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European trip's pros out-weight the cons

Thursday, 10.01.2009 / 4:38 PM / 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere

By Risto Pakarinen - Correspondent

"That's the best way to do it, go to dinners and get to know what the people are really like. I think we'll benefit from this in the long run."
-- John Madden

HELSINKI -- Some people talk about a European curse. It may not be as serious as the "Montezuma's revenge" -- even if half a dozen Florida Panthers have got the flu in Finland -- but a curse in any case. The NHL teams that have started their season overseas, often have struggled upon getting home.

Travel to and during the trip in Europe can be rough, what with jet-lag and adjusting to a different-size rink, but there also is the opportunity for teams to bond and see a different part of the world.

"I think it's nice to get the opportunity to visit this part of the world," Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "I have teammates and other hockey buddies who come from Finland, and it's neat to see where they come from. At the same time, as a team, we can spend some time on the road together, which is good for team bonding. I'm sure it'll make us stronger."

Tom Petty sang that the waiting was the hardest part -- and that's true even during a European training camp -- but what he didn't say is that the bonding is the best part.

John Madden is in his 12th training camp, but his first with the Blackhawks. All those 11 camps with the Devils, Madden says they never had them outside New Jersey.

"At times, I thought to myself that it'd be nice to get away and just focus on hockey. Then I spoke with some other guys who had had their camp elsewhere and they said that it stunk being away from the family and friends, and then trying to get back to the routine again. (Going to camp with the Devils) I just knew exactly what to expect it and I kind of enjoyed it," he said.

Now, Madden, 36, finds himself a new kid on the block, and being away with the team is something he's appreciated.

"Of course, everybody will have a different experience, and there are pros and cons," he said. "Some people have played in Europe before, for others, it's the first time and the time change is really tough for them. For me, as a new guy on the team, it's been a great experience. I've got the chance to sit down with the others on buses and planes and spend a lot of time just talking.

"That's the best way to do it, go to dinners and get to know what the people are really like. I think we'll benefit from this in the long run."

Madden, in fact, would even take it a step further.

"I think it should be a little longer, to get some time off," he said. "We never got a chance to really know Zurich. A day off would be great to turn the trip into a learning experience. Here in Helsinki, we got in Wednesday, went to dinner and bed, practice Thursday, and then we have to get ready because the two games are really important, not only for the points, but to get off to a good start for the season."

For the Panthers' Ville Koistinen, having the camp in Finland was also special, but in a different way. Being a Finn gives him an advantage when the team is outside the rink. It's also forced the 27-year-old defenseman to take a more central role in the dressing room than he anticipated, or maybe even wanted.

"It's been special, and the guys have asked me a lot of things about Finland. Being the only Finn here, I've been cast into the limelight as if I was the star of the team when I'm basically still battling for a roster spot," said Koistinen, who had 63 friends and family members in the stands at the exhibition game against Tappara.

For the Panthers, the European leg of the camp is just a part of a long road trip.

"We spent 11 days in Canada, and now we're here, we've been in Florida for just two days. It's great for the team chemistry, everybody will get to know each other," Koistinen said

And with chemistry, a good camp, total focus, and a high-profile event comes a sense of urgency that will help the team get strongly out of the game.
"Any time you're stuck together for seven to 10 days, without family and friends, it's a good way for the players to bond.." - Patrick Sharp
"We look at this as a good experience," Chicago's Patrick Sharp said. "Any time you're stuck together for seven to 10 days, without family and friends, it's a good way for the players to bond. We also played the Rangers right after they got back from Prague, and we noticed that they played at a higher level than we (did).

"We're excited about being at the Premiere games. The get a lot of attention, they'll be broadcast around the world, and there's a playoff feeling to them. I hope that will raise our level of play even more," Sharp said.
Quote of the Day

It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed.

— Sabres forward Tyler Ennis on the progress of Buffalo's rebuilding process