A week or two in Europe sounds like a dream come true for the average human being, assuming of course that person doesn't already live there. But for hockey players, while the NHL Premiere Series is a chance to grow the game and deliver the highest level hockey to fans who otherwise would not be exposed to it, that time away from the comforts of home and family can be a burden.
Yet for the fourth year in a row, a team that participated in NHL Premiere contests to start the season could find itself raising the Stanley Cup in June.
The previous three teams to win the Cup -- Boston in 2011, Chicago in 2010 and Pittsburgh in 2009 -- all opened their seasons playing exhibitions against European clubs and regular-season games in places like Stockholm, Helsinki and Prague. The Los Angeles Kings, who are four wins away from a Cup, started this season with games in Germany and Sweden.
It may seem like a pattern is developing, but to Kings captain Dustin Brown, the trip brought the team closer but also stripped his team of two home games when they returned to the United States.
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"If anything it made us play two more road games," said Brown, whose club played only 39 games at Staples Center this season. "A trip like that always does build some bonds, but all the guys would probably say we wouldn't want to do that again. You hang out a lot, but this core group has been together for a while. It's not like we are going to go on a road trip like that and be closer for it."
Despite the success since 2009 that seemingly has roots in a pilgrimage to Europe, there are players who share Brown's attitude of "while the trip helps make the locker room tighter, it shouldn't be seen as the main reason for teams winning a Cup."
In October 2008, the Penguins played a pair of games in Stockholm against the Ottawa Senators. About four months earlier, the Penguins came up two wins short of winning a Stanley Cup, falling in six games to the Detroit Red Wings in the Final.
Forward Ruslan Fedotenko wasn't part of the team that lost in 2008, but he was part of the team that won the Cup the following year. Now a member of the Rangers, who spent two weeks touring Europe to start this season and came up two wins shy of a trip to the Cup Final this year, Fedotenko said there is some merit to being with teammates for an extended trip like that, but it's unfair to solely credit that time together for helping build a winning team.
"You know, I don't believe in it too much," Fedotenko said. "I feel like if you have good chemistry on your team, even without going overseas, you still have good chemistry and you still have a good group of guys. Yeah, maybe it gives you extra time to jell and do that. Whatever you have with the cards you're dealt, you just play with that hand.
"I feel like you can say, 'Oh, Boston did it before,' all that stuff. You can link all these dots and see if you can make a connection. It's still the bottom line -- it doesn't matter what's in the past. It's what we can accomplish now."
Troy Brouwer was a member of the 2010 Blackhawks club that beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Cup Final in six games. Much like the Penguins, the Blackhawks were slowly building toward success with their young core that featured Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Many of the Blackhawks that won it all that year can date their bonds to their time with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, so Brouwer said the time in Helsinki to start the season wasn't necessary to bring the team closer. But he also said spending more than a week there allowed newcomer Marian Hossa, who signed a 12-year deal with the club that summer, a chance to increase the speed at which he could integrate himself with his new teammates.
Tomas Kopecky also joined the club that summer, and they wanted to make a good first impression.
"Hossa and Kopecky were new to the team, so it was good to try and get in touch with those guys," Brouwer said. "There was a big hockey game, I don't remember who was playing, but we went to downtown Zurich and sat and watched the game at a bar. Those guys came, and not that it was a big deal, but Hossa picked up the bill. He was just being a good guy, a new team guy. Guys really respected him right from the start.
"Guys knew each other, but at the same time, you spend eight hours, nine hours on a plane there and back, you get to know guys better. We already had a close-knit team as it was. You go out, have a couple beers, sit around, just get to know the guys and have some fun."
If the Kings win the Stanley Cup over the next two weeks, just like Brown and Fedotenko, Brouwer will just chalk it up to wild coincidence.
"Our trip was pretty jam-packed and we didn't have a whole lot of time to ourselves," Brouwer said. "We were doing all kinds of different promotions. I think we had one night where we had a good team meal and had some fun, but other than that, nine days we were on the road. It's traveling, packing bags, meeting people. For us, it was a good experience, but it was a little tiresome as far as all the running around we were doing. I think it's just a weird phenomenon."
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