By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Life on the road for the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division teams will be a little different this season.
The Everett Silvertips begin a lengthy four-game road trip tonight when they face the Red Deer Rebels. However, unlike in previous seasons, this won’t be the only time the Tips head east this season.
“I think it’s the best way to try and do it,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “I think it’s a lot healthier for a group to be away a week at a time rather than the long two weeks.”
The league changed its scheduling method during the offseason, with one entity creating the entire league schedule instead of having a league meeting in which the teams came together to build the schedule.
The most notable change involving the U.S. Division teams was the splitting of the eastern road trips. In the past, when U.S. Divisions traveled to play the Eastern Conference, they took care of all six games in one two-week trip. This season, all five U.S. Division teams had their eastern swings split into two one-week trips. In Everett’s case, the Tips face Red Deer and Edmonton from the Central Division this week, then head back out in late November to catch the other four Central Division squads.
“My first four years when you went (east) you were gone, and then that was it, you were done,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “This will be interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing if splitting it in half is something that works a little better. I think this might be a nice way to do it.”
Because they have two trips east this season, the Tips headed out on the long road earlier than they did in any of their previous 10 seasons. Traditionally Everett has had its eastern road trip in early November. The earliest the Tips had ever begun an eastern swing previously was last year, when Everett began its trip on Oct. 12 at Brandon.
“I think it’s good,” third-year Tips defenseman Austin Adam said about the early road trip. “On the road we get to know each other a lot better and it brings us together more as a group. It’ll be good for our team and hopefully help us in the end.”
However, splitting the eastern swing in half did not result in an additional long bus ride for the Tips. The other long road trip of the season for U.S. Division teams is when they travel for their two games at Prince George. Everett combined its current trip with its trip to Prince George, with the Tips cutting across northern Alberta and British Columbia to catch the Cougars on Friday and Saturday.
“This is what we requested,” Davidson said. “We were hoping we could go out and catch two and then catch Prince George on the way home, then the next time go out and catch the other four teams. The league has accommodated us for that. It works with the situation in our building. We’re out of the building next week because of the circus, then we’re out of the building again in November (for Disney On Ice).
“The other way you play six games in no time, then still have to go up to Prince George for the doubleheader,” added Davidson, who also mentioned it’s easier on Everett’s high schoolers when they’re away from school for just one week at a time. “So I think it just makes a lot more sense, playing four games in a week and then another four games in another week.”
By adding Prince George onto the end of one of its trips east, the Tips save approximately 800 miles of wear on the team bus. Seattle also added Prince George to the end of one of its eastern legs. Portland, Spokane and Tri-City are all going east twice, then making a separate trip to Prince George.
While the eastern swing was split into two this season, it probably won’t be the case next season. Next season the U.S. Division teams travel to face the East Division instead of the Central Division. The further distance to Saskatchewan and Manitoba renders two trips impractical.
“For the Central Division it makes sense,” Davidson said. “To the East it doesn’t make sense, you have to go out there in one fell swoop and take all six games just because of the distance and the geography.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.