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ROAD €˜TIPPIN with Travis Huntington

Day 8
9:15 am PST, Sunday, November 24, 2013
Location:  Westbound Interstate 90 just outside Ellensburg, WA

Finally here we are, on the home stretch of a highly successful road trip.  We’ve been on the bus since pulling away from the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary after another victory last night over the Hitmen.  One of the best things about winning a road game?  Two honks of the horn from our “bussie” Darren as you pull out of the arena loading dock, signifying the two points you just took away from another team’s barn.  We heard eight such honks on this trip, signifying a perfect 4-for-4 performance and a job well done.

Last night’s game was another close battle right down to the end.  It took a few shifts for the ‘Tips to get going at the start, but after that they settled in and went right to work.  Through two periods the Silvertips had a 24-9 shot edge and the lead, but Calgary threw everything except the kitchen sink at them in the third.  Austin Lotz stood on his head with a series of great saves and his teammates did a great job clearing rebounds, tying up sticks, etc. and the boys held on for the 1-0 win.

The lone goal came from… who else but Josh Winquist, who made Silvertips history last night by extending his point streak to 16 consecutive games.  It’s pretty remarkable to see the kind of eye-popping numbers he’s putting up this season – and not just for a week or two.  The consistency with which Josh is producing offensively is what makes it so impressive.  The last time Josh DIDN’T have a point was all the way back on October 19, and since then he’s averaging over TWO points per game.  He’s well on his way to what could be a very special season.

Now we’re just all ready to be home.  Sleeping a full night on the bus is quite an interesting experience, and I’m always amused by the variety of contorted positions we all find to try and get comfortable.  If you wake up during the night, you’re sure to find arms, legs and heads strewn throughout the seats and aisles in every manner of odd positions you can imagine.

We just climbed back aboard the bus after stopping for breakfast in Ellensburg, and the last Harry Potter movie has just begun.  Yes, we have watched them all.  Every.  Single.  Harry Potter movie. 
In case you’re not aware (and I wasn’t before now), there are EIGHT Harry Potter movies.
On a bus full of teenage boys you might expect we’d be watching action movies with lots of guns, explosions and hot girls, but not on this trip.  I’ve seen more of Dumbledoor and Voldemort (or as Mark LeRose might call them, Dusseldorf and Baltimore) on this trip than I ever thought possible in a one-week span.  But they boys were pretty jacked up for the HP marathon and they won every game on the trip, so how can anybody tell them no?  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 should finish up just in time for us to make it back home to Everett.  The players are excited to watch the Grey Cup today (the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl), especially Kohl Bauml and the other Saskatchewan natives who are fans of the Roughriders.

This is the last long road trip of the season, and the swings have been a positive experience for the team.  It’s still a little bit crazy to think about the Silvertips being in first place in the WHL and owning one of the best records in the entire CHL.  It’s been a great year so far, and hopefully there’s much more yet to come.  Thanks for following our adventures on the road through my blog.  
Go ‘Tips!
  – TH

Day 6
11:45 pm MST, Friday, November 22, 2013
Location:  on the road between Medicine Hat and Calgary, Alberta

Here I am with another entry on another bus ride after a win.  I probably went on and on about it during the broadcast, but tonight’s game was just awesome.  This was quality hockey between two quality teams, and really fun to watch.  Not unlike last Friday’s game against Portland, the ‘Tips rose to the occasion and played very well in a 4-3 win over the Tigers.  Another big night from Josh Winquist and his linemates led the way and two goals 11 seconds apart in the second period provided the spark.  Austin Lotz made a few key stops late and voila, the ‘Tips won the battle for inter-conference dominance.

This is the second time I’ve been to Medicine Hat for the road trip, and it’s absolutely one of my favorite spots in the league.  So much junior hockey history has been written in “The Arena” at Medicine Hat, with row upon row of championship banners lining the rafters and the names of legendary players outside the Tigers locker room.  The character of the building provides the type of experience junior hockey is all about.  

Tonight’s game was Logan Aasman’s homecoming, with the Medicine Hat native playing his first WHL game at The Arena.  It sounds as though Aasman’s family has long been involved in the local hockey community, so I know it was a special night for them as well.  Not unlike Ben Betker’s return to Cranbrook on Tuesday, Aasman also had an early assist on Everett’s first goal.  In addition to the Alberta natives, all the Saskatoon families were here and even a few BC parents made their way on the trip.  Even more Silvertip relatives will be in town when we play in Calgary tomorrow.

