In The Corners – T-Birds Return Home From Central Swing

Monday, November 2 – 2:30pm

The T-Birds arrived back at the ShoWare Center at about 4:30am this morning. I think every trip out east should end with a game in Cranbrook.  That way the final leg of the trip is not so long.  Certainly not like two years ago when the team finished their swing through the Eastern Division with a game in Prince Albert. That was one long bus ride back.
Playing six games in eight days made this one of the quickest trips to the prairies that I can remember. Certainly not a lot of down time.  I’m just knocking on wood I survived without getting touched up by the flu. There are 14 players though who can’t say the same thing.  What a miserable trip it had to be especially for Steve Chaffin, Prab Rai and Scott Ramsay who seemed to be hit hardest by the bug, although team trainer Phil Varney called Ramsay one of the jolliest sick people he’s ever come across.  
Under the conditions, the team was dealing with earning a point Sunday night against Kootenay as a positive way to finish up and earned the club its fourth point on the swing.
If not for the flu you have to wonder how much better the T-Birds might have fared.  In the game they were the healthiest for, the first game in Calgary, they gave the Hitmen all they could handle before losing, 2-1.  They probably should have earned the win rather than settle for the shootout loss in Red Deer but it got them their first road point of the season. The flu reared its ugly head in the 7-1 loss to Edmonton, but the team bounced back with a gritty 4-3 win at Lethbridge. I’m not sure even a healthy Thunderbirds team could have altered the results in Medicine Hat. The Tigers were really focused and intent on winning that game. Then road weary and flu ridden the team pushed the Ice as for as long as they could before dropping the game, 1-0, in overtime.  It was a winnable game, especially when you have three 5-on-3 power play chances, but again under the circumstances you’re happy with the point.  
And I’ll close out the coverage of the Central Division swing with this; still no update on the whereabouts of Turner Stevenson’s phone lost inside the bus on last season’s trip.

Sunday, November 1 – Noon
Not too eventful of a night on the drive from Medicine Hat to Cranbrook, unless you count the very large elk we encountered just east of Fernie, B.C.  If bus slaloming through elk was an event at the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics then T-Birds bus driver Eli Johnson would be a shoo in for the gold medal.
Three large bull elk had wandered onto the highway in the darkness of the early morning.  Now we’re talking a two-lane highway not your four-lane interstate so there’s not much room to maneuver a bus when you’re traveling at about 65 mph.  But like Phil Mahre skiing down a mountain side, Eli swooshed back and forth through the large beasts, safely negotiating the hazards. The last one was close as the elk threw a head fake on Eli, changing direction and heading back the other way across the road.  As Rob Sumner said, with thousand of acres of wilderness why do these animals hang out along the side of the road? Apparently the grass is greener on the other side.
T-Birds GM Russ Farwell, who was 40 minutes ahead of the bus in his car, apparently had a similar elk experience. 
Not much to comment on in regards to the loss in Medicine Hat. 11-2 pretty much tells the story.  The one shining moment though was Connor Sanvido registering his first WHL goal.  Considering he wasn’t with the team when the trip began and was only here because players were sidelined by the flu, that’s a pretty accomplishment for the young 16-year-old. 
The other listed player who joined the team on the trip to fill in for the ill players, defenseman Zach Walker, appears to be okay after taking a nasty hit along the boards.  Zach won’t play tonight in Cranbrook, in fact he’s already headed back to Saskatchewan. 
Chance Lund should be back in the lineup tonight and there is a chance Steve Chaffin could return as well but it doesn’t appear that Sena Acolatse or Prab Rai will play. The good news is that no other players appear to have come down with flu symptoms. 

Saturday, October 31 – 11am

Well deserved and well earned win by the T-Birds in Lethbridge last night.  Still, no time to celebrate as they are back in Medicine Hat for tonight’s battle with the Tigers.  Medicine Hat has been on the losing end of their last three games but like Seattle was missing some key cogs from their lineup.  They’ve got some of those players back for tonight’s game.  Last night in Red Deer the Tigers lost to the Rebels, 4-2, but dominated the third period, outshooting Red Deer 17-2.  By the accounts in the local paper they are targeting this game tonight as the one to get them back in the win column.


Even with seven regular players out of the lineup last night (and some of the same players will miss tonight’s game as well) the T-Birds continue to be solid on the penalty kill. More impressive were the two power-play goals scored.  Those second period goal were the difference in the game. 


