As a fourth-year player and Spokane Chiefs leader, Mitch Holmberg has devised the perfect strategy for surviving the team’s longest road trip of the season.
“Bring a lot of snacks on the bus and make sure your bed’s comfy,” Holmberg said.
Spokane’s six-games-in-nine-days odyssey to the Western Hockey League’s East Division begins Friday at Swift Current, one of five destinations the Chiefs will hit in Saskatchewan. The farthest reach during the swing will be Brandon, Manitoba, nearly 1,000 miles away.
The itinerary after Friday: Saturday at Regina; Tuesday at Prince Albert; Wednesday at Saskatoon; Dec. 7 at Brandon; and Dec. 8 at Moose Jaw.
“It’s a fun trip to go on,” said Holmberg, a Chiefs assistant captain. “You get to be with the guys for a week, so it’s kind of a good bonding time.”
Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur agreed that the trip serves as a perfect opportunity to have some fun and build team unity.
“We’ll find ourselves on the road, that’s for sure,” Nachbaur said. “We know how to play at home, now we have to know how to win on the road.”
The Chiefs (17-7-1-0, 35 points) have played 14 of their first 25 games at home, winning 12 of their Arena contests. All but two of their opponents have been Western Conference teams, with Lethbridge and Red Deer of the Eastern Conference’s Central Division the exceptions.
Last season, East Division teams traveled to Spokane and finished a combined 0-6.
Except for the Prince Albert Raiders, the division’s premier team, East teams are bunched together with records hovering near .500. Through Thursday, the East’s sixth-place team, Brandon, was just four points out of second place. Every East team except Prince Albert (18-8-0-2, 38 points) would be far off the pace in Spokane’s U.S. Division and no better than the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Tuesday’s game at Prince Albert will be the highlight for more than one reason. Chiefs goaltender Eric Williams and leading scorer Todd Fiddler were traded from Prince Albert to Spokane last December.
“I’m pretty excited because I’m a ‘Sask’ boy,” said Fiddler, of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. “We’re playing my old team … which I’m pretty excited for.”
Fiddler has accounted for 16 goals and 22 points in his last 15 games.
Holmberg and Fiddler agreed that the East and West have different styles of play.
“It’s the same league … and everyone’s skilled, but it’s a little run-and-gun up there and we have a little more grinding hockey here,” Fiddler said.
Nachbaur said the Chiefs are healthy except for Marek Kalus and Tanner Mort, who have upper-body injuries.