By Gary Rennie
The LaSalle Vipers’ “mystery trip” this season was a weekend in Chicago with a fabulous itinerary.
Like taking in Saturday’s Chicago Blackhawks–Las Vegas game at the United Center, touring the dressing room, meeting Hawks’ great and team ambassador Bobby Hull, and finishing the next day with team scrimmages at the MB Ice Arena, the Hawks’-owned practice venue.
Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, who took control of the team in 2007, met players, coaches and support staff for a group picture.
Mark Bernard, vice president of hockey operations for the Hawks, spoke to the team about the process of finding, assessing and developing players who can compete at the NHL level.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Vipers’ head coach and general manager John Nelson of the weekend. “Overall, we became closer as a team and organization.”
Even the bus ride to and from Chicago is a chance for the players to spend time together, have some fun, play some video games, Nelson said. “It brings them closer together.”
On arrival in Chicago Saturday, the team started with a tour of the MB Center. The $65 million facility was opened in 2017 by the Hawks for both team and community use.
Sunday morning, the players and staff held a three-on-three mini-tournament at the MB Center, eventually won by the red squad.
The team and staff had some group meals, but there was time for the players to spend on their own before the bus ride back, Nelson said.
“We had an unbelievable time,” said Nelson. “We have to build on this.”
Nelson appreciated the comments Bernard made about assessing the character and work ethic of potential NHL players along with their on-ice skills and stats.
“It’s nice to hear from the vice president of hockey for the Hawks what they are looking at (in their player selection process),” Nelson said.
These are same values the Vipers’ organization is trying to build on, Nelson said. “The experience of being a Viper is more than just about playing hockey,” Nelson said.