By Bob Crawford
If you’re looking to escape nasty weather, the first choice usually is not going to be heading up to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
St. John’s is a great spot, mind you…really nice city, Newfoundlanders are great people, good eating, plenty of good night spots and a great arena. Weather, though, is usually not considered one of the attractions. In fact, whenever you’re going to Newfoundland on an AHL trip, you cross your fingers that some crazy North Atlantic meteorological upheaval is not going to crop up out of nowhere and turn your travel into a teeth-grinding nightmare.
For the Whale this weekend, though, “The Rock”, as it is affectionately called, has represented a well-timed getaway from the crazy snow that is slamming New England and potentially burying the Whale’s Hartford home base.
Right from when the trip was planned, the Whale were leaving for the trip on Thursday, even though they do not play the first of their two games against the IceCaps in St. John’s until Saturday. Even if that had not been the plan, the itinerary probably would have been changed once the storm predictions started appearing, and, as luck would have it, the timing turned out to be perfect. It was an easy bus ride for the Whale group to Newark Airport, and then a non-stop United Airlines flight to St. John’s. No hiccups, an on-time arrival, and the traveling party is well settled in.
The fact that the team’s departure just beat the snowfall has inspired some chuckles around the Whale locker room, as reports of the blanketing snowfall began to arrive from family and friends.
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“I love it, I think it’s great,” Whale leading scorer Kris Newbury, one of the few Whale players who is married with children, said, tongue planted firmly in cheek, after the Whale’s practice at Mile One Centre in St. John’s Friday afternoon. “They get a little taste of the real world, what happens out east (in the Maritime provinces of Canada—Newbury started his pro career with the old St. John’s Maple Leafs). I wish them all the best.”
Lest he be thought an insensitive heel, it should be noted that Newbury did not leave wife Amanda and his three youngsters saddled with the chore of shoveling all of the snow at the family home in West Hartford.
“I hooked her up with a plowing company, so they do the driveway,” Newbury said. “But I don’t know, maybe she’ll have to do the deck for the dogs, I guess, if we get that much (snow), shovel off a path for them.”
Anyone who might have seen Newbury tooling around the Hartford area would know that he drives a vehicle that looks like it would be better suited to competing in the Monster Jam extravaganza that is lighting up the XL Center this weekend than driving his kids to school and commuting to Whale practices and games. The fun-loving Newbury’s ride is a Ford F-150 pickup with 38-inch tires.
While that vehicle might not be that practical in everyday circumstances, and tests Newbury’s precision and patience whenever he has to park it in the XL Center garage, it is likely to be just what the doctor ordered when Newbury and his Whale buddies get back to the Nutmeg State.
“Yeah, we’re going to have some fun, me and Micheal (Haley) are going to go driving,” said Newbury. “He’s got a new Raptor, I got my monster truck, so we’ll go crush some snowbanks.”
So, if Newbury was back in Connecticut this weekend instead of on the Whale junket, would he be tempted to try to get his car-crusher in on Monster Jam?
“Yeah, I tried last year to get in the door, but they wouldn’t let me,” Newbury quipped. “I wanted to go take it in the ring for a little spin.”
Head Coach Ken Gernander, one of the other members of the Whale contingent who has a family back in Connecticut, had this take, “I think we’ve had it pretty easy the last few winters, and it’s too bad I won’t be there to show my son (11-year-old Micah) how to work a shovel, but hopefully he can figure it out on his own. I hope that the other two (daughters McKenna and Miranda) can pitch in, but I won’t be there to help anybody.
“I’m sure they would be more than happy to shovel the driveway if the tradeoff is to put Dad on the road for three or four days.”
According to the latest reports, the Whale are likely not to get off scot-free, as six-to-nine inches of the white stuff are predicted to hit St. John’s Saturday night, but that certainly pales in comparison to the blizzard that is slamming New England.
With the joking about the weather out of the way, Gernander addressed the matchup with the IceCaps, who trail the Whale by one point in the Eastern Conference standings going into the weekend. The only previous matchup between the two teams was in the second game of the season, in which St. John’s battled back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to win 3-2 at the XL Center. Since the end of the NHL lockout, the IceCaps have lost two players who made a big impact in that game, center Alex Burmistrov and defenseman Zach Redmond, but Gernander is quick to point out that the Whale aren’t exactly the same team either.
“I think the makeup of our team has changed a great deal,” he said. “I think we’re a bigger, more physical team than we were the first time around.
“I remember the last time we faced them Burmistrov on the power play kind of gave us fits. There’s been a lot of change in both teams, but for our team, more specifically, we’re looking for our guys to compete and play a hard game.”
Those elements will be critical if the Whale are going to succeed in grabbing hold of a playoff spot, and with the season nearing the 50-game mark (the two games in St. John’s will be numbers 48 and 49 on the Whale’s schedule), that P-word is going to dominate the conversation more and more.
“To some extent we’re approaching this (the Newfoundland trip) like a playoff-type atmosphere,” Gernander said. “You’re going on the road for two games, back to back with your opponent, which doesn’t always happen in the American League, and the travel component is a little more prominent in the playoffs than it would be in the regular season. So in a lot of regards we’re treating this as a playoff-type environment.”