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Checking In From The Road: Day One

by Staff Writer / Minnesota Wild

This week, I traveled along with the Wild for its three game trip through Northwest Canada. The original plan was to follow along with defenseman Shawn Belle during his first-ever NHL road trip.

Sure enough, Shawn was sent down to the Houston Aeros on Sunday, the day before we departed St. Paul for three Northwest Division cities, including Edmonton, which is Belle’s hometown.

So, we’ve changed on the fly. will now offer a daily look at a seven-day road trip to give fans a look at what goes on in the air, at the rink and at mealtime. Each day, we’ll also finish up by talking to a different Wild player about a road trip related issue.

Today, we’ll visit with Wes Walz, who was a bit of a surprise traveler. Walz was not expected to travel with the club so he could continue to rehab a lower body injury. However, the Calgary native is nearing a return, and it’s possible he could see game action before this trip is over.

Before we hear from Walz, let’s take a look at what happened on day one of the trip.

Day One

11:00 AM

The Wild players, coaches, television and radio personalities, and yours truly, boarded a charter plane at 11:00 AM Central time. These charter flights basically make it impossible to fly commercial airlines because you’re pampered from takeoff to landing. Each seat is a first class seat with plenty of leg room (a welcome feature for someone who is 6-foot-3), and usually you don’t have to share the seat next to you. 

Immediately upon boarding the plane, there is a spread of sandwiches, chips and other snacks for folks to grab on the way to their seats. Jacques Lemaire always has the front row seat on the right hand side. Behind him are the assistants – Mario Tremblay, Mike Ramsey and Bob Mason. Staff and media members take up the seats behind them, followed by equipment managers, trainers, and then the players.

Meals are served, followed by a tray of cookies and milk, and even ice cream sandwiches! I devoured my desserts while watching the Season Two DVD of The Office. Life on a plane does not get much better.

1:00 PM

We pick up an hour flying to Alberta and land just before 1:00 PM local time. Just after clearing through customs on the plane, the team boards a large bus right on the tarmac, while the rest of us take the media bus to the hotel.

After dropping off our luggage, we join up with the team at the Stampede Corral, a facility across the street from the Pengrowth Saddledome. We are using the Corral because of an Aerosmith concert at the Saddledome, and sure enough, Wild media relations guru Aaron Sickman was unable to score us some duckets.

The Corral is a time capsule.

All along the concourse walls are framed photos of old time hockey teams and players. I’m not sure if these teams played here, or if they just resonate with Canadian hockey fans. Several Wild players walked around the concourse and admired the old time hockey players.

Read aloud to some of these hockey names that are immortalized on the Corral walls: Mush March, Cully Dalstrum, Geo Allan, Hooley Smith, Leniol Heinchman, Otto Heller, Cecil Dillon, Butch Keeling, Mervin Dutton, Turk Broda and my favorite, Cyclone Taylor.

If these guys played for the Wild, I’m not sure if we’d have more than a goal a game, but I’m willing to bet we’d lead the NHL in penalty minutes.

The rink itself is even more old school. You can’t find an advertisement on the ice, or even along the boards.

Lemaire put the boys through an extensive and up-tempo practice, which was expected with most of the team getting Sunday off.

6:00 PM

Following practice, the players have the rest of the day to themselves. I joined up with several staff members for a delicious meal at Joey Tomatoes, which was nice, except Sickman was growing increasingly angry at St. Louis Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins, who wasn’t kicking any field goals. He’s not going to win his Fantasy Football playoff game this week, and that makes me giggle.

Some staff members went off to enjoy the Calgary nightlife. I retreated to my hotel room to transcribe the following interview with Wes Walz.

Staying At Home

Wes Walz is the ultimate competitor, and he’s shown that in his five-plus seasons with the Wild. Wes is the kind of player that won’t wait for the Zamboni to finish resurfacing the ice before practice. He won’t sit still. He’ll loop around on the ice, getting a feel for his skates and getting his body going.

I could only imagine what it would be like for a guy with Wes’ intensity to have to stay home while his teammates are out on the road. What does he do? Does he drive himself nuts? Does he drive his family nuts? 

Here’s what Wes had to say: How hard is it to stay at home and be away from your teammates during a road trip? And, how does it feel to be back on the road?

Wes Walz: It’s nice to be back with the team. When you know you’re not going to play, a guy will stay home at get treatment twice a day, as opposed to maybe once a day on the road. That’s why some of the injured guys stay back, to get more treatment.

It’s definitely weird not traveling with the team and you’re at home watching the game on TV, and not being able to help. The team was struggling a little bit, but we’ve won our last three in a row. But it’s nice to be back practicing with all of the guys again. What are you doing with yourself when you’re at home? Are you always looking for something to keep busy?

Walz: You know, I have three kids. It’s actually great because I don’t have time to sit around and think. I go to the rink and get my treatment and do what I have to do to enable myself to get better. At the end of the day, there is always something going on at the house. I don’t have a lot of time to sit around and mope. You’re from Calgary, but it’s not like this is much of a homecoming considering how often the Wild plays here? But is it still special for you, and will you get to spend time with family?

Walz: Yeah, my mom and dad still live here. We’re in the old Calgary Corral right now, and just walking into the rink here brought back a lot of childhood memories. We used to have season tickets to the Calgary Wranglers, which was a junior hockey team here.

I used to watch a lot of brawls and a lot of fights in this rink right here. I have a lot of memories of going to the rink with all your buddies when you’re 10, 11, and 12 years old. We would run around the rink between periods and try and get pucks that hit the crossbar and go up in the stands.

It was an interesting day for me to come back to this rink, and it’s definitely always special coming back to Calgary.

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