Defenceman MacKenzie Johnston

Prairie trip a homecoming of sorts

Several Kelowna Rockets will be in familiar surroundings as the team plays six games in 10 days in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

A six-game, 10-day eastern road trip in the midst of winter doesn’t necessarily conjure up warm and friendly images.

But for Kelowna Rockets defenceman Damon Severson—and several of his Prairie-born teammates—the club’s tour of Saskatchewan and Manitoba WHL cities will be as much a homecoming as a foray into enemy territory.

Severson’s dad, Doug, is planning to attend all six games and he’s going to be bringing friends and family with him.

“I’m expecting quite a few people in Regina since it’s closest to home, and Moose Jaw’s got a new rink, so everyone from my hometown wants to come and see that,” said Severson, a native of Melville, Sask. “All through the trip I’m going to see a lot of familiar faces, so that will be nice.

“It’ll be fun and nice to get back to Saskatchewan,” he added. “I’m going to have to play my best out there, give them what they came for. I don’t want to go home regretting the trip.”

A Prairie product himself, Rockets assistant coach Ryan Cuthbert has taken the eastern swing many times, both as a player and a coach.

Travelling thousands of kilometres on a bus, staying in hotels, and playing so many games in a short time span is a challenge—but one that can be rewarded with the right approach.

“It’s a always a grind, it’s a tough trip there’s no doubt about it,” said Cuthbert, who is from Swift Current where the Rockets road trip begins on Friday night. “It’s a tough job, but the easiest way to break it down is one game at a time, one team at a time and go from there.

“What you get are cold rinks, fast ice and good environments. I love playing out there.”

With head man Ryan Huska headed to the World Junior Championship, Cuthbert and fellow assistant Dan Lambert will handle the coaching duties during the East Division tour.

Cuthbert said earning a few character wins on the trip would be a big boost for the Rockets who have, so far this season, not been getting the results they expected.

“There’s no doubt it’s a big trip for us considering where we’re at right now,” he said. “It would be nice for the guys to go into the second half feeling good about themselves. If the guys buy into the way we need to be playing, then we should be good.”

Another Saskatchewan native, Swift Current’s Colton Heffley, played in most of the rinks as a bantam and midget-aged player and has a pretty good idea of what to expect over the next week and a half.

“I should know the ice, the rinks, and what the fans will be like,” said Heffley. “They’ve got pretty good fans in Saskatchewan, they’re pretty rowdy sometimes. It should be interesting to say the least.”

Following Friday’s game against the Broncos, the Rockets head to Moose Jaw Saturday, Brandon Tuesday, Regina Wednesday, Prince Albert Friday, Dec. 16, and wrapping up with a stop in Saskatoon on Dec. 17.

When the Rockets bus returns to Kelowna, Cuthbert, Heffley, Severson, and the rest of their Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba teammates will remain on the Prairies to spend Christmas with their families.

The team will reconvene in Kelowna for practise on Dec. 26.


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