Bunker shots, mountains, team bonding: the Kraken make a play for chemistry

Carolina Hurricanes v Seattle Kraken

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 24: Philipp Grubauer #31 and Jordan Eberle #7 of the Seattle Kraken celebrate after beating the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 at Climate Pledge Arena on November 24, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)Photo: Getty Images

The Seattle Kraken formed a team to begin a historic 2021-22 season with leadership, a mission, and an objective to lay a foundation in the Puget Sound. 

The start of the season also arrived in the middle of a calendar year still dealing with a pandemic, working to mitigate the coronavirus Delta and Omicron variants. With the Kraken and every other NHL team working to abide by health and safety protocols, social distancing regulations became a top priority. For the short term, anything that had to do with off-ice socializing and community appearances was put on the shelf. 

Team bonding trips were a part of those activities, shelved for later. 

Restrictions became relaxed entering the 2022-23 season, which opens Wednesday at Anaheim, and opportunities for face-to-face experiences have once again become the norm. Players are signing autographs, visiting community functions, and socializing off the ice in groups. 

The outlet to enjoy team bonding events is back. 

The Kraken have already taken advantage of spots in the calendar. Last week, the Kraken traveled to Calgary for their penultimate preseason game, a loss against the Flames. With a majority of roster cuts in the rear view mirror, two options were at hand: either fly back and rest before one more trip, four days later, in Edmonton. 

Or they could stay in Alberta and soak in the joys of a picturesque setting together. 

The Kraken opted for the latter. 

Their stay in the Alberta rocky mountains and a multiple use area of Kananaskis, an hour southwest of Calgary, opened for three days of golf, team dinners, and leisure to build relationships away from home, and use daytime windows to stay sharp, dropping by for practice in the nearby town of Canmore. 

This is their account of the trip, with anticipation before departure and recounts after returning. 

Jordan Eberle: “I live out west and live in Calgary in the summer and close to Kananaskis. It’s beautiful. You just get out there and enjoy the environment and the views.” 

Jared McCann: “It was very tough getting to know guys away from hockey, with COVID and everything lingering. This year we’re going to get to know each other on a personal level and be better teammates.” 

Eberle: “Every time I go home, I just feel spoiled having that in the backyard. It’ll feel nice to have that and share that with the boys.” 

How much has Ryan Donato missed these trips? 

Ryan Donato: “Obviously a ton. It’s different when you come home to start a season, everyone’s getting to know each other and not make a bad impression. Everyone’s made their impressions and everyone’s knows who everybody is, and it’s time to have some fun when we get back to the rink.” 

Philipp Grubauer: “That was a huge part of last year – nobody knew each other. COVID was still around, so everybody was scared to sit next to each other almost, because nobody wanted to miss four weeks. But it’s been nice to get on the road and get a little team building in Canada.” 

Donato: “Everybody’s super close.” 

During the stop, the Kraken played two days of golf, on a local course that isn’t for the faint of heart – 7,200 yards, tight fairways, and really, only one man who might have the game to tame it all that’s befitting of a professional golf touring pro. 

His name is Justin Schultz. 

Jordan Eberle: “He’s elite.” 

McCann: “I played with him in Pittsburgh. He’s a stick.” (“Stick” is slang for a scratch golfer.) 

Jordan Eberle: “I’ve played against him. Not with him … against him. It was ugly. He’s lost his sandbagging factor, that’s what happens now.” 

Schultz (with a smile): “I’m not giving any strokes. I’ve played with him before, way back in Edmonton. He’s lower than a six handicap.” 

Ryan Donato was asked what it would take to beat Schultz: 

Donato: “Not going to happen. I think I could play my “A” game and he could play his “F” game and it’s not going to happen for me.” 

Dave Hakstol was asked if he played. He prepared for a deadpan answer.

Hakstol: “I did, I was phenomenal.” 

Entertaining a laugh from reporters, Hakstol then looked around an empty dressing room, cleared of any players. 

Hakstol: “Is there anybody else around? There it is, that’s it, that’s fact.” 

As it turns out, Donato wound up on a team with Schultz. Each player competed individually the first day, then teamed up in pairs the second day – a two-man “scramble” format where both players tee off, then hit from the best spot between either ball until completing the hole. 

Schultz and Donato shot ten under par. 

Hakstol: “Did I beat Schultzy? Probably not.” 

Schultz: “We had good chemistry. Ryan drained a 150-yard bunker shot for eagle, so it was a good way to finish.” 

Philipp Grubauer is among the less experienced group of golfers, but still gave it a shot. 

Grubauer: “For the fourth or fifth time playing, I was proud of myself. I only lost 16 balls.” 

Schultz: “The most surprising guy? I didn’t get to see everyone, but (Andre Burakovsky) hits the ball a mile. Fun to watch. He hits it at least 320 yards. Swings hard at it. He’s got a big body too

Not all found golf as their cup of tea. Jamie Oleksiak, built like an ox at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, discovered other ways to unwind. 

Oleksiak: “Just a little rest and relaxation. It’s huge. We’ve had a long camp, and resetting the batteries before a season is key.” 

Donato: “We grew super close last year but we started out slower than what we should have liked. Hopefully being more acclimated to knowing each other, knowing our flaws on and off the ice will bring us together. Great to be back now.” 

Eberle: “That’s a huge important piece of good teams, bonding in the locker room.”

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