SASKATOON, REGINA — While they love their home fans, players for the Saskatoon Blades and Regina Pats also enjoy hitting the road.
The Blades are in the midst of a five-game Alberta road swing. Early this season the Pats had a five-contest road stretch where they competed in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. With the Western Hockey League strung out from Manitoba to British Columbia and including teams in Oregon and Washington state in the U.S., squads are on the road often – and, sometimes, for long stretches.
“WHL road trips are awesome,” Pats forward Matteo Michels said. “Traveling with your team, which is your family for an entire year … going out on a day off, seeing the cities that we go to … seeing different things with the group of guys you’re with is just kind of a cool experience.”
When asked about road trips, fellow Pats forward Borya Valis said, “I enjoy everything. I don’t think there is a part you can’t enjoy. Always with the boys, going out to nice restaurants.”
Saskatoon Blades forward Jayden Wiens enjoys how road trips offer opportunities to get to know his teammates better.
“I love spending time with the guys and becoming closer every time we head out on a road trip, he said. “You spend all day with the guys so getting to experience different things with them is my favorite part about road trips.”
For the players, the bus becomes like a home on wheels.
“On the bus, we have some boys playing cards, some boys sleeping, some doing other things,” Valis said. “When we get to the hotel, usually we are always together.”
Road trips have been different the past couple WHL campaigns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020-2021, the league played a shortened season. The Manitoba and Saskatchewan squads competed in a “bubble” type setting in Regina. Last winter the teams were traveling again but the Pats and Blades did not play in B.C. or the U.S. during the regular season. Wiens, for one, is happy to travel farther afield. “The road trip to the states my first year was awesome,” Wiens said. “I’ve never been down to any of those cities so seeing them and playing hockey in rinks I’ve never seen was an experience I’ll never forget. At 16, you dream about playing hockey in the WHL and to be able to play in big cities with big crowds was pretty awesome.”
From Feb. 10 to Feb. 18, the Blades will play five games in as many different B.C. communities. It will be Wiens’ first B.C. WHL road trip, so he said he is looking forward to it. The Pats will be making a similar B.C. road trip for games between Nov. 25 and Dec. 2.
For some WHL players, the road trips bring them home – or close to it. Pats goalie Drew Sim grew up in the hamlet of Tees, Alta, about 40 kilometres northeast of Red Deer. He has an uncle who has a box at Red Deer’s Peavey Mart Centrium, so “I have a box full of family every time we’re in town,” Sim said. Quite a few family and friends come to see Sim when he plays in Edmonton and his father and a “cousin or two” usually attend contests in Calgary.
“Just being able to go back and play in front of family is awesome,” he said.