scored a goal.

The Tips took a 5-2 defeat, and then moved on to the next one: Sunday at Regina after a day of rest.


DAY 5: BRANDON, MB TO REGINA, SK
DISTANCE: 225 miles
DRIVE TIME: 4 hours 

After breakfast, the Silvertips prepared for a day of travel with a team building exercise and 2.5 hour seminar, then prepared for the road to Regina – coincidentally a place they narrowly fell short by two wins on traveling to with hotel / playing conditions (Memorial Cup).

Last time here in 2016-17, the Tips – en route to the division title – beat a loaded Pats squad, 4-2. The return is under Sunday afternoon game conditions, giving the night for a relaxed team meal and walk back through a gorgeous downtown.

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Good evening from Regina, Sask. 🇨🇦

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That evening, there’s no work, no Tips game, so naturally where do I find myself?

It’s necessary homework: the Tips get the Pats tomorrow, it’s productive to get a look at Moose Jaw (who the Tips will see on Friday, Oct. 26), and there’s really no more engaging environment to handle broadcast homework.


DAY 6: REGINA, SK
DISTANCE: 0 miles (we’re here all day)
DRIVE TIME: None

With a 4pm game: the goal is simple. Rest, eat, and prepare accordingly because it’s a condensed work environment.

With the Tips missing the nearly clean track-record Dewar to a four-game suspension, the focus shifts onto those who can fill the gaps. You could tell from the get-go that Sean Richards, an ex-Pat, was due for a big game – he just returned to the lineup after serving a five game suspension.

Richards wasted little time. As the Tips were aiming to answer Nick Henry’s power play goal in the first period, Richards danced into the slot after speeding into the zone from a neutral zone giveaway, and uncorked a shot, bar down, on Max Paddock. That set the tone for a five-unanswered goal Tips win over a Regina team that fell to 0-7 at home, a numerical result from a team that’s in a rebuilding mode after gunning for titles the last two seasons and serving as a Memorial Cup host.

I almost didn’t make the bus – or so it seemed. Brandt Centre is a multi-layered complex, so the bus has to pull into a side building where a large warehouse leads to the arena downhill ramp.

Waling out of Brandt Centre with my equipment, the expectations were to find the door leading to the warehouse. No such door was spotted after 20 minutes, where I began to feel as if time was of the essence before getting a text from someone ready to leave on the bus reading, “hey, bus is pulling out.”

As luck would have it: a Brandt Centre staffer led me into a back hallway that transitioned to the warehouse and loading ramp. Made it with time to spare. Happy days are here again.


DAY 7: REGINA, SK TO SASKATOON, SK
DISTANCE: 160 miles
DRIVE TIME: 2.5 hours 

Getting into SaskTel Centre meant one sure-fire rendez-vous:

Bumping into this old friend.

Just a simple stop before the hotel to let hockey laundry dry out meant a quick 10 minute walk through the hallway, scoping the facility, and by chance – spotting the familiar smile and rich, baritone voice of the famed Tips alumnus and newly minted WHL head coach of Saskatoon.

There’s more of these coming possibly this week: Kohl Bauml and Carson Stadnyk currently are suiting up for the University of Saskatchewan.


DAY 8: SASKATOON TO PRINCE ALBERT, SK
DISTANCE: 88 miles
DRIVE TIME: 1.5 hours 

The benefit of staying in a hotel for a few days is simplicity. There’s less bags to pack, less moving around, and less moving parts. For the Everett Silvertips, their road game in Prince Albert means just a 1.5 hour bus trip into the small and cozy confines of Art Hauser Centre, the home of the Raiders.

It’s not a building you’ll mistake for Bell Centre in Montreal. With a capacity of just over 2,500, you can simply walk in the door and be at a distance from the glass that would cost you well over $100 for an NHL ticket. It’s a “barn,” in other words.

There’s a lot of pride for this barn, but also dripping with history. Banners from the rafters tell the story of when Mike Modano and Dave Manson suited up for the Raiders before they went onto lengthy-to-superstar careers in the NHL.

I won’t get any closer than this view in my life, unless there’s an assignment to wear a headset in the penalty box.

The Tips lost a game to Prince Albert, 3-0 (and to the top ranked team in the CHL Top 10) in a game that was closer than the score indicated. Prince Albert comes at you relentlessly every shift. Brett Leason, traded from Tri-City for a draft pick, reportedly dropped 10 pounds in the offseason and elevated his skill development to become a 6-foot-4 draft eligible behemoth who can toe-drag out of a phone booth. He’s good.

