The jerseys say ‘Plainsmen’ on the front, but the Crocus Plains high school hockey team could just as easily be called the Snowbirds this week.
The Plainsmen will hop on a plane today and fly to the Tampa Bay area where they’ll spend the next week escaping the Brandon winter and sampling high school hockey, Florida style. A major trip has become something of an annual tradition for the Plainsmen since they went to Toronto six years ago as a way to attract players to high school hockey and bring the kids and parents together.
“Last year just after Christmas we went down to Phoenix and we played in the Coyote Cup and of course now we’ve got a taste of what it’s like to go in the winter and enjoy some nice weather,” Plainsmen head coach Peter Gerlinger said. “So now when we’ve been planning for this year we were looking for some kind of a similar scenario.”
The idea for this year’s destination was planted in Gerlinger’s mind by former Brandon Wheat Kings captain Ryan Craig, who began his National Hockey League career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Gerlinger sent a bulk email down to a number of schools and got a phone call within an hour from Dave Beaudin, a former Ohio State hockey player from Winnipeg who now coaches high school hockey in Tampa.
Beaudin, whose father Norm played for the Winnipeg Jets in the World Hockey Association, set up a series of games for the Plainsmen as well as a practice with former NHL player John Tucker. The club will also take in an NHL game, pay a visit to the Busch Gardens theme park and Gerlinger hopes to work in meet-and-greets with former Wheat Kings captains Keith Aulie of the Lightning and Chris Dingman, a former Lightning player who now hosts a radio show in the Tampa Bay Area.
“(Beaudin) said he’s been trying to get some teams from out our way to come down for years and has never been successful,” Gerlinger said.
“So he did some work for us and, like usual, I turned it over to Glenda Zelmer, who is our manager. I pick the spot and she does the rest.”
There was plenty of work to be done, from a major fundraising effort — everything from selling sausages to shining cars for an auto dealership sale — to making long-distance arrangements and dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s with the Brandon School Division to get approval.
Gerlinger said the benefits to the team as a whole and the players as individuals make the effort worthwhile.
“It brings the parents together,” Gerlinger said. “They get to know one another, the players now are made accountable for their trip, so they pitch in and I think all those things build good, strong team unity and I think that’s what the whole focus is.”
Gerlinger said the players learn about and experience things that many of them might never see otherwise.
“We went to Cape Breton two years ago (and) we played in front of 2,500 people and we toured everything,” he said. “We went and saw all kinds of historic sights and we toured a battleship. They took us on board a battleship and we ate with the crew. What an experience, and half our team or more had never been on an airplane.”
“There’s an awful lot of good life lessons that they’re going to learn on this trip,” he continued. “To me the hockey is second, it really is. The chance to go to an NHL game, an NHL practice, learn how to use your passport, cross the border, there’s so many good things there.”