Yesterday was pretty laid back in Medicine Hat, with an optional practice for those who wanted it and a good bit of rest for the players otherwise.  Medicine Hat is the home of Silvertips owner Bill Yuill, and Mr. Yuill likes to host a nice dinner for the team on the rare occasions that we’re in town.  After a delicious meal of prime rib with some great sides, the coaches split the team up into groups for a few fun team-building games.   There haven’t been many breaks in the schedule lately, so on our lone day off during this set of four games in five days, it was fun to have a laugh and enjoy the evening.

Now we’ve got one more stop to make in Calgary to look for one more victory before returning home to Everett.  Tomorrow’s game won’t be any easier than tonight’s, as the Hitmen are also one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and were idle tonight.  My next report will likely come on the bus ride home, so here’s hoping I’ll have another victory to write about!
  – TH

Day 4
11:30 pm MST, Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Location:  on the road between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, Alberta

Well, I suppose kind of a lot has happened since my last entry on Monday night! We’ve had back-to-back game days and back-to-back 3-2 victories over the past two days and are currently on the bus heading toward Medicine Hat.  

So how to recap?  I’ll start by going back to yesterday in Cranbrook, where we followed the typical game day routine before taking on Kootenay:  light skate in the morning, pre-game meal early in the afternoon and a little relaxation before heading to the arena.  The ‘Tips scored quickly in the first two periods and built a 3-1 lead before taking a 3-2 victory over the Ice.

Ben Betker’s first WHL game in his hometown didn’t disappoint, as he helped produce Dawson Leedahl’s goal in the opening minute and then had a shot tipped in by Josh Winquist later in the game.  In addition to his first career two-assist game, Betker was named the game’s first star.  He received a healthy cheer from the Ice fans – and not only from the suite full of family members either.  It was a solid victory to start the trip and certainly provided a great memory for Ben.

We stayed in Cranbrook for the night, which turned out to be a good decision as the highway to Lethbridge was closed for a few hours overnight anyway due to bad weather.   The weather was actually pretty mild in Cranbook during our stay there, with no snow on the ground except what we saw on the distant mountain peaks.  Alberta has been a different story so far, as it was downright frigid when he pulled up to the rink in Lethbridge this evening.

Today ‘s routine was different in that we didn’t have a morning skate, but rather just laid low at the hotel until jumping on the bus in the afternoon to head for Lethbridge.  It’s about a three-hour trip through the mountains, over Crowsnest pass at the BC-Alberta line and across the plains to the city of Lethbridge, hometown of Silvertips Assistant GM Zoran Rajcic.

The coaches and team staff sit at the front of the bus on road trips, with the rookies right behind us and the players getting progressively older the further back you go.  I spent today’s ride working on game preparation and having an occasional chat with Noah Juulsen, Matt Fonteyne, Patrick Bajkov and Ivan Nikolishin.  Again we took in some nice mountain views along the route, and I enjoyed hearing a bit of local history from Fonteyne as we passed the site of the famous “Frank Slide”.  It’s the former site of the small town of Frank, which was buried by a massive rock slide off nearby Turtle Mountain in 1903.  You can read more about this interesting, if tragic, bit of local lore right HERE.

After crossing through the snowy plains of western Alberta, we arrived in Lethbridge for tonight’s game and got right to work preparing to face the Hurricanes.  Despite holding the league’s worst record, the ‘Canes competed throughout tonight’s game and forced the Silvertips to face some adversity before the ‘Tips got two goals early in the third period to erase a deficit and get another 3-2 win.

Josh Winquist was up to his usual tricks tonight, making great plays to set up all three Silvertips goals and extend his point streak to 14 games.  He’s now just one game behind Zach Hamill’s team record 15 game streak from 2006.  For all who were listening to the call or watching last night’s game, it appears the news is good regarding the condition of Hurricanes forward Taylor Cooper.  Cooper crashed hard into the end boards after being knocked down by Micheal Zipp in a race for a loose puck and had to be stretchered off the ice.  It was a scary moment for sure, but I’ve heard he was back at the arena in street clothes by the end of the game and it sounds like he’s okay.