The Tips fell short on three consecutive power plays in the second period, with the game scoreless and kept it 1-0 as deep as three minutes left in regulation. Chalk that one up for an “almost,” and for the night, they tried to walk away with many positives.


DAY 9: SASKATOON, SK (here all day)
DISTANCE: 0 miles
DRIVE TIME: 0

Right back to home base where bags were dropped off at SaskTel Centre after the Prince Albert game, and then time to settle in for as much sleep as possible for Wednesday’s battle against Mitch Love’s Blades.

I don’t mind SaskTel Centre. The building continues to age, but the gondola brings a tremendous view of the action (similar to Calgary) with ice microphones that make the audio sound like we’re live with you, right on top of the glass. Banners of Howe, Federko, Wendel Clark, and more also tell a tremendous tale of WHL grads or Saskatoon natives who went onto greatness.

About Howe: he’s got a banner in the rafters, a statue outside of the building, a bridge named after him, and a complex going up in Saskatoon. “Legend” to describe a hometown guy doesn’t seem to begin to cover it.

The Tips spoke of positives before the game. They were close the previous night in Prince Albert. They generated several high grade scoring chances that could have turned the game around in a different manner.

And heading into the game at Saskatoon, they felt good.

The scoreboard showed. After the routine game day preparations, the Tips came out with a 1-0 lead after the first period while Dustin Wolf – who looked sharp the previous night in Prince Albert – was even better with no goals allowed through 40 minutes. The Tips smothered Kirby Dach, a consensus first round NHL draft pick this next June.

Dawson Butt came an assist short of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick and put up a key third period goal that steepened the chase for Saskatoon and put the Tips up, 2-0. By the end of the evening, Wolf had his 5th career shutout and dipped his goals against under two per game.

Back to the hotel for the late post-game meal, and to bed.


DAY 10: SASKATOON, SK (here all day)
DISTANCE: 0 miles
DRIVE TIME: 0

Off day. There’s four games in five days the Tips are getting through, not to mention the back end of the East Division swing, so a day of rest means small ice time for a few players to shake off the cobwebs, eat, sleep, and take a brisk walk around town.

I’m a big Pita Pit fan. I haven’t had Pita Pit in a long time. That was a definite lunch stop. The necessary fuel provided enough for a 30-minute round trip walk, sprinkled in with a couple of errand stops at the Saskatoon mall along the way.

Riley Sutter celebrates his 19th birthday today. He’s got Dad (you all know Ron), Mom, and family in town. It’s obvious the hockey commitments for this week call for a strict regiment, but the off was enough for Sutter to get out for a quick bite to eat. He told me there was no birthday cake involved, and the blend of indulgence / discipline involved eggs, other protein, and carbs as well. He’s a Capitals prospect now. No jumping off the “deep end.” So when it comes to nutrition, it’s all about sticking to the plan.

One more team meal at an undisclosed place in downtown Saskatoon had a lovely selection of pasta and meat sauce, chicken alfredo, or tortellini and mushroom in a light cream sauce as well.

Walking out of the restaurant, I noticed a team of over 20 players who were unbelievably connected and engaged with each other. It’s a good sign with just two days left on the trip.


DAY 11: SASKATOON TO MOOSE JAW (pit stop) TO SWIFT CURRENT, SK
DISTANCE: 167 miles
DRIVE TIME: 2 hours, 50 minutes

We see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I hope it’s not a train. The end of the Silvertips odyssey is in sight, and by the end of this evening they will be sleeping in the final bed before going back home.

Onto Moose Jaw. Population: nearly 34,000 and the fourth largest city in Saskatchewan (larger: Prince Albert, Regina, and the largest… no shocker, Saskatoon). There’s no sense in staying overnight because the Tips have a road game a couple hours away after this one.

The visit is to Mosaic Place, my second of the WHL career. It seats nearly 5,000, so it’s not larger than life. But it’s the perfect size venue for the team and city demands. It replaced the Moose Jaw Civic Centre, aka the “Crushed Can.” And many stories about the archaic nature of the old building still flow.

Tips win in overtime, 2-1 on Wyatte Wylie’s 3-on-3 snipe. After a dinner stop at the Mad Greek (my favorite on the trip), it was onto Swift Current. Uneventful drive, except for the fact that Game 3 of the World Series was on full blast with several players tuned in.

