In alternate years, it is a trip that can often make or break a season.
Every other year, WHL teams from the east must make a week-long or so trek through the United States, to cover off games with the entire U.S. Division. Some years it is split into two visits and others, it is done in one fell swoop.
That trip for the Red Deer Rebels comes at a critical time, against some of the top teams in the WHL. This season, the journey is made even tougher as three of the top 10 teams in the WHL reside in the U.S. Division (Everett, Portland and Spokane).
Red Deer kicks off the road swing with a Tuesday date against the Spokane Chiefs (27-17-2-4) on Feb. 12, before taking on the Everett Silvertips (37-12-1-1) the following night.
Then it’s off to Seattle against the Thunderbirds on Feb. 15, Portland against the Winterhawks (32-15-3-2) Feb. 16 and finishes off the trip on Feb. 19 Tri-City Americans (27-19-2).
In total, the visit will have the Rebels travel a meager 3,104 kilometres.
It means a lot of bonding time for the group, during a stretch where they haven’t played their best hockey.
“It’s a lot of bus time, a lot of hotel time but I think we’re all looking forward to it. It’s an exciting trip and I think we all know that every game is not going to be an easy one. That’s a good division down there,” defenceman Dawson Barteaux said.
Veteran 20-year-old forward Jeff de Wit, noted that although he wasn’t on the trip, last year a big turning point for the Rebels was an undefeated streak through the B.C. Division.
“Biggest road trip of the year. I remember last year the Rebels went on a trip to B.C. and they swept the B.C. trip and it was a huge turning point for them. If we take that same approach, take it one game at a time,” de Wit said.
Earlier this season in November, the Central Division-leading Edmonton Oil Kings went through the American gauntlet and picked up just four of a possible 10 points. They had a win at the beginning and end of the trip sandwiched around three losses.
In late January, the Lethbridge Hurricanes won their opening game of the trip 4-3 over the Seattle Thunderbirds but were trounced 9-1 by Everett and shutout 3-0 by Portland.
De Wit, who has made the journey through the U.S. on more than one occasion said it’s always a big test and at this point in the season for the Rebels it will be important to pick up points.
Especially considering they will play five games in eight days, which will even up games in hand on the Central Division for Red Deer.
“Every game on the road, especially in the U.S. is so hard. They have such a strong division,” he said.
“Regardless of whether they’re first or fifth, they’re all good teams. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but I think we’re going to rise to it.”