Another road trip through the east is complete and this particular one was the most successful I can remember over the past decade as the T-Birds earn 8 of a possible 12 points. If not for one particularly baffling video goal review decision in Brandon the team would have had at least nine points from the six games and potentially 10. In fact, if not for that mysterious decision, the 'Birds would have garnered a point in all six games.
And what is it about controversial goals going against the T-Birds in Brandon? Five years ago the T-Birds lost an overtime game there when a goal that was never a goal gave the Wheat Kings the win. In that instance the puck never got within three feet of the net. In this latest incident the puck was clearly kicked in. I've already started to conjure up the next way the team will be jobbed of a point or a win the next time we visit Brandon in 2012-13. My guess? Brandon is awarded a goal during intermission while two pee wee teams are on the ice.
This was also the most "drama free" road trip east in a while. No flu bug ravaging the team as happened last season; no cell phone devouring bus like two years ago and no major injury to your star player befell, like Aaron Gagnon a few years back in Saskatoon. No, the biggest issue was whether Athletic Trainer Phil Varney should shave his beard.
He did and the team promptly went on a three game winning streak.
More importantly the team continues to play good, competitive hockey. Even in Regina, when they were down 4-1 and looked like maybe they just didn't have it that night, they roared back to win 5-4.
In the final game of the trip against Swift Current, the sixth game in eight nights when they could have hit the wall, they battled on and earned a point. Heck, if not for a puck hitting a post or two they might have pulled out the win there too.
We also found out that the team will be just fine if they want to give Calvin Pickard a rest now and then. I thought goalie Michael Salmon was the best player in training camp and he picked up where he left off in his first action of the regular season. He was the best player on the ice against the Broncos on Saturday too and he made a number of phenomenal saves at the start of the third period of that game to keep it tied at 1-1.
The team also got a little healthier with Justin Hickman, who injured his hand in training camp, finally well enough to get into a game. He didn't disappoint. He was very noticeable on the ice (in a positive way) and came very close on a number of occasions to scoring his first WHL goal.
I thought I'd talk a bit about the team's very successful power play but I don't want to jinx it! Even when they don't score on the PP they still get good puck movement and quality chances; not like in recent years where they had issues even getting the puck in the attacking zone.
The next month or so of hockey, leading up to the holiday break, is going to be very interesting because with two exceptions, every game will be against a Western Conference opponent and while the T-Birds currently sit tied for third in the conference (with the 2nd best winning percentage) just seven points separate 2nd place from 10th place in the conference standings. So with things that tight, one bad stretch of games could cost teams 4 or 5 spots in the standings. Conversely, put together a little winning streak and you could jump from the bottom to the top.