The fact that Game 3 was the longest in World Series history, take into account of how much you can cover in seven hours: I walked into the press room for coffee an hour before puck drop, and up on the monitor was the pre-game introductions.

We were nestled in our hotel beds – in Swift Current – a good 20-30 minutes by the time Max Muncy hit his signature walk-off homer in the 18th inning.


DAY 12: SWIFT CURRENT (here all day, sort of)
DISTANCE: 0 miles
DRIVE TIME: 0

Ah yes, here we are again – the place where the Tips magical and deep playoff run ended two wins shy of the Ed Chynoweth Cup five months ago. No player on game day will admit that series loss fueled them for this rematch, but you can tell by the energy in warm-ups, this was a very special game with unique ambitions.

Even more so, for Connor Dewar. The Tips captain just finished a four-game suspension, eligible to come back for this one. Our conversation from a past radio show indicated he let the Finals loss stick around and fuel his summer training regimen.

Here we go.

From the start, Dewar seized the stage. It was incredible to watch it unfold from the booth. Just less than 3 minutes into the game: boom, shorthanded goal.

Dewar finished the night with a fat two-goal, two-assist effort, factoring in every Tips goal to earn payback in the regular season rematch, 4-1. They faced a Swift Current team completely remodeled after last year: many of those playing key roles in the WHL title had moved onto the pros or elsewhere. A few remain. But the atmosphere set the mood, and the Tips embraced the challenge.

Off and running, on the bus, by 11pm. No Dennis Williams or Ronan Seeley on the way back: both were headed to New Brunswick for Hockey Canada. They’re back Nov. 11.

Then, finally, after 4-5 hours of as much shuteye as possible and a quick breakfast stop in Idaho, the finish line.

The tally: 5-2 in seven games, nearly 3,000 miles, and a ton of memories in the books for the Silvertips.

You can’t complain about that kind of an experience.


Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his fourth season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 14th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

 

Edmonton vs. Winnipeg: and WHL Alumni Across the Board


This is a night where the main objective is to catch up with another lifetime member of the Everett Silvertips alumni corps, now in NHL quarters. But with the Silvertips around for one more night in Edmonton, Alberta the preparations for Red Deer on Tuesday’s matchup with the Rebels means one more taste of the NHL environment.

It also means one special night at the sparking new Rogers Place in downtown, the 18,000+ seat marvel that is the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization. The Oilers main attraction is Connor McDavid – we know the robust resume he’s already building in his third year in “The Show” – but the lineup is littered with WHL alumni, a league featuring nearly 150 league graduates on opening night rosters for NHL teams.

One of them, still with current WHL ties, is forward Kailer Yamamoto, eligble to return in his draft plus-one year with the Spokane Chiefs. But he was so good in training camp, the Oilers penciled him into the starting lineup on opening night.

Here they are, categorized by tonight’s rosters:

GOALIES:
Edmonton: Laurent Brossoit

DEFENSEMEN:
Edmonton: Kris Russell
Winnipeg: Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey, Tyler Myers

FORWARDS:
Edmonton: Jujhar Khaira, Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Winnipeg: Adam Lowry, Nic Petan, Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey

IN-GAME: The Oilers outshot the Jets, 21-11 in the first period fell behind 2-0 … the WHL alumni corps took care of the deficit … Leon Draisaitl (Prince Alberta, Kelowna) finished a Connor McDavid feed between the circles, then 40 seconds later Red Deer Rebels alumnus Ryan Nugent-Hopkins raced behind the defense for a breakaway goal for a 2-2 tie in the second period … Winnipeg scores the last three (natural hat trick, Nikolaj Ehlers), wins 5-2 … Yamamoto’s second game in an Oilers sweater ended with the search continuing for his first career point, in spite of four shots and a pair of hits in a little less than 12 minutes of ice (his two penalty minutes came at a critical moment: with less than 3 minutes left in regulation, leading to Ehlers’ hat trick goal on the power play).

Note: Khaira, moved up to second line duty in the Oilers 3-0 win over Calgary last Friday in the 2017-18 opener, was scratched from the lineup for the first time this season. But our plan is to catch up with him before the end of the night and get the scoop on the transition of his game into the next level of his career. He’s one of 15 Tips alumni with NHL experience.

More on journey into the NHL, on video.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

ROAD TIPPIN’! Manitoba / Saskatchewan or Bust.

