If the Spokane Chiefs hockey players didn’t know it already, they do now: Saskatchewan is a big place.
During their six-game road trip, the Chiefs crisscrossed the Canadian province – even journeying across the Manitoba border to play Brandon – and covered approximately 2,700 miles (or about 4,300 kilometers). All in 11 days.
They went 3-2-1 on the trip and are 6-3-3 overall, one point out of first place (but in fourth place overall) in the crowded U.S. Division. That has the team feeling good heading into its five-game homestand, which starts Friday night against the Portland Winterhawks (7-3-1).
“I think it’s really important that we got it done with the first bit of the season. It helps us come together fast,” defenseman and co-captain Ty Smith said. “We’re on the bus together a long ways, and in the hotel together, and that’s a tough trip. … I think it was a positive trip.”
For some of the players who call that province home, the trip affords chances for home-cooked meals.
“We did a few team-building activities, did some fun stuff, and also allowed some of our Saskatchewan players to go have dinners with their family, and spend time with them,” coach Dan Lambert said. “I think our team is closer now than it was a month ago.”
It is easily the longest trip of the year, one the Chiefs take every other season, alternating with a similar trip to play the comparatively closer Central Division teams such as Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Those teams will visit the Arena later this season.
To get home from the trip, having only played at the Arena three times in 12 games, and to be in the thick of the division race, pleased Lambert.
“That means we’ve got to win our home games,” he said.
The Chiefs will get a boost with the return of co-captain Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who spent the first part of the year with the Los Angeles Kings. He picked up an assist in five NHL games and, after a month in hotels, spent the last week of his NHL time staying at the home of Anze Kopitar, the Kings’ captain and 13-year veteran.
“He treats everyone with respect, no matter who you are,” Anderson-Dolan said of Kopitar. “I was a young guy coming in, and he made me feel welcome, and brought me into his home, which was pretty amazing.”
That NHL stint meant Anderson-Dolan missed the team’s Canadian odyssey, something his teammates razzed him for, he said.
“I know that he’s not sorry he missed it, for sure,” Lambert said. “He was spending time on jets.”
Lambert also expects to get defenseman Filip Kral back from injury on this homestand. Kral, Smith, Anderson-Dolan and forward Jake McGrew are the four Chiefs who have been drafted by the NHL.
That means the Chiefs are nearly at full strength.
“We feel we’re a better team than we were a week ago,” Lambert said.
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