Before we get to the Aberdeen portion of the trip, I have to preface this section by explaining some things that were going on in my personal life that made for an even more eventful trip. On Monday, November 23rd, I had one wisdom tooth extracted. It was a routine extraction, but I was still going to be under general anesteshia for the surgery. Normally, I reserve this kind of work for the offseason, especially anything having to do with my mouth considering how important to my job that particular body part is. However, I was in pain and I wanted to get it done ASAP. With me needing to go under general anaesthesia, I was informed that someone would have to be with me for 6-8 hours after the surgery and knowing that, I chose November 23rd. Not only was it a Monday with plenty of time to recover before the weekend's games, it was also the Monday before Thanksgiving and I knew my mom would be in town visiting for the holiday. Who better to help with post-surgery care than Mom? The day of the extraction came, the wisdom tooth was pulled, and I was on the road to recovery. Thanks for nursing me back to health, Mom.
Fast-forward a few days and it's Black Friday, November 27th. We were supposed to be playing a home game against the St. Cloud Norsemen, the first matchup of the season between us and the newly named Norsemen. Instead, we were on a bus in the A.M. hours headed to South Dakota for two games against the Wings. The start of this trip was pretty normal for us, we're used to leaving the day of a game. For me, however, things inside my mouth weren't progressing as planned. I was in a bit of dull pain, but nothing I couldn't handle with some ibuprofen and ice packs on the bus.
We arrived in Aberdeen, as we would any other game and it was a relief to play some hockey. I'm usually the first one off the bus when we arrive to a road game. Since I sit up front near the coaches, and they generally stay onboard until everyone departs, my suited-up body is the first one out the door. As I broke the threshold of the Odde Ice Arena, I took pause. Looking around the landscape of the NAHL at the time, we knew how lucky we were to be competing. Even teams in our own division such as the Norsemen, or the Minnesota Wilderness, had opted to take time off. Some took more time than others and it wasn't always by choice. The hard work of the league, the division, and our ownership group particularly made this all possible. I'm very aware of how our situation could have been entirely different this season. Jamestown, Corpus Christi, Kansas City, and Springfield all opted-out in 2020-21. As someone who lost a job once before to a team ceasing operations, I'm more aware of the consequences it brings, and it's always in the back of my mind. Standing in Aberdeen, ready to call a game because of the efforts of so many people who just wanted to play hockey, which by connection allowed me to call a hockey game, it was a semi-emotional moment for me.
That Friday night game was a great contest between division rivals, though it didn't go the way of the Bruins. Aberdeen ended up coming out on top, 3-1, but considering Austin was without some of their best players due to injury/illness, it was hard to get on the black-and-gold. The fight was certainly there. Cullen Rush netted his first goal of the season while Sutter Muzzatti earned his first assist not only of the year, but of his junior career. Taking on a team that was as solid as Aberdeen, you knew it was going to be tough for the Bruins, but they hung in and made it interesting.
The exact same thing could be said for Saturday, not only on the ice, but in the press box. Many of you know by now, that broadcasting live sports is far from an exact science. If we haven't met, or you're unaware, let me clue you in: I am 1,000% a Type-A personality. I rely on lists, I over-prepare, I over-plan, and by default I overthink. I do my best when things go off the rails, but man do I dread those moments when things don't go as they're supposed to. While the Bruins were out there battling it out, thanks to the first two goals of Jens Richards junior career, I was dealing with a couple of minor issues in the corner-situated visiting press box. The first, and least pressing but most annoying, was my mouth. Five days after the surgery, it hurt worse than it did before I had the tooth removed. I wasn't a happy camper. Thankfully, when you're doing something you love - especially something as fast paced as a hockey broadcaster - you don't have time to focus on the pain you just kind of work your way though it. Plus, I was able to manage the discomfort with ibuprofen but it was VERY apparent to me when the meds were wearing off. In addition, alongside Ron Budrik - color commentator for our home games and studio producer for many Bruins road games - we learned that our internet signal was affected by the amount of people inside the Odde all accessing the tower at the same time. Our equipment setup which relays the broadcast to the studio in Albert Lea relies on a signal booster which taps into the local cellular network. In Aberdeen however, the mostly aluminum structured barn makes accessing the cell network hard to begin with. Add in the intermissions when everyone in the building is on their phones browsing Facebook and it became too much for the rural tower to handle and sure enough, we'd get kicked off the air. Thankfully, Ron (and Reggie Bauer, who handled the studio on Saturday night) are pros and if I didn't describe to you just now what happened, you probably would never know.
During that Saturday night struggle on the ice, the Bruins fell 3-2 in a very close game. Amidst the competition, Bruins forward Hunter Olson took a stick up high which caught him in the mouth. (And I thought my mouth hurt). Due to the severity of the injury, the Aberdeen trainers worked with Head Coach Steve Howard and the Wings' team dentist to open on Sunday and assist Hunter in getting things straightened out, literally. Normally, we depart town after the game on Saturday is played and return to Austin, however with no place to practice, it made more sense for us to stay in Aberdeen for a few days before leaving for Minot, our next opponents. Knowing the kind of problems I was dealing with post-surgery, Coach Howard called me on Sunday morning. "Hey, so Hunter has to go to the Wings' team dentist to get things repaired. We need a member of the coaching staff or front office to go with him, and with your mouth bothering you, I talked to the dentist and he's willing to see you, too, if you want." Sign. Me. Up. I was running low on ibuprofen (which I could get at any convenience store across the state), but something was wrong and I wanted it looked at.
Hunter and I rode in a shuttle over to the dentist, sat in our respective chairs, and within an hour we had new positive outlooks. That's where the story of Hunter Olson's dental issues ends. I wasn't so lucky. First of all, I'm not complaining in any way, shape, or form. I already felt so blessed to be calling games when there are people in my profession who are wondering if they'll EVER get back into a booth, let alone call games this season. I felt so blessed that my Mom could drop everything and fly to Minnesota from North Carolina to help me with my post-surgery care and be okay with the fact that for most of her stay I was going to be, well, less than fun. The amount of favors I owe people were adding up, and now you could tack the Aberdeen Wings team dentist to the list. He did his work on my lower jaw and told me by the time our shuttle returns back to the hotel, I'd be feeling better. He also told me that I'd be pain-free in 12 hours. He was half-right. On the ride back to the hotel we were shuttled by a local Aberdeener, who as it turns out, is originally from my hometown of Allentown, PA. We got to talking, I got to reminiscing about home, and by the time me and Hunter got out of the van I realized, "hey, I feel great!" After giving Hunter some salt to help with his open wounds (I had traveled with a big bottle of Morton's salt knowing I had to take care of my own wounds), I strode over to the Wings and Rings and enjoyed lunch with Coach Howard and Assistant Coach Justin Fisher, it was a football Sunday after all and I had to catch up on my fantasy players. Up next, the Bruins were practicing at the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen on Monday morning and promptly heading up to Minot afterward. So while the boys skated on Monday morning, I sat on the bus with our driver John Kirby, and worked on some graphics for the upcoming games, exchanged some emails, and began to pen this story. For the first time in three days, I felt like things had slowed down a bit. Maybe that's why I started to notice my mouth hurting once again. Either way, the bus was loaded and off we went to our next stop, Minot, North Dakota.
48.235531, -101.296059 – MINOT, North Dakota