T-Birds celebrate after defeating the Hurricanes

The unsung hero of last night’s game was Brad Haber. Haber has seen little ice time recently but came through last night with an assist and the game winning goal.  He saw time as both a forward and back on defense against the Hurricanes and was solid on every shift.  He’s shown he can be a very versatile player.


Good work done by Connor Sanvido and Zach Walker as they gave the T-birds solid shifts. They remain with the team through the rest of the road trip.


Jon Parker was the first star in the building and well he should have been with a goal and two assists, but it is the goal he didn’t score that will have him kicking himself.  He made some of the slickest moves I’ve seen from a T-Bird since Brooks Laich as he cut through the Lethbridge defense and deked the goalie out of his skates only to miss the wide open net.  Oh what a highlight goal that could have been.


One of the strangest displays at any arena in the WHL has to be the Running Man at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.  It’s a mannequin in full hockey gear, including skates, running on a working treadmill.  The legs are actually moving on the tread!  It’s located at the open end of the arena, behind the goal the T-Birds shot at twice.  I’m not sure what they are advertising; a sports equipment store?  A gym?  A mannequin factory? An Arnold Schwarzenegger movie?   What ever it is, that has to be one of the fittest mannequins around because he’s been running for years.
The Lethbridge Running Man


Definitely no rest for the weary.  After tonight’s game in Medicine Hat the Thunderbirds bus five hours west to Cranbrook, B.C., for Sunday evening’s game against the Kootenay Ice.  Estimated time of arrival in Cranbrook is between 3 and 4 am.

Friday, October 30 – 11am

Glorious sunny day in Medicine Hat.  Well, it is sunny.  The team has already had breakfast and loaded the bus for the approximately two hour bus ride to Lethbridge.  Now they’ll hang out at the hotel and rest until the pregame meal at 2pm this afternoon.  No morning skate.
Nothing official yet but it looks like six players are definitely out of the lineup for tonight’s game against the Hurricanes and three others are question marks while two players may or may not be feeling the onset of flu symptoms.  I’m hearing rumor that reinforcements may be coming in the form of a listed player or two who was at camp the team this summer.  So, it’s still possible the team will have the required number of skaters for tonight’s game. 
GM Russ Farwell stayed behind in Red Deer yesterday to attend the Western Canada Under-16 Tournament that includes Brandon Troock and Justin Hickman. Both were T-Birds draft choices in the 2009 Bantam draft.   
The big news in Medicine Hat was the unveiling yesterday of plans for their new arena.  The current facility, called, believe it or not The Arena, is a well maintained facility but it is over 40 years old and on the small side.  Besides, they need a new building to hang their plethora of banners, a collection that continues to grow.  They are running out of banner space in the rafters of the current arena.
Medicine Hat banners
In the summer Medicine Hat is also the home of a Class A baseball team.  The Medicine Hat Blue Jays are, of course, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays and many big leaguers have made a stop in the Hat on their way to the big club.  That would include catcher Pat Borders, who also spent time in the Seattle Mariners organization at the end of his career.
Medicine Hat Blue Jays stadium
This is one of the few times I’ve been to Medicine Hat and the river that runs right beside the rink is not frozen over.  Usually the ice is so thick it looks like there are ice bergs in the river.   
River next to Medicine Hat Arena that is currently not frozen
Thursday, October 29 – 11am


The Thunderbirds are starting to lose players to the flu.  Two players, Charles Wells and Scott Ramsay, were left behind in Red Deer last night and did not make the trip to Edmonton.  Then, early in the game, Steve Chaffin was felled by the bug.  He left the contest and was driven back to the hotel in Red Deer by general manager Russ Farwell.  After the game four other players complained of flu like symptoms. Even one member of the staff wasn’t feeling well.
Team trainer Phil Varney and the coaching staff have been doing what they can to minimize the damage by putting ill players in rooms together and keeping them away from the healthy part of the team but you get the feeling they are fighting a losing battle.  There was talk of disinfecting the bus before the ride today down to Medicine Hat but the damage may have already been done. It’s tough to stop the spread of the flu when you’re traveling in the small confines of the bus for nine days. There is the possibility that more players might become ill.  They are just hoping some of those already sick recover before the three games this weekend.  Initially it appears to be the seasonal flu and not the H1N1 strain (swine flu) but the situation is being monitored. 
While you don’t like to make excuses there was no question the flu affected the play of the team last night on the ice in Edmonton.  We’ve all had the flu before.  Now, try to imagine playing a competitive hockey game under those conditions; with your body aching, a headache, cough and fever.  Even in the early stages, when you are not sure if you have the flu yet you feel a little dizzy.  But the T-birds got no sympathy from an Edmonton team that just went through the same thing and is just now turning back to healthy status. 
It will be interesting to see how many players are able to make the morning skate here in Red Deer.  Later today the team will bus down to Medicine Hat where they will headquarter for the next two games.