 


COMPLETED! Scroll down for new stuff, unless you’re here for the first time.

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.

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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:

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.

ROAD TIPPIN: Locked Doors, Farewell to Rexall, Mem Cup Central

I remember getting out of the car for work, the morning of January 25. Beginning a 100-foot walk to the loading dock entrance with Kevin Constantine, within ten seconds we were joined by Tia Dutton (the friendly face from the Silvertips ticket side of the front office).

Tia asked how everything is going.

Kevin responded, “oh good, we’re just about done with all of our bus trips.”

That’s where it hits me: we really are into crunch time, aren’t we?

The last “lengthy” trip of the Silvertips regular season brought the boys in green through a six-day journey through the grounds of a historic curtain call, the site of this year’s Memorial Cup, and familiar stomping grounds for one Tips assistant coach (hint: last name rhymes with “Donnie.”).

Day 1 – Everett to Kamloops, B.C.
January 19, 2016
Distance: 260 miles

Typically, this turns into six-hour drive, accounting for the need to stop at the border. There are no hiccups, and the “iron lung” (you’ll hear this nickname for the team bus) has rolled into the familiar “name left unknown for the purposes of protecting the innocent” hotel.

It also includes a brief dinner stop in Kamloops, where a pretty tasty (and enormously sized chicken parmesan is served). Needless to say, gym time awaits tomorrow.

16_0123_KamloopsBoothDay 2 – Game day in Kamloops
January 20, 2016

7:00am: the early bird gets the worm. I thought I was the first one to the gym. Negative.

Mitch Love beat me there.

I further understand how he “gets after it.” It’s an insatiable drive.

Sometimes the Silvertips will conduct a morning skate. Sometimes they won’t. It’s all based on circumstance. And since they’re in one location a full day, while on the road, the morning provides opportunity to get acclimated to the Sandman Centre environment. Same for this guy. The press box is high atop center ice, literally almost draped above the penalty boxes. A throwback press box location (they call them “gondolas” in Canada) is a view worth a million dollars for broadcasting.

Keep in mind, you better know where you’re going. I accidentally locked myself in a staircase trying to get downstairs. Thankfully, Wayne Duncan had a cell phone handy: he bailed me out.

Tips win 2-1 that night when Matt Fonteyne’s missed backhander, off the post, ricochets in off a Kamloops defenseman. You work for your breaks, we conclude.

Postgame meal: everyone shuttles off to a late-night establishment for roast beef, salad, pasta and a nightcap non-alcoholic beverage. Bed time.

16_0123_ClearwaterDay 3 – Kamloops, B.C. to Edmonton, AB
January 21, 2016
Distance: 505 miles

I’ve had this date circled on the calendar for awhile. For a bulk of my career in the ECHL, working in concert with prospects means direct dialogue with their parent club. For seven years, mine was the Edmonton Oilers. It doesn’t take too long to foster relationships. So by the end of the night, relationships are re-kindled over dinner in downtown (Corso 32 fed us the tastiest Italian food I’ve had in nearly a decade). Since this is the home stomping grounds for a few Tips (Carter Hart, Brandon Ralph, etc), a few of the guys have shuttled off to eat dinner with family too.

Let’s rewind to the journey to Wayne Gretzky Drive.

Along the way, through the treacherous mountains and snow capped roads, lies a small outpost town of Clearwater, B.C. (see above). Famous for it’s vast outdoor opportunities, the town boasting a population of 2,331 lies in the North Thompson River valley and employs many in the forest industry.

It’s also the original home of the quintessential outdoorsman, Silvertips assistant coach Brennan Sonne.

If you know him, you know how skilled he is in the area of game hunting and fishing. Clearwater is his family’s playground, also home to a school where his father served in administration. As we passed through, you could instantly perceive the energy that Brennan exuded by giving a brief “highway tour.”

One more stop for lunch is followed by the inevitable arrival into a snow-soaked Edmonton, the home of five Oiler Stanley Cup championships. There’s an obvious feeling of anticipation that hits the bus: it’s not just a homecoming for many. It’s not just a visit to an NHL venue.

It’s the last time we’ll all be in Rexall Place, which will shutter its doors after this season for the new, bright, shiny and state-of-the-art Rogers Place (below, in the flesh).

