There is no such thing as a perfect time for a WHL team to embark on its annual cross-country road trip.
But all things considered, the Everett Silvertips are in an auspicous situation.
The Silvertips, fresh off a six-point showing in a three-games-in-three-days stretch, take on the Brandon Wheat Kings on Friday to begin their annual Eastern Conference road trip.
The WHL schedule requires every team to depart for a slate of consecutive road games against a division in the opposite conference, with the division oscillating year-to-year. This season the Silvertips face off against the Eastern Conference’s East Division.
The trip can be a daunting experience. Just ask the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Oil Kings dropped all five games against U.S. Division opponents, including a 5-3 defeat to Everett on Oct. 12, after a 5-1-0-1 start. A road trip like that can be devastating.
A winning road trip, however, can do the opposite — and galvanize the squad.
“They all get on the bus and it’s a team-building thing,” Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson. “You can come out of that road trip on an absolute high as well if you have success with the six games you play.”
Everett is trending in the right direction after potting 16 goals over its most recent three-game weekend set and enter the upcoming road swing with tremendous momentum.
“I think last weekend was more of a taste of what our identity is going to be like this year,” Silvertips captain Connor Dewar said. “We found a way to win in every game, even though it wasn’t very pretty. It was nice to also find our scoring touch.”
The Silvertips departed for Canada on Tuesday morning, stopping in Lethbridge, Alberta, overnight before completing the trek to Brandon, Manitoba, on Wednesday. On the long bus rides players take time between games of Mario Kart on Nintendo and NHL video games on the PlayStation 4 to further acquaint themselves with each other.
It’s a team-bonding experience that many players cherish.
“This road trip is always pretty fun, just being on the bus for long hours and getting close with all the boys,” Everett forward Bryce Kindopp said. “We’re already really close, but it’s fun to spend time on the bus. Sometimes it can get a little annoying — the boys can get on your nerves. But it’s just a fun time.”
Completing the trip early in the season is advantageous because it brings the team closer early in the season, and it’s the most manageable time to traverse the often treacherous Canadian highways before the weather gets worse — Davidson recalls the temperature dropping to minus-33 degrees on the Silvertips’ bus ride between Regina, Saskatchewan, and Brandon two years ago.
“I think it’s an advantage for the health side of it. A lot of guys won’t be in the cold during freezing months like February,” Dewar said. “At the same time, too, it’s nice early in the year to be together with the team. It’s a big team-building trip.”
Most of the Silvertips’ stars and primary contributors are healthy and playing well entering the six-game stretch. That wasn’t the case last season, as three-time Del Wilson Trophy (goaltender of the year) recipient Carter Hart didn’t make the trip for Everett’s Central Division swing after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. The Silvertips went 2-4-0 during that road trip.
The season before was a different story as the Silvertips collected 10 points during their East Division road trip in February 2017. Everett followed that with an 8-4-1-1 record to finish the regular season en route to capturing the U.S. Division crown.
The team building was key to the Silvertips’ late-season success. Dewar plans on something similar taking place on this trip.
“Hopefully just everyone creates a tighter bond, and I’m confident it’s going to happen,” Dewar said.
— Everett backup goaltender Blake Lyda (upper body) and forward Bronson Sharp (upper body) did not make the trip after sustaining injuries last weekend. The Silvertips called up Danton Belluk to back up starting netminder Dustin Wolf for the trip.
— Sean Richards will serve the final game of his four-game suspension for a check-to-the-head major penalty on Friday at Brandon. He’s eligible to return to the Silvertips’ lineup on Sunday at Regina.