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Long road trip offers Hawks time to bond

Some players get to visit family; others will see tough 'D'
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Portland Winterhawks defenseman Joe Morrow takes a shot in Tuesday’s victory over Saskatoon.

The long and winding road is about to take the Portland Winterhawks to every corner of Alberta and back - 17 days, nine games and nearly 2,600 miles of sitting on the team bus.

The Hawks' next home games are Nov. 11 and 12 against Spokane.

"It'll be great. We have a lot of hard games. It's a tough schedule," coach/general manager Mike Johnston says. "It can really help your chemistry.

"When you're at home, you see guys for a certain amount during the day, but we're spread out all over the city. On the road, at nights you're going to movies, going to dinner, playing a game. A lot of families will be on the road trip, because we have a lot of players from Alberta."

It'll be one of the longest road trips in team history. Originally, the road trip was supposed to be six games through the Western Hockey League's Central Division, but Johnston and management added one game at Kamloops and two at Kelowna to the end of the journey, rather than schedule two long bus rides for those games in British Columbia later in the season.

"It worked out that Kelowna and Kamloops had their buildings available," Johnston says.

The road schedule: Friday, Edmonton; Saturday, Red Deer; Tuesday, Calgary; Wednesday, Medicine Hat; Oct. 28, Lethbridge; Oct. 29, Kootenay; Nov. 2, Kamloops; Nov. 4-5, Kelowna.

The Hawks are 1-2 on the road, having beaten Seattle and lost at Tri-City and Everett. Portland (6-4-1-0) rallied to top Saskatoon 7-6 in a shootout on home ice Tuesday.

"I've never been on a road trip like this," defenseman William Wrenn says. "I'm looking forward to it.

"I think it'll be good and bad. It's obviously a long time, a lot of hours on the bus. I'm sure some of it will be a drag. I definitely think it will be good. We have some new faces here, young guys, and just to be around each other more - I really think the more you get to know somebody off the ice, the better you'll play with them on the ice."

Adds forward Brad Ross, who is from Alberta: "It's going to be difficult, but a lot of guys have hometowns. It'll be nice to see family. We'll come out and play our best, our hardest, and see what happens. ... If you get the right mindset, it's not that big of a deal. When the puck drops, we'll be ready."

The team will have a couple of bonding activities in Calgary. For the most part, "it'll be good to talk amongst ourselves, stuff like that," Ross says.

The Hawks went 5-1 last year on their Eastern Conference trip.

But even more than wins, "I look at how we play," Johnston says. "We're going into some tough buildings; they're going to get their (defensive) matchups. It'll be interesting to see how we play on the road, when (Sven) Bartschi and (Ty) Rattie are matched against (the opponents') top defense or checking line. We'll see how they handle it."

It'll be an important trip for Wrenn. Coaches named the 20-year-old Alaska native the captain, Bartschi one assistant captain and Joe Morrow, Taylor Peters, Troy Rutkowski and Ross possible assistant captains for each game.

"He plays a gritty, working, character style, and he has a presence amongst our guys, which I like," Johnston says, of Wrenn. "He has a good relationship with coaches, good communication. I think the team feels comfortable they can bring things through him to us. And, we can go back the other way."

Says Wrenn: "It's a huge honor. I'm very happy they chose me, and I'm going to do whatever I can to lead the team, whether it's on the ice or off the ice. ... I don't want to change who I am. I push myself to show by example. ... I have no problem talking with guys, when I see somebody struggling, or I can be stern when I need to be. Most of the time I like to be laid back and one of the guys."