Presently we’re on the bus making the roughly 90-minute trip across to Medicine Hat as the Harry Potter marathon continues despite the objections of some of the staff up front.  Tomorrow it’s practice and recovery in Medicine Hat during our only day off during this stretch of four games in five days.  I’ll have another entry on the way before long, and thanks again for following us on the trip.
  – TH

Day 2
8:00 pm MST, Monday, November 18, 2013
Location:  Cranbrook, British Columbia

Greetings once again from the road, Silvertip Country!
The second leg of our Central Division road swing has begun, with the bus pulling away from Comcast Arena yesterday morning and carrying us east through Spokane, north through the Idaho panhandle and then into British Columbia.  I had never actually seen any of the Harry Potter movies before, but I can now say I’ve watched three of them in succession in a marathon of wizardry before we arrived in here Cranbrook around 7 pm.  We dropped off the equipment at the arena, went to dinner and got to the hotel in time to catch only the fourth quarter of that big Sunday night matchup between the Broncos and Chiefs.

There haven’t been many days for actual practice sessions lately with so many games on the schedule, but this morning the team had the chance to get some work in ahead of this week’s four-game-in-five-day grind.  After lunch the coaches scheduled a few meetings to watch video clips and go over some finer points with the players.  Then it was a dinner of steak and spaghetti at East Side Mario’s and downtime for the evening.

Ben Betker is enjoying a visit back to his hometown, catching up with family and friends during his free time away from the rink.  He played plenty of minor hockey games during his youth at the Cranbrook RecPlex (now known as Western Financial Place), but will play his first WHL game here in his hometown tomorrow against the Ice.  I’m sure it’s a day that he’s been looking forward to for quite some time.

Ben has been playing tour guide for the team as we drive around, pointing out landmarks in the town of just under 20,000 people.  I’ve been teasing him about being “The Mayor” of Cranbrook, shaking hands and kissing babies now that he’s a big-time NHL draft pick.  Someday he’d love to join the roster of famous NHL players the city claims, including the likes of Scott and Rob Niedermeyer, Jon Klemm (who was an Assistant Coach for the Spokane Chiefs until recently) and Brad Lukowich (Assistant Coach in Lethbridge).  Steve Yzerman was born here but grew up in Ontario, so I’m not sure they count him as a native son.

Tomorrow the Silvertips will hit the ice against the Ice (glad that’s not confusing or anything) in their first game of the trip.  Then every day except Thursday will be a game day for the remainder of the trip, so the action will be coming fast and furious.  I’ll try to stay fairly up-to-date on the blog along the way. For now, thanks for checking in!
   – TH

FIRST LEG – Oct. 6-12

Day 7
3:00 pm PDT, Saturday, October 12, 2013
Location:  Prince George, British Columbia

Hey there ‘Tips fans.  I’m here in Prince George for one more entry before we head for home after another contest against the Cougars last night.  I am also happy to report that there is NO snow on the ground (knock on wood…), we’ve actually seen living green grass and the temperatures have actually been quite pleasant here in “The George”.  When I left you we were rolling down the Yellowhead approaching Jasper National Park, and it did not disappoint with more mountain scenery, colorful leaves, snow-capped peaks, etc.  I never get sick of that stuff.  

I spent awhile sitting next our bus driver, Darren, who spends his summers driving tourists throughout Western Canada.  He’s full of interesting facts about these areas, their history and sights to look out for, so I learned quite a bit from our personal tourguide.  It was our third lengthy day on the bus this week, and we have burned through plenty of movies.  The players have offered up a variety of film genres on the trip, bringing up choices like The Internship, 42, The Punisher and American Pie 2, among others.  This team came prepared this year with stacks of movies in their bags.

With no practice Thursday afternoon to get the “bugs legs” out, the team took time for a short workout/stretch when we arrived at the arena before getting a meal and some rest.  Yesterday once again featured the normal game-day routine before the ‘Tips took the ice looking for their third straight win on the trip – which they managed to get in a shootout by a 3-2 score!   

In the hockey vernacular, it was what we like to refer to as a “greasy” win.  That means it was a little ugly and the team certainly didn’t play its best game, but in the end they found a way to squeak out two points.  I’m sure the coaching staff at this very moment is working to make sure tonight brings a stronger performance, but in the meantime I must say I’m impressed by the way this team keeps finding ways to get the job done.  

At 6-1-1-0 the team has now equaled the best start in franchise history and is tied with Medicine Hat for the league’s best winning percentage (and boy does it feel good to write stuff like that!)  We’ve still got a long road ahead and the U.S. Division is going to be ridiculously tough all year, but you’ve got to like that way things are going so far.  Winning is fun and contagious as well, so hopefully this is just the beginning of a special season… we’ll have to wait and see.
Back to the now, tonight will offer a tough test.  It’s the fourth game in five days for players who have traveled nearly 1,300 miles in the past six days.  The Cougars will probably be fired up as well after feeling like maybe they let one slip away last night, so it will be interesting to see how things play out.  Hopefully the ‘Tips are equal to the task and can get one more win to cap off the trip.