16_0123_RogersPlaceIt’s my first (and last) visit to Rexall. So upon stepping into the place, I resign to feelings of awe by taking a panoramic view of the place and realizing “this is where Gretzky did work.” For many WHL broadcasters, by now, it may be another visit. For me, the first year WHL guy, it’ll be a visit I’ll never forget. I won’t lie. It was amazing. So be it.

16_0123_RexallDay 4 – Game Day in Edmonton
January 22, 2016

Oil Country is a hockey town, therefore instantly recognizes tomorrow’s future stars of the big leagues. Carter Hart signs autographs. Bil La Forge, Silvertips director of player personnel, has his Mount Carmel Hockey Academy visit Rexall Place. Kids take their seats while in awe of the Silvertips, admiring the fact they could be a few years away from throwing on a WHL jersey (and if hard work pays off, an NHL jersey after that).

How much are the Silvertips like rock stars to these kids? The youth of Mount Carmel were lined up along the chain link fence to wave goodbye to the Tips bus on the way out. It was like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were stepping outside.

Again, I’m not going to play “too cool for school.” I value history, and putting it into context of the story each night on the air. It’s my third visit to an NHL press box (under play-by-play conditions) in my career. San Jose and Calgary are the previous two. So I stop and take a deep breath, examining all that’s gone through this building since the late 70’s.

16_0123_RexallSelfieGretzky. Kurri. Fuhr. Coffey. Five Stanley Cups.

Tonight, I call it my office space. It’s a reason why I love this line of work.

Downtown Edmonton, a 15-minute drive away from Rexall Place (and a big reason why the Oilers are building the new venue in the heart of the city), hosts the Silvertips team hotel. Two blocks away at another hotel lies another visiting NHL team.

The Nashville Predators have just arrived (they’ll play the Oilers the next night). So, when the opportunity presents itself to meet with an esteemed colleague, friend and mentor, you take advantage. Pete Weber, the voice of the Predators since the franchise’s inception, listened to my tapes in college. He provided feedback. He helped me land the first job. I’m forever indebted and grateful.

It was a treat catching up for an hour for lunch.

16_0123_PeteWeberThe Silvertips, in rare fashion, were beaten at their own game, 1-0 by the Oil Kings. Peyton Lee outdueled Carter Hart with his sixth career shutout and first in an Edmonton uniform.

It wasn’t the outcome the Tips envisioned, and fortunately a short commute to Red Deer lied ahead for late night travel.

16_0123_RedDeerDAY 5 – EDMONTON TO RED DEER
January 23, 2016
Distance traveled: 95 miles

Two hours on the bus, and into the hotel early in the morning. That’s only a little over a round trip between Everett and Kent. Not too shabby.

Since we’re at the tail end of three games in four days, there’s no morning skate. James Stucky didn’t even head to Enmax Centrium to set up until 2:30 pm (I value preparation, so no problem hitching a ride with the guru of gear to get everything set up with no panicked hustle).

Red Deer is the site of this year’s Memorial Cup tournament. They were prepared for this kind of excitement, where the entire collection of crème-rising major junior hockey and national television coverage descends on their town for several days.

16_0123_RedDeerBoothThe Centrium is a solid building. At maximum, it can hold a little over 7,000 fans – so it’s no larger than your run-of-the-mill minor league venue. It has a major league approach to its in-game entertainment, and in-arena upgrades have prepared this stage for the big show.

Led by GM/head coach Brent Sutter, the Rebels loaded their roster through numerous trades (Adam Helewka, Jake DeBrusk, and Luke Philp come to mind). As host, they’ll get an automatic bid into the Memorial Cup. They don’t want to disappoint.

And with the Tips holding an early 1-0 lead, unfortunately the next two-plus periods fell away from their intended plans. Arguably a team that had hit the bottom of the tank, Red Deer posted four unanswered goals to cruise to a 4-1 win.

Several Tips had family in attendance (Ron Sutter and the rest of his clan were the most obvious – with Brent and Riley Sutter eliminating battle lines for the sake of family). After commiserating and goodbyes, it’s bus time.

DAY 5: Red Deer, AB to Everett
January 24, 2016  
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 729 miles

Aside from a stop for breakfast along the way (which, reminds you that pancakes and eggs benedict will fill you up for two meals), here’s the only thing that’s on your mind …Picture1

Road Tippin’ (Nov. 15-22)

Cutting to the chase: life is short and a schedule is tight when handling six games in nine days, wrapped around the family holidays.

