For minor hockey players of any age or any level, the first big road trip of a season is always a highly anticipated event.
You get to bunk in hotel rooms with your buddies, eat out for every meal, and, in most cases, Mom and Dad are back at home, nowhere to be seen.
“As a hockey player, the time away from your home rink and the times in hotels, restaurants, hanging out, is the stuff you remember,” says St. John’s Privateers’ coach Doug Jackman, who takes his team on the road this week to the Monctonian AAA Challenge in Moncton, N.B., where the other three major midget teams from the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget League — the St. John’s Maple Leafs, Central IcePak and Western Kings — will also be competing.
And while the primary focus of the trip to Moncton will be garnering experience against some stiff competition and showcasing individual talents in front of the many major junior and junior A scouts who make the Monctonian an annual stop, it also allows players to bond and build chemistry.
“The more time they spend together, the more guys seem to get along. That shows up on the ice, with guys more willing to go to the wall ... for each other once they’ve developed friendships and togetherness that’s not there in September,” explains Jackman.
Maple Leafs bench boss Eddie Oates says his team started coming together before the season even started. For a pre-season tourney in Corner Brook, the team rented chalets at the Humber Valley Resort, which he says was “a great environment” for the players.
“The first night, they had a rookie karoake contest. The second night, they had a rookie comedy night. It definitely formed some bonds,” recalls Oates, who expects those ties to grow deeper in Moncton later this week.
Jackman says the first road trip also gives coaches a chance to get to better know the players.
“You get to learn a lot about your hockey team and what kind of personalities you have there. You’re living together for five days, so you get to know what kind of character and leadership is there.”
Both the Leafs and Privateers fly out Wednesday morning. Before competing in Moncton, the Leafs will play an exhibition game against Rothesay Netherwood, a private boarding school outside Saint John, N.B.
In years past, few teams headed to Moncton by air, choosing instead to bus across the island, ferry across the gulf and bus to the final destination, a cheaper, albeit time-consuming method of transportation.
Oates recalls one year when he took a team all the way to Bathurst, N.B., by bus and boat.
“That particular year, we had a pretty good squad and made it to the final, but because our ferry crossing was at midnight we had to play at 9:30 a.m., then bus all the way to North Sydney for a night crossing and then back across the island again. We spent more time on the bus than we did in Bathurst.”
St. John’s Maple Leafs
Thursday, vs. Fredericton, N.B., Canadiens
Friday, vs. Southern Shore, N.S., Mustangs
Saturday, vs. Ottawa Jr. 67s
Tanner Whiffen, Matthew Smith, Ryan Kenny, Andrew Paul, Bobby Upshall, Ben Noseworthy, Chris Mallard 3rd year, Patrick Nicolle, Adam Caines, Andrew Barron, Coady Barron, Tyler Boland,
Riley Baggs, Tyler Hennessey, Liam Kennedy, Iain Gamba, Tyler Tobin, Michael Moret, Justin Boland
Dylan Burry and Josh Carey
St. John’s Privateers
Thursday, vs. Charlottetown, P.E.I., Islanders
Friday, vs. St-Gabriel, Que., Vikings
Saturday, vs. Cole Harbour, N.S., Wolfpack
Zachary Tucker, Ben Cleary, Liam Careen, Lucas Lush, Andrew Haley, Shayne Kavanagh, Brad Mitchelmore, Brett Vokey, Blake Dalton, Luke Tilley, Peter Kavanagh, Cameron Dunn
Matthew Caines, Stephen LeDrew, Luke Peddle, Matthew Downer, Lee Dower, Dylan O’Leary
Christopher Smith and Mitchell Puddester