Right after the game we’ll load up the bus and hit the highway, with Darren taking us through the night toward the U.S. border.  We won’t pull up to Comcast Arena until most of you have already woken up tomorrow morning, so the bus company will arrange for another driver to meet us along the route and take over for Darren when he reaches his legal limit for consecutive hours driven.  Then we’ll be on the home stretch and ready enjoy a nice day off back at home.  I can’t wait to watch some football.

I’m about to work on some game preparation, so that’s all for now.  Thanks again for keeping tabs on the blog this week!
   – TH

Day 5
11:30 am MDT, Thursday, October 10, 2013
Location:  Yellowhead Highway near Jasper, Alberta

Greetings once again from the road, where the ‘Tips improved to 5-1-1-0 with a 4-2 win over Edmonton last night.  It wasn’t always the prettiest of games, but the ‘Tips built a 2-1 lead in the first period and made it hold up until things got crazy in the final minute.  It looked like the game was over when Matt Pufahl scored an empty-net goal with 30 seconds left, but the Oil Kings scored right after that and it took another empty-netter from Josh Winquist to ice it.

Not unlike Pufahl’s moment in Red Deer on Tuesday, this was a special one for Winquist.  He scored two goals in his last junior game in his hometown (he’s from the Edmonton suburb of St. Albert), and the “J-Winny” cheering section in the crowd was noticeable even to me all the way up in the radio booth!  Quite a few players had family & friends in attendance last night, as Winquist, Micheal Zipp, Cole MacDonald and Matt Fonteyne are all from the Edmonton area.  

Kohl Bauml, Carson Stadnyk and Dawson Leedahl are as close to home as they’ll get this year and all had family who made the trip over from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  The families have become affectionately known as the Silvertips’ very own “Saskatoon Mafia” – a name which I only wish I would have come up with.  Logan Aasman had family up from Medicine Hat for the Red Deer game, and Brayden Low’s dad even made the long trip from the Vancouver area to follow us on the entire trip.

Playing at Rexall Place is a pretty special experience as well.  It might not be a brand-new, state-of-the-art NHL arena, but the home of the Edmonton Oilers is oozing with character.  As a hockey lover, you can’t help but appreciate the kind of hockey history that’s been written in that building – and I’m not even an Oilers fan.  Last time we were here I failed to get a photo of the Wayne Gretzky statue outside the arena, but I wasn’t about to make that mistake twice!  After the game I took a quick moment of fanhood to step outside the main entrance and snap a rare “selfie” of me with the bronzed-version of The Great One.

Now we’re back on the bus, heading back into the Pacific time zone and bound for Prince George, British Columbia.  More awesome scenery is on tap as we pass back through the mountains of Jasper National Park and into the land of never-ending evergreen trees.  The weather has been very nice on the plains of Alberta with sunshine and mild temperatures.  I’m curious to see what Prince George looks like in the fall, as I’ve only ever been there in the dead of winter.  We usually make the trek to PG in late January, so hopefully there won’t be mountains of snow in every direction when we arrive in town this time!

I’ll report back from Prince George, but for now my laptop battery is about to die… Thanks again for stopping by and I’ll check in again soon!
   – TH

Day 4
10:00 am MDT, Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Location:  Edmonton, Alberta

Good morning from Edmonton, ‘Tips fans!  The team woke up in Oil Country today after starting the trip off right with a solid victory last night in Red Deer.  20-year-old defenseman Matt Pufahl, who began his WHL career with the Rebels, scored both Everett goals in a 2-1 win.  It was a fitting way to finish for the respected overager as he appeared in his final junior game at the Enmax Centrium.  With Austin Lotz making a handful of key saves and the guys in front of him allowing only 21 shots against, I’ve got to think it was a good way to build confidence for the rest of the trip.

Yesterday we followed the typical game-day routine, which on the road usually consists of a light skate in the morning to help get the legs going, followed by a pre-game meal around 1 or 2 pm and then a little rest/downtime before heading to the rink at 5 pm.  Although the travel schedule throws different wrinkles at us, we’re always trying to keep things as consistent as possible so the players can develop a sense of normalcy to game-day preparations.

Red Deer is only about 90 minutes south of Edmonton (basically dead-center between Edmonton and Calgary), so we boarded the bus after the victory and headed for the Alberta capital.  After two days of traveling through smaller towns and then setting up in a mid-sized city like Red Deer, rolling into downtown Edmonton to stay in a high-rise hotel felt like quite a change of pace.

