#AHLOTB: Not their first rodeo

Photo: Darren Abate

by Ashleigh Pannell | AHL On The Beat

When the San Antonio Rampage head out on a 27-day road trip on Feb. 4, they’ll be in familiar territory as an exceptionally strong road team. San Antonio has seen much of this season’s success on the road, tallying 10 of 15 wins and collecting 49 of 82 goals outside of San Antonio. The Rampage are one of four teams in the league to have double-digit wins on the road — joining Providence, Lehigh Valley, and Milwaukee. Additionally, the penalty-kill unit is ranked 4th in the league on the road, stopping an average of 85 percent of their hosting opponents’ opportunities with the man advantage.

“It’s just one of those years where we’ve just clicked really well on the road,” Rampage defenseman Cody Corbett said. “We play hard in other barns, and although they haven’t been huge outscoring games, we have been able to get those one or two goal matchups to go our way.”

While the Rampage battle in “other barns”, their own rink will be transformed into an actual barn. During the Rodeo Road Trip, the San Antonio Spurs and Rampage leave the AT&T Center to make way for the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo — the 12-time PRCA Large Indoor Rodeo of the Year.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” first-year pro J.T. Compher said. “But if they can clear out a whole month of games for both the Spurs and Rampage it must be pretty fun.”

During this trip, the Rampage will have nearly a month between home games and will travel more than 6,500 miles to the Midwest and to Canada. Their nine games include two back-to-backs and one three-in-three. Though this might not be the first Rodeo for the franchise and some of its veterans, the lengthy trip will take focus.

“I think it’s most important to mentally prepare,” Captain Joe Whitney said. “You have to know it’s going to be a grind, but you’ve got to stick with it and do all of the right things on and off the ice.”

The expedition will be the franchise’s 14th annual Rodeo Road Trip since the inaugural Rampage season in 2002-03. Overall, the team has amassed a winning record of 71-65-6-13-1 and traveled more than 105,000 miles.

“I’ve never been on a trip like this,” Whitney said. “I’m looking forward to spending some time with the guys and having some fun.”

The Rampage are getting used to extended road trips. The team has already seen two other comparable trips this year, a 13-day and six-game West Coast trip from Nov. 1-13, and a 14-day and six-game trip from Dec. 29 to Jan. 11.

With half of the season behind them, the Rodeo Road Trip will be crucial for the playoff chase.

“I feel like it’s going to be a battle because these points that we will be needing, especially down the stretch, are going to be huge for us,” Corbett said. “Hopefully we can get some wins and separate ourselves to get the win percentage we need.”

And a road trip with limited distractions may be just what the Rampage need to achieve that goal.

“There are no distractions on the road,” Whitney said. “You’re away from your family so all you have is the team, so that’s your main focus. Just winning games and sticking together.”

Home ice does have its advantages, however. This summer, San Antonio’s practice facility, Northwoods Ice Center, underwent renovations resulting in a top-tier resource for the Rampage — one that can be tough to leave behind.

“It becomes almost a comfort zone knowing where everything is within your own practice facility and your game rink, plus having your family there is great,” Whitney said. “You come to miss the routine.”

Compher agreed, “Mostly I miss the familiarity. You know, just waking up in your own bed. Things can get a little hectic traveling every day and constantly busing to a new city.”

The team will have something new to look forward to in that comfort zone during the road trip, as the schedule allows for an opportunity to attend the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo when the Rampage take a short break from traveling between Feb. 20-23. For some, it will be a brand-new experience.

“It’s all foreign to me,” Whitney said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before so I need to head down there and have some fun. I’d like to get some cowboy boots and a hat and see what it’s all about.”

For Corbett, however, it will be familiar territory. The Lakeland, Minn. native had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Finals Rodeo each November while playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings from 2011-14.

“There’s of course a world of difference between professions,” said Corbett. “[In rodeo] it’s an eight-second battle between you and a steer. Some of the guys we play against are like our own big steers, so in a way it’s kind of the same eight-second battle. It’s going to be exciting to see what goes on down here in San Antonio.”