So, the game of catch-up has finally been conquered in this blog spot. Here’s the recap:

We’ll start with this: in Cranbrook, B.C., did you know you can walk into a hotel bathroom, find a TV and still watch the Canucks game?

MONDAY: Spokane to Cranbrook.  Practice in Coeur d’Alene, ID.
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 483 miles (starting Sunday in Everett, to Cranbrook)

DID YOU KNOW? Coeur d’Alene, ID is the home to Frontier Arena, a venue built originally with a thin frame in 1999, its roof crushed by snow and rain, and rebuilt in 2009 under fundraising which called for $800,000. That’s a huge chunk of change.

It now hosts an annual summer hockey event with some guys you may have heard of (who make their summer residence in the town): Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Adam Deadmarsh. Tyler Johnson’s youth hockey jersey (he played there before obviously moving onto bigger and better things) hangs in the venue. The summer tournament drives youth hockey fundraising, providing mite hockey opportunities only costing $50/child – equipment included. Yep, life is now good.

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From there, what remains is a five hour drive to Cranbrook, B.C., home of the Kootenay Ice and the brothers-Niedermayer (yeah, those guys).

More photos up on the Silvertips mobile app (if you’ve got a smartphone, get it via the snazzy iTunes App Store and the Android Market).

TUESDAY: Cranbrook. Game day.

Cranbrook

Within the tiny 4,000+ seat venue that is Western Financial Place, the Silvertips kept it low-scoring, simple, and methodical. Nothing too much out of the ordinary as far as the “slice of life” factor becoming unique, though the experience of walking into a piece of hockey heritage and see a pair of Niedermayer jerseys was a fascinating stop.

Of note, Carter Hart is still unreal, and Dario Winkler picked a fine time to break a six-game goal-scoring drought. GWG and an assist for his first multi-point game.

Postgame: you ever had Schnitzel? There’s a first time for everything (and it involves this postgame meal on the bus). What a way to expand the taste buds (just eat light during the day, to save room).

IMG_1045

WEDNESDAY: Lethbridge. Today, 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a tad moist outside.
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 304 miles

Quick stop and we’re outta here after the game tonight. Or, that was the plan.

The bus broke down. Or so we thought. At about 3am, just 30 minutes away from Lethbridge, we pulled over to the side of the highway in the throes of freezing rain and snow. We thought the bus had a flat tire. Instead, it was hard snow that accumulated inside the wheel.

Whew.

For the Silvertips, the return home gets sweeter (Riley Sutter’s home in the Calgary grounds is just 90 minutes away – Connor Dewar’s family has made the trip from Manitoba, a 12 hour drive, to visit on game day). No morning skate after maneuvering the icy highways and getting into the hotel at 3:00am.

It’s best to save the legs for game night.

With the only meeting of the season between the Tips and Canes around the corner, the battle of wills takes center stage. Defensively, there’s no one better than the Tips now (1.9 goals against). Offensively, there’s almost no one better than Lethbridge (2nd at 3.9 goals for, and only Kelowna’s better at four even per game). Pace versus structure: it’s a fascinating battle.

Remi Laurencelle was an acquisition from Lethbridge, so motivation won’t be too hard for one of the Silvertips overagers.

On the Hurricanes, looking to end a six-year playoff drought (and two years removed from a 50+  loss season), Brayden Burke is flat-out killing it with 31 points in 20 games. Andrew Nielsen has 22 points in 20 games on the blue line and is drawing the microscope, positively, now as a Toronto Maple Leafs draftee.

No dice on this night, and the Silvertips third period comeback falls short. Gotta work on those last-minute goals. They were also cracked for their first shorthanded goal all season. Mario Petit wasn’t too shabby in his first career start with 25 saves. One backdoor save he made in the first period, requiring athleticism, was a good indication that he settled in.

Lethbridge to Medicine Hat was a little bit more of a serene trip. No problem there.

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THURSDAY and FRIDAY: Medicine Hat, Alberta
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 98 miles

… Home of the Tigers. The world’s largest teepee. And a living broadcast legend.

Two days in town meant not just a light practice at the glistening new Canalta Centre (a swift departure from the familiarity and intimacy of Medicine Hat Arena – but an entertainment destination designed to deliver upgraded amenities). I’ve seen more tattered buildings in the American Hockey League. For one, I’m a big fan of the press box. There’s enough space for you to lay materials out appropriately, the “office space” is clean and wired appropriately, and the executive office chairs are a nice touch. The Bob Ridley Broadcast Centre delivers.

