Rarely during a vacation is the end of the trip the most exciting part. I have never been on a trip in my life where I looked forward to the end more than the actual trip itself. But that seems to be the case here in Helsinki. Nothing against the beautiful country or the friendly people I have met while I was here, but the end of the trip means the start of a new season.
These next two days are what I came for. These are the days I have been thinking about since free agency rolled around on July 1 -- the start of a new season, a new beginning, a fresh start.
When I found out the team was coming to Europe to start the season, I quietly set my eyes on objective No. 1: Be on that plane. I figured nobody was going to make the team without taking part in this portion of training camp, so being here in Finland and in Sweden (on Saturday) was a huge stepping stone to getting where I wanted to go. I thought it was almost fitting that if I were to make the trip, I would be on a team I have never played for, in a country I have never been to, having an experience I couldn't get anywhere else! What could be more different? And now here I am.
I'm excited to get into the regular season because the hockey means something. Although it's early in the season (and we all know the playoffs are a different story), every regular-season game carries weight. There is an old cliche about a win in October counting for just as much as a win in March, and that holds true. Everyone wants to come out of the gates with a few wins to build some confidence in each other and to get a head start on the rest of the League.
We are all still getting to know one another, and that takes time. But nothing brings a team closer faster than winning. I have always found that being on the road is essentially a team-building activity in itself.
Early in the season, my college coach at St. Cloud State would always say "we've gotta get on the road," referring to getting away from all the distractions that surround us at home. He wanted the team going to a place where we wound spend all our time together. On the road you have roommates, team meals, activities, practice and games, which when broken down is just plain old quality time together. If you can't get to know your teammates on the road, you never will!
That's one reason I feel this experience is so valuable from a team perspective. Using this time to be around one another, and having young guys mixing it up and learning from the veteran guys is something that doesn't always happen at home, or on short 1-2 day trips. F
FACT: Each of the past four Stanley Cup championship teams has started their season in Europe. Coincidence? I don't think so either.
These last two days have been fairly quiet for us. The morning after the game against Jokerit we had an open practice and nearly 2,000 fans showed up to catch a glimpse! I feel that having two of the best Finnish players in the history of the game on our team might have had something to do with it, but still, the support was great to see.
After a few days of hard practice and the fatigue of traveling still dragging along behind us, the coaching staff elected to give us a day of "active rest." Here, we all dressed in full gear and went out on the ice, but instead of doing drills and practicing our systems, we got to enjoy a full ice game of 2-on-2 and 3-on-3. This was fun for all of us, as well as for the fans to see. We weren't about to finish any checks on each other, so there was lots of skill and fancy puckhandling on display. As per usual there is never a game played between the boys without something on the line, so the teams were split into Canada vs. The World, with the losers buying lunch for the winners. Although I don't remember the exact score, Team Canada put a pretty good beating on everyone else, but I'm yet to see a meal placed in front of me! I'll have to ask Teemu and Saku about that later.
After practice I stayed around to sign a few autographs for the fans who came out to watch practice, then went to a neat little restaurant inside the areena (that's Finnish for arena) to meet many of the people who came all the way from California to see us. It was nice to hear what some of the other people had been doing with their spare time and exchange a few ideas as to what we should do with the last couple days we had before we were back into games. Again, we are all very thankful for the support of those who traveled as well as all the local people who have come out to practice or who have bumped into us on the streets. The people here have been so kind and respectful, I can't say it enough.
With my last day as a tourist, I spent my time walking up and down the streets around the hotel, poking my head into souvenir shops and candy stores looking for anything I can get my hands on that seemed unique and foreign. On a positive note, I'm starting to get some more sleep at night ... although it's pretty much time to head back to California, where I will be all screwed up all over again. It's a small price to pay for the great time I have had here so far.
For now, I'm off to get cleaned up, then drag Devante Smith-Pelly out of his bed and head off to our team meal. Tomorrow is an exciting day. Until then, thanks for reading!