Success on the road is necessary in order to have any chance of winning in the playoffs. Any coach in any sport would agree with this. Yes, it is tough to win on the road. So many variables to consider that are not there when playing at home.
Playing on the road in many cases has a team up against a wall before the bus is put into first gear. Players do not get to sleep in their own beds, the trip is long with few stops to stretch and walk, tension exists with driving over bad roads and there is the feeling of not being comfortable when you have to be crowded into a room with three or more players.
"The road trip from hell," most of the guys would call the trip to Yukon. When you have to travel 21 hours one way to play two games, now that is tough. For the second time this season, the Chinooks have made the trip to Whitehorse and this past weekend finally had the success that I was sure we could achieve.
Normally, we would practice when we get off the bus and this trip was no exception. Arriving in Whitehorse a little earlier than expected this time was a treat. The road conditions were more favorable than the last trip and our drivers were pushing it as far as the conditions would allow. Checking in at 4 a.m., getting settled and resting until 8:45 a.m., we all had a few hours before heading to the arena for a light skate to shake off the road legs.
Skating for the hour really gets the boys going and makes them feel just a little more normal. After that, we sit down for a team meal and then start the process of preparation for the evening game. After gaining another couple of hours of sleep, the team meets for a meal in a prepared dinning room at 4 p.m. This is where all of the players start to get the positive feelings going again before heading to the arena.
Friday night's was a well-played game where the guys really showed they had heart. In the first period, the trap was played to perfection and we finished the period on the right side of 2-0. The excitement in the dressing room after the first was short lived when we went down 3-2 after two periods.
Realizing that they were still in the hunt for a win, the boys real took heart in their efforts when the officiating appeared to go on a bad run. We were faced with having to play a major portion of the third period two men down. You know, as they say, "Adversity makes us all a little stronger."
Being short for such a long period of time did somehow make our team stronger and the boys proved it tying the game. With the momentum swing in our favor, the Swanson bothers (Aaron and Leif) teamed up for a game-winning goal, scoring with minutes left on the clock. From there, continued strong goaltending from Daren Tracey and a well-played defensive shell proved to our players that they could win and play strong on the road.
Obviously, for those who listened to the excellent play-by-play on 980 KZXX
radio, Saturday night wasn't as good, but even in losing, I felt that our team learned many lessons.
The major lesson here was certainly that game-day preparation is key, especially when you have driven so far and long to play the game. It is never a given that one night will be the same as the next. The measure of a good team is a split, but the full measure of a great team is a sweep. Our guys missed this "great" opportunity to measure themselves this past weekend with the Saturday night loss, but again, this may be helpful down the stretch and into the playoffs.
As the playoffs approach, it is very clear after the weekend that we will be facing the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Our upcoming games at the very end of the month will hopefully again give us some indication of how our playoffs will go.
Feb. 28 and 29 (Monday and Tuesday) are the last two regular season games in Soldotna. The following weekend, the Chinooks will try and win in Fairbanks to bring the Dogs back to Soldotna on March 10 and 11.
With a little hard work and commitment, and also a little luck, I know that this team is capable of winning the series.
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Crazy Jim Murdoch, the voice of Chinooks Hockey, underwent open-heart surgery Saturday. The Chinooks would like to pass on our heartfelt prayers and wishes for a speedy recovery. We are all thinking of you Jim!
Paddy Flynn is the coach and general manager of the Peninsula Chinooks Junior B Hockey Club.
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