Wednesday, October 28 – 10am

More frustration last night in Red Deer.  Two years ago the Rebels scored a late goal here to win, 3-2, and now last night a late goal sends the game to overtime and eventually a shootout and once again the Rebels prevail.  The T-Birds and third periods just aren’t going together well so far this season.  You just can’t get outshot 20-6 when you are holding a one goal lead.  The issue isn’t blocking shots or puck possession; it’s getting the puck out of the defensive zone cleanly.  There were too many turnovers as the ‘Birds tried to bring the puck into the neutral zone.
The scoreboard after the game against Red Deer
And you want to talk about a game of inches how about the T-Birds overtime power play.  Prab Rai sends one off the right post and the puck ends up behind Rebel goalie Kraymer Barnstable.  Now, 9 out of 10 times that puck hits the goalie in the back or on the skate and deflects back into the net.  Well this was that 10th time where it hits the post and ricochets back in between Barnstable’s pads from behind and he’s able to cover it!  Barnstable was good when he had to be but Calvin Pickard was nothing short of phenomenal in making 40 saves. 
A quick video review of the last penalty called late in the third period does show that Stefan Warg did hook Coetzee behind the Seattle goal.  The Rebels tied the game on the ensuing power play.  It’s really too bad because Warg was having a monster game up to that point.  Of course Warg wasn’t the only one to commit a penalty.  Once again there were too many of those whistled against the T-Birds.  Once again it was one penalty too many as for the fourth straight game the opposition scored on their last power play chance.  Look, the ‘Birds penalty kill is very good but even the best PK’s are going to give up a power-play goal here and there if they are spending too much time killing penalties.  Once again last night there were far too many unnecessary, preventable penalties taken. 
Today the T-Birds have an abbreviated day because of travel to Edmonton for tonight’s game against the Oil Kings.  After their breakfast they will head to the rink here in Red Deer to load the gear on the bus.  There will be no morning skate. That’s probably a good thing as the flu bug could be beginning to make its way through the team.  Knock on wood they can get through the rest of this road trip with enough healthy bodies.  Instead of the morning skate, the team will return to the hotel and get a little more rest, eat a 2 pm pregame meal then hop on the bus for the ride north.  The team returns to Red Deer after the game.

Tuesday, October 27 – 12:30pm

The T-Birds had a rare full game day practice this morning.  Usually when the team is on these protracted road trips, travel between venues precludes getting in a full morning practice but since the T-Birds are based here in Red Deer for three days they took advantage of the opportunity.
I can’t remember, outside of playoffs, the last time the team had four coaches on the ice for a road practice, but with the exception of Jim McTaggart, the entire T-Birds coaching staff is here.  That includes goaltending coach Paul Fricker who actually drove his car all the way out from Vancouver.  Normally Paul would catch a flight from Vancouver to Calgary then jump on the bus for the swing through Alberta, but this gives him a chance to be on hand for every game, including the Sunday game in Cranbrook against the Kootenay Ice.  In addition Paul was able to stop in Kelowna on the way to Calgary and watch T-Birds 16-year-old listed goalie Conner Barrie play. Barrie’s team won the game by the way, 11-1, as he made 20 saves.
Paul Fricker and Calvin Pickard talk at practice Tuesday morning
Seattle may have run into a good luck charm as they disembarked the bus this morning outside the arena. They were greeted by a couple of basset hounds.
Basset Hound for good luck?
Are there any superstitions among the rookies on the T-Birds club?  Certainly not with rookie Tyler Alos who wears number 13.  Mitch Elliot?  Maybe since he seems a little concerned that while staying at a hotel called the Black Knight Inn he is in room 606, on the sixth floor and the last four numbers of the hotel’s main phone number are 6666.  Maybe he should switch rooms with Steve Chaffin.
Mitch Elliot at practcie in Red Deer
The always meticulous T-Birds equipment manager Jason Berger almost ended up in kangaroo court.  On the drive from the hotel to the rink for practice this morning he realized he had forgotten the locker room key back in his hotel room, which almost forced the bus to make a u-turn back to the hotel.  Instead he grabbed a cell phone and called the Red Deer Rebels equipment manager who was on scene and had a key.  So instead of a five-minute major Berger is only assessed a two minute minor.  Alos offered Berger some comfort telling him “Hey, we all have one bad shift”.
T-Birds coaches conversing on the ice at the Enmax Centrium
Red Deer‘s Landon Ferraro was on the ice with his coaches before the T-Birds practice.  Ferraro has missed time with a knee injury. He even went back to Detroit to have it checked.  He seemed to be skating okay but my guess is he won’t be on the ice tonight for the game. 
It’s bit colder today in Red Deer with overcast skies and some light rain (a little snow mixed in too). 