Tonight it’s right back to work with the team facing a tough test against the Edmonton Oil Kings, who have won the Eastern Conference in back-to-back years.  Some of their pro prospects have now moved on, but the Oil Kings still boast some talented players (we just learned that  Griffin Reinhart – selected two picks after Ryan Murray in the 2012 NHL Draft – is on his way back from the New York Islanders).   The players will be facing an old friend tonight as well, as former Silvertip Reid Petryk makes his home debut here in Edmonton against his old club.  I know we’re all looking forward to seeing Reid again, even though the trade happened just last week.

Hopefully the ‘Tips can keep the momentum rolling with another victory tonight.  Then we’ll stay the night here in Edmonton and continue on to Prince George tomorrow.  Until then, thanks for reading!
   – TH

Day 2
7:30 pm MDT, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013
Location:  Red Deer, Alberta

The second day of our journey saw the Silvertips getting back on the ice for a practice session this morning in Golden, BC.  The KIJHL Rockets’ home arena is small, but certainly not lacking in character.  Instead of the normal cinder blocks or reflective insulation on the walls, the rink interior is paneled in plywood and has a definite old-time feel to it.

Our practice was something of an event for the locals, who don’t often (if ever) see WHL teams come through their neck of the woods.  It was actually advertised that the Silvertips would be in town and a decent-sized crowd of hockey fans even came out to watch the team practice!
 
After an awesome lunch of steak and pasta at The Wolf’s Den restaurant, we pressed eastward through Banff National Park, which runs along the BC-Alberta border.  And I thought yesterday’s scenery was great.  I’ve heard stories of Banff, but today was the first time I had seen it in the daylight, and it was truly spectacular.  Colossal peaks and ridges of weathered gray rock towered all around the bus as we traveled alongside rivers and lakes filled with beautiful blue-green water.  For a guy who loves mountain views as much as I do, it was a real treat.

As soon as you clear the mountains of Western Alberta, you quickly descend onto the prairies and farmland the province is also known for.  It was a nice, sunny day around 70 degrees, and at least for me, the day’s travel went quickly as spent only about half as much time on the bus as yesterday.  Upon arrival in Red Deer, we made a quick stop at the arena to unload our gear, grabbed a meal and settled in for the night.

Tomorrow is game day, and who doesn’t look forward to those?  The Rebels are 5-3 so far this year, while the 3-1-1 ‘Tips are hoping to start the trip off with a big win.  The last time we visited Red Deer, Everett rallied from 2-0 down in the third to win 3-2 in a shootout.  Are similar heroics in store tomorrow?  Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

 – TH

Day 1
8:00 pm MDT, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013
Location:  Golden, British Columbia

Hello once again ‘Tips fans, and welcome to the 2013-14 edition of the Everett Silvertips’ road trip blog.  Rather than one lengthy trip, we’ll be documenting separate trips through the Eastern Conference this season with the Central Division swing split in half.  The first leg got underway this morning, taking us toward a pair of stops in Alberta and then onto Prince George.

The bus pulled away from Comcast Arena at 9:00 this morning (driven by Darren, our favorite “bussie”) and headed into British Columbia.  We stopped for a quick lunch in Kamloops and continued Northeast on a beautiful drive through the BC interior.  It’s pretty much the perfect time of year to take in the mountainous terrain of Glacier National Park (we were in the Canadian version, not the one in northern Montana) because the leaves are turning colors and the peaks are capped in white after the first early-season snows.  In addition to movies and a laptop, views like that sure are a great way to pass the time on a long ride!

In addition to cruising through Kevin Davis’ hometown of Kamloops, we drove through General Manager Garry Davidson’s hometown of Salmon Arm before crossing into the Mountain Time zone and stopping for the night in the small town of Golden, BC.  Garry’s son, Ty Davidson, coaches the Junior-B team in town:  The Golden Rockets of the KIJHL.  Tomorrow we’re set to practice at the Rockets’ home rink before crossing into Alberta, where we’ll head east toward Calgary before making a left turn toward Red Deer to the north.

After tomorrow there won’t be much more down time on the trip, with four games in five nights between Tuesday and Saturday in three different cities.  With that in mind, I think it’s time to catch a little Sunday Night football.  I’ll check in again tomorrow night from Red Deer.  Thanks for reading the road trip blog!

 – TH

P.S. – Silvertips equipment manager James Stucky is doing a great job documenting the trip on his twitter account as well, so if you’re into the Twitter thing, give a follow to @jamesstucky for a bunch of great photos!

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