As a fifth-year Western Hockey League veteran, Nick Buonassisi has grown accustomed to the long hours on the bus that the Brandon Wheat Kings will be logging over the next two weeks on their annual West Coast road trip.
Except he’s used to doing it in the opposite direction.
The 20-year-old forward spent his first three seasons in the WHL with the Prince George Cougars — the team that annually rivals Brandon as the league leaders in mileage.
The Wheat Kings will follow up last night’s battle against the Medicine Hat Tigers by visiting the Lethbridge Hurricanes tonight, followed by a five-game tour through the B.C. Division. For Buonassisi, it will be a trip down memory lane.
“A lot of stuff happened for me in B.C., especially early in my career,” said the native of the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam, who will graduate after this season.
“Obviously, I’m from Vancouver and I’m going to get to play my last game ever there and have lots of friends and family come to that. Also, we’ll be going back to Prince George where I originally got drafted and played three years, and Lethbridge as well, where I came from last year, we’re going to stop there too. There’s going to be a lot of games on this trip that are going to mean a lot to me and hopefully we can come out with a win. There’s nothing I want more than to beat those teams, especially.”
At 5,000 kilometres plus, the trip is an annual rite of passage for the Wheat Kings, alternating between taking the club to the United States and B.C., every other season.
While these trips are old hat for the veterans — with the exception of Jens Meilleur, who missed the trip due to injury in each of his first two WHL seasons — most of the rookies have never experienced anything quite like this.
Tim McGauley has spent some long hours on the bus before, joining the Wheat Kings in the playoffs last season and also making a trip to Kelowna, B.C., while playing Midget AAA hockey for the Notre Dame Hounds. But the two solid weeks on the road and seven games in 12 nights make this trip an entirely different beast.
“I’ve got experience with long trips but not a trip as big as this one,” McGauley admitted. “It’s going to be a grind.”
But it’s also something that the players looked forward to as they counted down the days leading up to Monday’s departure.
The chance to bond on the bus and focus entirely on hockey are also things that head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk credits as being key points in the club’s development.
“It’ll make us a better team,” he said of the trip, which wraps up a week from Saturday against the Cougars. “We’ll be a different team when we get back than we are today.”
AROUND THE WHL: Brandon D Ryan Pulock has been ranked 13th for next year’s NHL draft by the independent International Scouting Service. Halifax C Nathan McKinnon was ranked first, followed by Portland D Seth Jones … Prince George acquired G Mac Engel, 19, from Spokane on Monday for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft … Kamloops RW JC Lipon has been named the Canadian Hockey League player of the week, after tallying six goals and four assists in three games … Portland G Mac Carruth posted a 1.00 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage in his first two games back from a pro tryout and was named the CHL goaltender of the week … The WHL levied four suspensions Monday, banning Everett RW Lucas Grayson five games (checking to the head), Prince Albert C Tim Vanstone four (checking from behind), Kelowna C Ryan Olsen three (checking to the head) and Saskatoon D Dalton Thrower two games (checking to the head).
ON THE ROAD AGAIN:
At Medicine Hat Tigers
Distance from Brandon: 826 km
At Lethbridge Hurricanes
Distance from Medicine Hat, Alta.: 169 km
Total distance so far: 995 km
Hurricanes’ record: 3-6-0-0
Noteworthy: Former Wheat Kings G Ty Rimmer has a 3.35 GAA and a .904 save pct., in his first season in Lethbridge.
At Kelowna Rockets
Distance from Lethbridge, Alta.: 817 km
Total distance so far: 1,812 km
Rockets’ record: 4-5-1-0
Noteworthy: Brandon’s Ryan Pulock entered Tuesday second in scoring among WHL defenceman behind Kelowna’s Myles Bell (six goals, 11 assists).
TUESDAY, OCT. 23
At Victoria Royals
Distance from Kelowna, B.C.: 477 km
Total distance so far: 2,289 km
Royals’ record: 7-4-0-0
Noteworthy: This is the Wheat Kings’ first visit to Vancouver Island since Victoria returned to the WHL last season.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 24
At Vancouver Giants
Distance from Victoria: 112 km
Total distance so far: 2,401 km
Giants’ record: 2-7-0-0
Noteworthy: Both of the Giants’ goaltenders, Liam Liston (4.68 GAA, .802 pct.) and Tyler Fuhr (2.91 GAA, .863 pct.), came through the Wheat Kings’ system.
FRIDAY, OCT. 26
At Kamloops Blazers
Distance from Vancouver: 354 km
Total distance so far: 2,755 km
Blazers’ record: 8-0-0-1
<B>Noteworthy: Rookie defenceman<B> Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa entered Tuesday with a goal and four
assists and a plus/minus of +9 in seven games, while Brandonite <B>Landon Cross had a goal and two assists, and was +3.
SATURDAY, OCT. 27
At Prince George Cougars
Distance from Kamloops, B.C.: 526 km
Total distance so far: 3,280 km
Cougars’ record: 5-3-1-0
Noteworthy: Ex-Wheat Kings blue-liner Dallas Ehrhardt went into Tuesday with a goal and four assists in five games, but was -7.
SUNDAY, OCT. 28
Back to Brandon
Distance from Prince George, B.C.: 1,869 km
Total distance: 5,149 km
(All distances from Google Maps)
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 17, 2012