Off the Wahl: Road trip has its rewards

Behind the scenes of the Trail Smoke Eaters with Chris Wahl.

The Smoke Eaters visit the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island this weekend on a three-game, 1,850-kilometre road trip. The number of bus hours required for such a jaunt would test anyone’s patience, but the Smokies, like any other junior hockey team, have their routine down pat.

Early Thursday morning, the club will set out from Trail on a 13-hour, 800-km. voyage to Powell River that includes two ferries and plenty of nap time.

Most players bring a pillow and a blanket as carry-on luggage (Scott Davidson, for one, totes an inflatable mattress to lay flat in the aisle), and the majority of the team is asleep shortly after the bus pulls out from Cominco Arena.

Rookies occasionally get to choose a movie (the selection of which is generally met by cat-calling from the veterans reclining at the back), and the hours tick away.

Ferry travel usually brings out an opportunity for non-British Columbians to get pranked. Some teams will ask their American players to show passports to a perplexed ticket salesperson while guffaws ring out from the back of the bus.

Others will convince their players to brave howling winds and lashing rain to get a glimpse of an orca, or sea monster.

In some cases, away games provide an opportunity for players to meet family and friends who might not ordinarily make it to Trail during the season.

I’d expect there to be several Smokies fans at Sunday’s game in Nanaimo, and not just because the Harbour City happens to be blueliner Curtis Toneff’s hometown. It’s not uncommon to see a band of players conversing with family in the hotel lobby on game-day morning, or outside the arena after games.

Inside the hotel, players are usually teamed up three to a room. And given the average age of the 22 young men on the roster is around 18 years old, it’s actually quite surprising to see how little noise emanates from hotel hallways once the team gets settled.  Room checks and curfew rules might have something to do with that, though.

Every now and then, the Smokies will run into other teams during their travels. The Bauer Showcase in September is the most obvious example of this, but even now, ten months on I still feel for the employees of the Tim Hortons across the street from our hotel in Nanaimo last year, who all of a sudden one Saturday afternoon were inundated by a sea of Smoke Eaters and Merritt Centennials looking for lunch, a coffee or a snack.

Bus travel might not seem glamourous, and the hours put in by the team’s drivers Elmer Williams and Alan Fairweather can be long, dreary, and in the wintertime downright nerve-wracking. But that said, the travel is an integral part of junior hockey (and something the players will say, boredom aside, is one of the best parts of playing in the BCHL).

It’s a pretty unique way to see what our province has to offer too, at least when it’s light out.

Just Posted

Photo courtesy of Mercer Celgar
Mercer Celgar to install new technology thanks to $4.5 million in federal funds

Project features process to improve fibre processing and address regional fibre availability issues

Asian clams versus native B.C. clams comparison. Photo: Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society
Invasive Asian Clams found in Pend D’Oreille River

Watercraft users and anglers are urged to clean, drain and dry gear

The KBRH Gratitude Mural by Tyler Toews was unveiled at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital on June 9. L-R: Kala Draney, third year med student, Dr. Scot Mountain, Diane Shendruk from IH, Dr. Carolyn Stark, Dr. Sue Benzer, Dr. Kristen Edge, James Brotherhood, Dr. Dennis Small, and Dr. Sue Babensee. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay Boundary doctors offer a healthy dose of goodness with Gratitude Mural

Its red ribbon is in the shape of a heart rising above a Kootenay Boundary mountain scene

A cougar, or cougars, went on a killing rampage at a small Fruitvale farm. Photo: Thomas S. on Unsplash
Cougar euthanized after taking out small animal farm in Fruitvale

Wildlife interactions, poachers or polluters should be reported to RAPP at 1.877.952.7277

The Trail Smoke Eaters will open the 2021 season on Oct. 8 against the Cranbrook Bucks in Cranbrook, and will have their home opener the next night against the same Bucks. Photo: Jack Murray
BC Hockey League announces 54-game schedule to begin in October

Trail Smoke Eaters open season with home-and-home series versus Cranbrook Bucks

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Old growth in the Columbia Valley, in the Kinbasket area. (Photo submitted)
Wildsight: Old-growth forests are being logged in Golden

Wildsight says that Canfor has been logging old growth at the Blaeberry headwaters

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens as Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents the province’s latest budget, April 20, 2021. The budget projects $19 billion in deficits over three years. (Hansard TV)
B.C. government budget balloons, beyond COVID-19 response

Provincial payroll up 104,000 positions, $10 billion since 2017

Ocean debris is shown on Long Beach in Tofino, B.C. on April, 18, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lotto Max jackpot goes unclaimed again

42 of the 64 Maxmillion prizes of $1 million were won, the majority were sold in Ontario

FILE - This July 6, 2017 file photo shows prescription drugs in a glass flask at the state crime lab in Taylorsville, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Contaminants in generic drugs may cause long-term harm to DNA: B.C. researcher

Scientist says findings suggest high volume overseas facilities require strict regulation

Most Read