What has to be a travel-weary pack of Coyotes will be on the road this morning, headed back to Revelstoke for one of the biggest games of their young hockey lives.
The Osoyoos Coyotes have a Game Seven with the host Grizzlies this evening, the additional four-hour bus ride today the product of a 4-1 loss at home Saturday evening.
The game will be the third in as many nights for both squads — and the seventh in nine days — as the KIJHL settles its Okanagan/Shuswap conference championship.
Over those nine days, the Coyotes will have traveled 1,926 km — the distance between Osoyoos and Winnipeg — and spent the equivalent of one day (a full 24 hours) in a bus seat.
The Grizzlies, holding home-ice advantage in the series, made one less visit, traveling a pedestrian 1,284 km and spending 16 hours on the bus.
To add to what must be an exhaustion only a 19-year-old could endure, the Coyotes also came into Saturday’s game having traveled home from Revelstoke the night before.
That meant packing up after the Game Five win, which ended around 10:30 p.m., hitting the highway for another minimum four-hour ride, being roused from sleep — if there was any on the bus — around 3:30 a.m. for another short ride home in their own vehicles to their own beds.
Make it 4 a.m. before those weary Yotes could collapse into slumber.
Is it any wonder the Yotes seemed to have a little less spring in their step last night at the Sun Bowl, their passing not quite as sharp, every puck in the Coyote end an adventure?
It seemed even the excitement of a huge series win — a large supportive crowd — couldn’t sustain them.
We’d like to think teams settle a series on the ice, with sticks, skates and a puck. But the harsh reality is a junior hockey playoff is a war of attrition — a campaign stacked in favour of the team with home-ice advantage.
The Yotes did everything they could to take away that home ice advantage; they’ve won twice already in Revelstoke.
But they’ll have to do it again if they want to move on.
If there’s any consolation for the Coyotes this morning as they prepare for tonight’s match, it’s that the Grizzlies will have endured the same ordeal last night that the Yotes underwent Friday.
Revelstoke will have packed up its collective bag and headed home to arrive in the wee hours of the morning. The Coyotes, on the other hand, will have headed home immediately, hopefully, to collapse into their own beds for a 10- or 12-hour snooze.
There’s an inkling, I suspect, the skate might be on the other foot this evening — even with the Grizzlies playing on adrenaline before a pumped-up home crowd.
And the prize waiting at the end of it all? Even longer bus rides to Kimberley — 474 km and six hours one way — for the league championship.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Play. Travel. Sleep. Repeat.