It’s often said that there’s something unique about hockey that causes those that play the game to have a special bond. Despite the 1,500 miles between Dauphin, Manitoba and Nashville, Tenn., this week is just another example of that “special something,” as members of the Dauphin High School Clippers hockey team traveled to Music City for a week of experiencing American culture and being surrounded by the game that they love.
In the mid 2000’s, former Preds Video Coach Robert Bouchard suggested to his friend Bruce Helgeson, Head Coach of the Dauphin High School Clippers of Dauphin, Manitoba, that his team should travel to Nashville to play a game against the Father Ryan Irish, a team that Bouchard was helping out with at the time. Helgeson agreed and after what he calls “a million or so” emails between those involved, Helgeson and his team visited Middle Tennessee for the first time in 2007.
“It’s a precious cultural exchange,” said Helgeson. “My son, who went on the trip three years ago, got home and told his mother that it was a, ‘trip of a lifetime.’”
On Saturday, the Clippers embarked on their third trip to Music City (the team also visited in 2010), a 22- hour drive that began in negative 47 degree temperatures and took them through all of the winter weather that plagued the Midwest for the last week.
“It’s a great bonding experience for us,” said Helgeson of the bus trip, which included plenty of movies. “We have 22 different personalities and we have just become a pretty big family.”
While in Nashville, each team member is staying with a member of the Father Ryan hockey team’s family, giving them a glimpse into life as a teenager in the United States.
“My favorite part is just getting to spend time with my team,” said Clippers captain Dylan Storey, 17, of the trip that brought him to visit the United States for the first time. “I’m having lots of fun hanging out with my friends and meeting all the new people.”
The Clippers agenda included trips to Bowling Green, Ky., for a visit to the National Corvette Museum and Chattanooga to see Ruby Falls.
“It’s an eye opener for both sides,” said Helgeson on the opportunity his players have getting to each stay in a billet home for the week. “We bring stuff from Canada as gifts, Tim Horton’s coffee, maple syrup, ketchup chips, just things we have that they’ve never seen. But then we find out about things like cornbread and grits and all that good stuff.”
As well as experiencing different tourist destinations and local cuisine, the Clippers trip was built around plenty of hockey related activities.
In addition to attending the Preds games on Tuesday against San Jose and Thursday against Anaheim, the team was invited to watch practice Thursday morning, after which they were treated to a locker room tour from Head Coach Barry Trotz, a Dauphin native.
Taking in practice alongside members of their team, both Helgeson and Assistant Coach Dallas Drysdale would call out when the Preds began a drill similar to one they do at home.
“It’s a lot of speed,” said Storey. “Just watching these guys, it’s unreal how good they are. I just want to take in the little things that they do, learn from it, and try to apply it when I’m practicing and when I’m playing.”
While the Clippers snapped photos of different parts of the locker room and took a few extra by the jersey of Canadian Olympian Shea Weber, Drysdale, who is making his second trip to Nashville after coming as a player in 2007, reminisced about some of the changes to the building and to the city of Nashville itself.
“As a player, you’re experiencing everything right in there,” said Drysdale. “As a coach, you step back, and you’re excited to see them excited, happy to see them happy.”
On Friday night they’ll play a scrimmage versus the Father Ryan Irish on Bridgestone Arena ice, before the Clippers depart Saturday for Manitoba, weather permitting, to make it back in time for school on Monday morning.