The thought of switching squads at mid-season can be a little nerve-wracking.
For Jimmy Bubnick, Tyler Shattock and Zak Stebner, the commute to Calgary was the scary part.
After being traded from the Kamloops Blazers to the Hitmen in mid-January, the trio braved a snowstorm and less-than-ideal road conditions to hook up with their new Western Hockey League teammates.
“The roads were pretty icy. At one point, I think we were going 30 kilometres an hour on the highway. It was pretty much white-knuckle all the way,” Bubnick recalled. “The roads were, by no means, really drivable. But we needed to get here because we needed to make a plane to meet the team in Saskatoon.
“We had to do it, and I’m just thankful we made it in one piece.”
Their wild ride isn’t over yet.
On Wednesday, Bubnick, Shattock, Stebner and the rest of the Hitmen will travel to Brandon — by plane, and with a clear forecast — for the Memorial Cup.
The Hitmen, who finished off the WHL championship series on home ice three nights ago, will open the prestigious event Saturday afternoon against either the Moncton Wildcats or the St. John Sea Dogs.
The host Brandon Wheat Kings and the defending champion Windsor Spitfires round out the field for the four-team tourney.
“I kind of had it in my mind that we could go all the way, but you never want to think that or you’ll get over-confident,” Shattock said. “But I definitely had it in my mind, and now that it’s happened, it’s a pretty exciting thing.”
When Bubnick, Shattock and Stebner arrived at the Saddledome, they didn’t exactly bring a wealth of playoff experience with them.
Shattock had a dozen post-season outings on his resume, the result of getting swept away in the first round in three consecutive springs.
Bubnick was in the lineup for eight of those losses. Stebner suited up for four playoff tilts in Kamloops after missing the dance in both of his seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders.
About seven weeks ago, the ex-Blazers bagged their first playoff victories. Three nights ago, they celebrated their first league title.
“I thought about it a lot, just what it would be like to win a round,” Bubnick said. “And then we won two rounds and then three rounds and just to get the chance to play in the WHL championship, it’s a chance of a lifetime, and I’ll remember it for my whole life.”
The Blazers made another hasty exit this spring, losing four straight in the opening round to the Vancouver Giants.
The Hitmen, meanwhile, staved off elimination against the Moose Jaw Warriors in the conference quarterfinals, then rolled over the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Wheaties and the Tri-City Americans en route to the second WHL championship in franchise history.
It goes without saying Bubnick, Shattock and Stebner are enjoying the view from the other side.
“It’s been quite the wild ride,” Stebner said. “(The Hitmen) are one of the top organizations in the league, and they’ve got the reputation of being a winning team, so you come here and you’re expected to win. It’s a pretty cool feeling going out every night and expecting to win.
“And when you do (win), it’s just that much better.”