Monday, October 26 – 3pm

The team has arrived in Red Deer where they will spend the next three nights.  The team had breakfast at the hotel in Calgary then bused over to the Saddledome, loaded gear and hit the road at about 9 a.m. for the 90-minute ride north to the Enmax Centrium.  The team then practiced for an hour before treking over to the hotel. The players are on their own for lunch but have a team meal slated for 7pm this evening.
Coach Sumner talks to the team during practice in Red Deer
I thought the T-Birds opened the road trip with a solid effort against the Calgary Hitmen despite the 2-1 loss.  Calvin Pickard was on top of his game and really couldn’t be faulted for either goal.  In their past two games the ‘Birds have played what most consider too be two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in Brandon and Calgary. They held their own only to succumb to the very skilled top lines of each of those teams.  I’d say, after watching both the Wheat Kings and Hitmen that Calgary is the better club because of their depth.  Before the season began I thought the Eastern Conference might have the stronger teams but, based on a limited sample of games, I think the WHL is wide open this year and teams like Portland and Tri-City will have something to say about it when all is said and done.  January’s trade deadline could be one of the most important in the Dub in quite a few years as it just may be midseason trades that separate teams in the second half.

Sunday, October 25 – 10am

We woke up this morning to a beautiful sunny day in Calgary.  Now, the sunshine through my hotel window may hide the fact it is a bit on the cold side outside but at least there is no snow. 
On a normal game day, the team would have a team breakfast, followed by a morning skate and then a team pregame meal.  But since this is no ordinary game day because of the early start there is no time for a morning skate and the breakfast and pregame meal have been combined.  It just may be the first ever brunch in team history. 
One other change; normally when we arrive in town the first order of business is to go to the arena, in this case the Pengrowth Saddledome, and drop off the gear.  Since there was an NHL game in the Saddledome Saturday between the Flames and Oilers, this wasn’t possible.  Instead we went directly to our hotel yesterday upon arrival.  Assistant Coach Turner Stevenson took the guys for a run around downtown as soon as they got off the bus and then it was lunch on their own at the team’s expense.  Back at the hotel yesterday afternoon and evening I’m sure most of the players settled in to watch Hockey Night in Canada, including the aforementioned Battle of Alberta between Calgary and Edmonton.  Normally the team would gather with the coaching staff for a 9 p.m. meeting but with the hockey game on the meeting was scheduled for the first intermission.  Once the NHL game was over the team jumped on the bus and headed to the rink to hang their gear. 
I sat in on the post-brunch meeting this morning.  The focus of the meeting was re-emphasizing the penalty kill because today’s opponent, Calgary, is the top power play team in the league and is coming off a game in which they went 5-for-6 with the man advantage.  Assistant Coach John Becanic stressed to the guys the importance of blocking shots, something the team has done well but fell off a bit in the last game against Brandon.
T-Birds players watching video of penalty kill
The T-Birds have actually outshot their last two opponents and head coach Rob Sumner talked to the guys about the next step; going to the net hard and getting to second chance opportunities around the crease.  The feeling seems to be the team is doing a better job of putting pucks on net and now it’s all about winning the battles for those greasy goals. 
Coach Sumner addresses the team during pre-game meal before Hitmen game

Saturday, October 24 – 1pm
The team arrived in Calgary at 1 pm Kent time Saturday.  There is a light dusting of snow in the foothills around Calgary but it is cool and partly sunny.  There were two stops on the way to Calgary.  The first was in the middle of the night in Sandpoint, Idaho, as we picked up our regular bus driver, Eli Johnson.  Then, early this morning the team made a stop in Fernie, B.C., for breakfast before heading over the Crows Nest Pass where the snow was a bit heavier but not impassable.
Snow in the foothills of Calgary upon the team’s arrival.

Editors Note: Thom Beuning’s blog will be updated regularly during the team’s trip through the Central division. Thom will also be posting photos of the trip on the T-Birds Twitter Page, using TwitPic. To see Thom’s photos the T-Birds encourage fans to create a Twitter account and to follow the team’s Twitter page.

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