Speaking of Bob, it was my first experience having a conversation with the gentleman, and it was everything I hoped for. Bob delivers authenticity, joy, is extremely articulate and a grounded individual. It’s no wonder he’s got the press box named after him and is widely regarded as a “living legend,” when you combine those traits with his years of service.

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The night before the Silvertips took on the Tigers, the team, coaches and staff enjoyed a wonderful rendezvous and dinner with owner Bill Yuill, Chairman and CEO of the Monarch Corporation (their offices are in Medicine Hat).

What you can chalk up to a 2-1 loss: a second period that got away from the Silvertips. A mistake at the blueline led to Chad Butcher’s shorthanded goal. The Tips fell short in the special teams battle. That’ll lead to an undesirable result on the scoreboard.

On the side, family matters brought several related to Silvertips players. Notably, Riley Sutter had his own cheering section (Ron Sutter said later, “no one was louder than Riley’s mom”) for his first career WHL goal. Save Calgary, it couldn’t have come in a better place – his hometown province of Alberta. Quite fitting his Dad, Mom and Sister could take it in.

I said before the season that “I live to unfold a story each night,” and these are the storylines that drive my broadcast engine. They’re awesome.

Onto Calgary. Postgame meal: caesar salad, roasted potatoes, pork medallions.

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SATURDAY: Calgary
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 183 miles

The names of MacDonald, Fleury, Nieuwendyk, Iginla and “Johnny Hockey” permeate this longtime NHL home of the Flames.

Scotiabank Saddledome –  where we pulled in at 1:00 a.m. – is obviously not just another road trip stop. For players who grew up with the Flames, or have been exposed to this venue with rooting interests for another team facing the Flames, the stop means enjoying the same playground that names like Fleury, Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, Ovechkin, Iginla, etc. have used. The dressing rooms are meticulously manicured. The benches offer extra wide walking space, not to mention, a 28-inch flat screen video monitor buried in the floor of coaches platform. It’s an engineering marvel worthy of an NHL stamp.

It’s my first visit to the Saddledome (and second NHL building on a broadcast work night – during the last NHL lockout, I once called a game at San Jose in December for the Stockton Thunder), so naturally, the experience exceeds the expectations. The sightlines are majestic, yet steep. The “Peter Maher Press Box” hangs in the rafters of the Saddledome, offering spectacular bird’s eye views of the action which enable a broadcast call to inject more detail with breakouts. But the view is  extremely high, and not for the individual quivering at heights.

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Back to Sutter: it’s official ground zero for his “old stomping grounds.” I’ve rarely seen someone beam so brightly to play in the city he grew up in. Ron shared a spectacular story with us later that night, on how a five-year old Riley kept the Calgary Flames loose in the dressing room during the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, after he took a rip on the Saddledome ice.

Just three minutes into the call with Doug Sinclair, a familiar NHL executive and hall-of-famer take a seat five feet away in the adjacent booth. They can hear our call.

Brian Burke and Joe Nieuwendyk.

No pressure.

It’s a marvel at how the Silvertips have become so good – borderline automatic – at scoring the first goal. Saturday night brings no exception. Dawson Leedahl and Carson Stadnyk engineered a textbook rush up ice, finished with Laurencelle slamming Stadnyk’s ricochet at the left post for a 1-0 lead.

Things looked bright all the way until the halfway point of the third, after Matt Fonteyne hammered a power play goal off a one-timer at the right circle. But two goals that uncharacteristically fooled Hart – one from the side of the right circle by Jordy Stallard after a fanned point attempt and a short-side goal from Hitmen captain Colby Harmsworth following a defensive zone turnover. Ouch.

Radel Fazleev – Philadelphia Flyers property – scored the only goal in the shootout, and the bus ride home began a tad quieter than what many associated with the Silvertips envisioned two hours prior.

Road trips aren’t easy, and the Tips gaining three points indicated a small speed bump. No problem. The record at the end: 11-7-0-2 (4-5-0-1 on the road). It’s apparently a good lesson to be learned about playing in hostile territory.

I’ll think about that, over the Tim Hortons coffee that made its way back home.

NOW LISTENING: Let it Die (Foo Fighters) 

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More photos that are not included in this blog, but are pretty fun to look at, are available on the Tips Mobile App. Get it on the App Store (iPhone) or the Android Market.