The 12-team Western Canada Hockey League stretches 1,452 miles from Victoria on the Pacific Coast to Winnipeg on the eastern prairie, 1,739 miles from Flin Flon at the edge of northern civilization to Portland, Ore.
"THe kids in the league are ready for the pros after this travel," said Regina general manager-coach Lorne Davis. "But we've got to cut it down. It's inhuman."
Examples of scheduling problems are unending. Early in the season, Winnipeg was ideal for two weeks, then played seven games in eight days. On one 13-day trip Victoria played 11 games. Flin Flon played 20 straight home games over two months. New Westminster is presently on the 16th day of a road trip through the prairies.
These tortures are accomplished by bus, except for the mounting of obvious impossibilities. Victoria, for example, flew here for its game Sunday after playing at home the night before. The distance: 906 miles.
Despite the blizzards that frequently sweep across the prairies, most games are played as scheduled.
"We've never had any problems," said Jack Shupe, general manager-coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers. "Two or three years ago we flew to the Coast, and then we had trouble. The fog that hits Kamloops and Vancouver can really mess up your travel by plane."
The players, who are paid $300 a month, adapt to bus life, and Winnipeg general manager-coach Gerry Brisson said, "It's an amazing thing how you put out the lights in the bus and the kids go to sleep. It's certainly turns out tougher hockey players."
"It's tough, to play a game and then get on a bus for eight hours, but every athlete in the world has to do things like that," said Calgary defenseman Kevin McCloskey. "One time we left at 6 in the morning to go to Portland and got there at 11 at night. But you learn to sleep on the bus, and it's a pro-style life."
Depsite their prolonged wanderings along the countryside, a large number of players, who range from 16 to 20, manage to obtain high school diplomas.
Gordie Lane, the Washington Capital defenseman who bounced around Western Canada with Brandon and New Westminster, obtained his sheepskin, but "it took will power to get through. The trips were like a holiday, you didn't get much work done. But the teachers knew we were playing. They helped us out when we got back."
Many outstanding midget players and their parents have been tempted by American college scholarships, forcing junior teams to place more emphasis on education. Ed Chynoweth, the WCHL president, has asked his clubs to consider scholarships as a means of keeping players in Junior Hockey.
Shupe has consistently lured top talent to this city of 35,000, and he claims his unique educational plan is one of the major reasons.
"We have a real good school program here," Shupe said. "Because of the schedule a kid can't go to a regular school, so we have an agreement with the high school to hire the teachers and they teach our kids at night when they're in town.
"It costs us $12,000 to $14,000 a year to pay the teachers, but it's approved by the department of education and we think it's worth it."
From Oct. 1 to March 31, when they are in town, the players attend three two-hour classes each weekday, from 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. Eight players are enrolled in the program and a ninth, Jim Lomas, is attending the new junior college here.
The players, who board with families in town, return home at the end of the season, rather than stay to complete regular schooling.
The WCHL teams draw players from throughout the West. Unlike Ontario, where all 16-year-old midgets are subject to a draft, the WCHL teams subsidize farm clubs and maintain elaborate scouting systems. Each of them controls more players than any team in the NHL.
Each club has a 70-player protected list, including its own roster, its farm teams and anyone else it considers a future prospect. Between Feb. 15 and the start of the following season, the list is expanded to 90.
Players outside protected areas may be put on the list at any age, and Davis admits he has already reached into the 12-year-old market.