BYU hockey takes to the road

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Editors note: Daily Universe sports editor Daniel Lewis accompanied BYU’s hockey team to a Las Vegas match in December to provide a first-hand perspective of a team road trip.

“All right, roll call! If you’re here, say so!”

It is 9:30 in the morning as coach Jeremy Weiss goes down the team roster, checking to make sure his players have made it onto the bus. The team bus idles outside Seven Peaks Arena, and the players are ready to get the long drive out of the way and onto the ice to face UNLV. Las Vegas is five hours away, and the players are looking forward to the drive.

After three hours of staring at the Utah countryside, the team stops in St. George to grab some lunch. The coaches give the players a deadline of 2:30 p.m., and everybody hurries away.

“Man, it feels nice to not have to wear a jacket,” says defender Brad Gordon.

The coaching staff heads off to Olive Garden, while some players head across the street for Applebees, Five Guys, or a run through Target for some groceries. At 2:30, the players run back to beat the coaches to the bus, for the opportunity to give them a ribbing for not making it back before then.

“Hey, coach, what time is it? Look at my phone, what’s the clock say on there? Where you been?”

The coaches get them back on board, the players get settled back in their seats, and the trip is back under way.

At 4:30 Mountain time, the skyline of Las Vegas fills the front windshield. Most of the players are resting off lunch as the bus takes the Lake Mead Boulevard exit toward the hotel and ice arena. The games are going to be played at Sobe Ice Arena, a rink attached to the Fiesta Rancho Hotel & Casino.

After arriving at the hotel, the team checks in, drops gear off in their rooms, then heads off to the arena on the bus. After a short drive, the team unloads in front of the doors. Assistant captain Tanner Billingsley leads them through the doors, quickly across the smoky, dimly lit casino floor into an equally lit arena. Little Christmas lights hang from the end boards, while a small Christmas tree tries to spread the holiday message.

The team makes its way down the ice, into the visitors’ locker room to dump their gear along the walls. A few players unpack sticks, beginning their evening by unwrapping then rewrapping their sticks. Players scramble around, and the mood begins to brighten up as they joke around with each other, shaking off the dust from traveling.

After changing into warm-up gear, a couple of the players begin stretching while two forwards warm up their sticks by passing around a small ball.

It’s 5 p.m. here in Las Vegas, and the team has to get going with the game starting earlier than their accustomed 7:30 drop time.

“We usually start with plyometrics, sprints, anything to get the blood flowing,” said defender Chris Larsen. “Everyone has their own pre-game routine after that though.”

After their bodies are fluid and loose for the game from the exercises, the team heads back into the locker room to strap on their pads and skates 30 minutes before the puck drops.

The locker room has a nervous energy to it, while players strap on their pads, tape up their socks, and slip on their jerseys. Everybody gets quiet when the coach steps in to address the team before they head out to the ice.

“We can beat these guys tonight,” says coach Weiss. “If we play to our systems, stay disciplined, and perform the way we did in practice, we have a really good shot at coming out of here with two wins guys.”

The team gathers for a prayer, repeating the standard athletic prayer: help us play to the best of our ability, bless us with strength, protect us from being injured. As they break, the team gradually makes its way out of the locker room, tapping the small, “Play like a champion today” sign on their way out.

“Why is it at waist level? I didn’t even have to jump. Aren’t you supposed to jump?” grumbles one of the players.

The team plays well, with a strong performance from the starting line of Tate Cowley, Landon Ball and Tanner Grey. The Cougars start the third period up 4-3, but are hurt by mistakes from some veteran players and the game finishes 6-5, advantage UNLV.

“We played these guys pretty even,” said general manager Stan Weiss. “Our rookies really stepped up tonight, just flashing that potential we have.”

The players shower, get dressed, then trickle out of the locker room. Some of the players meet up with family from the area, while others group together to head out for food. There is a Kanye West concert at the MGM, but with an 11 p.m. curfew, the players won’t be in attendance.

The coaching staff returns to their room to go over stats and plan for the next game. They talk about which players played well, those that didn’t, and decide the lineup for the next game. Assistant captain Tanner Billingsley stops by before curfew to talk about personnel moves and check in. At 11 p.m., coach Weiss sends Billingsley out to check if players have made it back.

Once back in their rooms, the players surf the Internet, watch some television, and wind down before heading to sleep.

The players take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in, rolling out of bed to get prepared for the day and get some studying for finals in. Coach Stan sends out a text detailing the itinerary. Checkout is at noon, ice time is at 3:30, giving the team time for lunch on the strip in between.

The Strip is bustling with visitors, tourists clamoring for pictures, looking around for the sights and sounds that makes Las Vegas appealing. The players split up, some hitting the stores while others look for buffets or restaurants.

After lunch is done, the ice rink beckons once again, and it’s back on the bus to make the short drive to the arena to prepare for the next game.

The game starts in similar fashion as Friday; small crowd, UNLV scores first, and the team looks to rally. The Cougars have the experience of Friday’s loss under their belt however, and rally to tie the game 5-5.

Grateful to at least come back to Provo with a draw, the mood in the locker room is brighter than the previous night. The players pack their bags, turn off the lights, lock the doors, and move their gear onto the bus. The coaches tell them to make a quick food run, and then it’s off to Provo.

The bus leaves the parking lot close to 10:30 p.m., and many of the players are already beginning to nod off. The lights of Las Vegas quickly fade away, and the bus slips into the light traffic on I-15.

The ride back is much more quiet. With the players’ reading days spent on the road, they will need their rest to prepare for finals week. Those who made an effort to study eventually nod off, and the bus continues to roll across the desert as the night continues on.

It’s 4:30 in the morning when the bus crosses the bridge over the tracks on University Avenue, trundles past the Tabernacle, and turns onto Center Street. The grumbles of waking players crescendo from the front to the back, and by the time they reach Seven Peaks, everyone is up and ready to get to their homes.

“I’ve got ward meetings and church in a couple hours. It’s a good thing I got some sleep on the bus,” said captain Adam Farero.

The coaches wish the players a merry Christmas, and good luck on their finals. They take their gear to their cars, scrape the ice off their frozen windshields, and head home to get some rest before their church meetings start.

“It was good, it was fun,” said defender Scott Johnson of the trip. “I’m looking forward to next semester.”

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