Tuesday, 11 October 2011

West Coast Trip About More than Winning

Paul Ciarelli and the Wheat Kings practiced Tuesday
at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena
The Brandon Wheat Kings hope to emerge from their longest road trip of the season a better team.

Time will tell whether their record over the next 12 days will reflect that.

Brandon’s annual October road trip, coined the ‘West Coast Tour’ more than two decades ago, has always been as much about team bonding and creating team chemistry as it is about winning.

“To get on this trip and get away from home is nice in a way to bond with the guys,” said fourth-year centre Paul Ciarelli after Tuesday’s practice in Spokane, “Just to get this road trip out of the way early is also nice, but I think just the time with the guys and going different places is a real treat.”

Ciarelli and defenceman Ryley Miller are the two Wheat Kings on this year’s excurstion that have experienced the U.S. Division road trip before.

Captain Mark Stone missed the trip in 2009 because of a broken thumb and fifth-year defenceman Brodie Melnychuk is not on this year’s trip, at least to start, because of the fractured wrist he suffered during training camp.

And, in Ciarelli’s case, he didn’t even get to experience the full trip in 2009 because of a separated shoulder suffered in practice between the third and fourth games of the that year’s trip.

“I think just the experience is huge. Being on these road trips, the younger guys look up to you and ask all kinds of questions, ask what the atmosphere is like in the different arenas,” said Ciarelli, “With me being here in my fourth year, I think I can answer a lot of those questions for the young guys.”

The puck drops Wednesday night at the Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane (8:30 p.m., CKLQ) to start what will be seven games in 11 days for the Wheat Kings.

I asked Ciarelli what’s the key is to keeping fresh and energized on this lengthy road trip.

“I think, just as a team, we have to use all four lines and all the sets of D,” said Ciarelli, “Just move the puck quick, keep our shifts short and get everybody in the game as quick as we can.”

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Dylan Kuczek has worn the White Jersey of a forward
the last two days
Dylan Kuczek looks like he could make his season debut for the Wheat Kings on Wednesday night, but it won’t be at his usual position.

The 17-year old blueliner has practiced at left-wing on a line with fellow rookies Daniel Asham and Dakota Conroy the past two days, including Tuesday’s session in Spokane.

“I got the white jersey before practice (Monday) so I was a little shaken up but I had a good practice and I had a good practice (Tuesday) so we’ll see how things go,” said Kuczek on Tuesday, “I’ve played a few games here and there with a few teams back home but never at this level so we’ll see how it goes.”

The move was necessary because of injuries to forwards Jen Meilleur (upper body, 3 weeks) and Dominick Favreau (lower body, two weeks), neither of whom made the trip West with the Wheat Kings.

“I’m not going to do anything fancy, that’s not me,” said Kuczek, “Just keep it simple, and I’ll probably bang a few bodies (Tuesday).”

Kuczek has been unable to crack the Wheat Kings’ lineup so far this season, being a healthy scratch for each of the club’s first six games.

Meanwhile, defenceman Rene Hunter was on the practice ice Tuesday after missing a week (and one game) with an above shoulder injury.  He could return to Brandon's lineup on Wednesday night.

Chaff...former Wheat King Joe Caligiuri got to pull on a Winnipeg Jets’ jersey for real on Tuesday, filling in at the NHL team’s practice when veteran goaltender Chris Mason missed practice to be with his wife, who was giving birth to their second child. “They’re fast, and they can shoot the puck,” said Caligiuri told the Winnipeg Sun, “It was good to see what the best players in the world are like. I had a blast out there.” Caligiuri is in his second season with the Manitoba Bisons, having compiled back-to-back shutouts to open the season. The Bisons were idle this past weekend...Brandon’s last visit to Spokane was October 28, 2009, with the Wheat Kings emerging with a 5-4 victory over the Chiefs. It was the first time Brandon had won a regular season game at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena since it opened in 1995...Brandon captain Mark Stone is tied with Tri-City’s Adam Hughesman for the WHL scoring lead entering Tuesday's action. Both had 16 points...on the Luber’s Lounge mileage chart so far on this road trip – 1,597 kilometres (1,000 miles).

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