TORONTO -- Just one flight into their 14-game, 42-day odyssey away from home that will clear GM Place for the 2010 Olympics, the Vancouver Canucks have a divisive element among them.
Fortunately for coach Alain Vigneault, the board game"Settlers of Catan" -- introduced by Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Hordichuk to, among others, all-star goalie Roberto Luongo and sniper Daniel Sedin -- is not likely to create deep fissures in team unity.
"It's a thinking game," Hordichuk said following a Saturday morning skate at the Air Canada Centre, where the Canucks would take on the Maple Leafs later at night."So they weren't surprised Wellwood won."
Not surprisingly, a smiling Luongo offered a slightly different take.
"They introduced me to that on the last flight, but I think they were just trying to trick me into giving some sort of bribe or something," he said."They cheated. Maybe if I knew what the game was, that would help me out a little bit."
There was no trickery involved in Vancouver getting saddled with a record-setting road swing that will see the Northwest Division leaders play eight games in 18 days prior to the Olympics and six games in nine days after the Games finish on Feb. 28.
As part of Vancouver's Olympic Bid committee, the team knew the consequences of volunteering to clear out of their home arena for six weeks during the NHL season
"We were like, ‘If we can bring an event like that to Vancouver and British Columbia and it means we have some difficult travel, we'll gladly undertake it,'" said former Canucks president and general manager Brian Burke, now GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs."There shouldn't be any bellyaching now. Hockey operations was involved in the decision to do it and if I could go back and do it again, I'd do it. It's wonderful for Canada that we're hosting an Olympic Games."
While Burke has moved on and there has been an ownership change in Vancouver, current Canucks management remains supportive.
Assistant GM Laurence Gillman said the key is being prepared to eat, sleep and train properly to minimize the travel's impact.
And, he added, hopefully be on a roll when the trip began.
"We knew in preparing for the season that it was of paramount importance that our team be firing on all cylinders at the time this trip started," Gilman said."Because if this trip started at a point where our team was sputtering it would be catastrophic and it would kill our season."
By that measure, the trip is already a success.
Vancouver entered Saturday's game at Toronto on a six-game winning streak. Vigneault's squad was also 6-3-1 in its last 10 road games after starting the season 4-8-0 away from GM Place.
"Obviously it's much better us being 6-and-0, the way we are right now," Vigneault said."Guys are playing with a lot of confidence and we want it to continue."
Apart from missing out on having the last change for an extended period, the coach downplayed the significance of being away from home.
"This might be a couple of days longer, but out west we're used to going on the road for five, six games at a time for anywhere from 10 days to two weeks," he said."For us, this first swing of this trip, we're going into cities that are really exciting, Original Six places, Canadian cities.
"It's not hard for us to get up to play these games against these teams."
After opening in Toronto, the Canucks play in Montreal, Ottawa and Boston before heading south for a five-day stay in Florida where a Super Bowl party is planned for next Sunday, Feb. 7.
"It's cities we don't get to go to too often, but playing in Canadian cities that we get to play in once a year is fun and then we get to go down south and defrost for a little bit," forward Ryan Kesler said."Then back up to Minnesota which is another great hockey city."
Ultimately, Kesler said simply being focused and ready is the key to surviving the trip.
"We've been waiting for it, we know it's an important part of this season and we want to come out of it in the same position that we went in and hopefully take us into the playoffs," he said.
Jeremy Sandler is a sportswriter for the National Post