PRAGUE - Quick history lesson: The last time the Blackhawks opened the season in Europe was in 2009. They finished that season hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.
Ten years later, the Blackhawks are in Europe poised to begin the 2019-20 season in Prague, Czech Republic.
While the script for the '19-20 season has yet to be written, looking back on the trip a decade ago that had the Blackhawks play two exhibition games in Switzerland before splitting a pair of regular-season tilts with the Panthers in Finland reveals the unique bonding experience the team had while abroad played a significant role in capturing the Cup.
"There's a lot to be said about - especially early on in the season - being around your teammates and getting to know them," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Obviously, some guys know each other better than other guys. For everybody to get everybody involved and make them feel comfortable, I think it's a good opportunity to bond and kind of break down some of those barriers that are there early on. Especially for some of the new guys it forces us to be in a situation where we're all together and getting to know one another quicker than probably we would normally. For a long season I think it's a good thing. That bodes well for the chemistry in the locker room and that helps on the ice."
Longtime defensive partner Brent Seabrook said teammates can't help but get to know one another when on an extended trip in a foreign land.
"Just being together during breakfasts, lunches, dinners you're always around each other and you get to learn how people are," Seabrook said. "We were pretty close as it was but getting away and having such a long road trip I think was good for our group. Look back to 2013 and 10 of our first 12 were on the road and I think going through that kind of stuff really brings a group together and allows you to let your guard down and lets your teammates sort of see how guys are and it brings you closer."
The memories of the end of the '09-10 season are about as fond as can get, but the ones about the start of it are pretty strong too. Jonathan Toews remembers sitting in the meal room in the hotel in Zurich after the long charter flight and players being "deliriously tired the first couple of days" but having the time of their lives at each others' expense.
Kane recalls the jokes and pranks-unsurprisingly spearheaded by Patrick Sharp-during practices and in the lounge afterward.
"It wasn't like we were ripping up the town or anything, we were just hanging out as a team," Kane said.
By all accounts, that is when the team that featured a mix of savvy veterans and up-and-coming young stars bonded into one of the closest dressing rooms in team history and the winning followed.
"In the end, there was no one over there with you, just a bunch of the boys," Toews said. "We were young and we have a lot of young guys in this room, a lot of new guys but a lot of personalities. Guys just love to be in the locker room and love to be around the fellas so it will be a good chance to get going on the right foot."
Added Kane: "We can use this to our advantage and I think we did that year too. Even when we came back we had four or five days off before the season and we were still hanging out with each other. It could be good to get some good team bonding in and get to hang out with the guys a little bit to start the season."
Video: Memories: Blackhawks win first Cup in 49 years
The opportunity to come together as a group is especially important to newcomers, including veteran Calvin de Haan. The defenseman said that other than a weekend golf trip here and there when he was with the Islanders, nothing has compared to the Blackhawks' current odyssey.
While it might have taken weeks - or perhaps months - for de Haan to become familiar with his new teammates, he's getting a crash course on the current trip.
"It's good to get away from everything, get out of Chicago for a bit," de Haan said. "There's that saying that you've never met a bad guy in hockey and on this team it's pretty apparent that everyone is a good person and so far it's been a pretty easy transition.
"But sometimes it takes a little bit to jell with or get to know some of the guys that we're forced to hang out with," de Haan added. "We're pretty much stuck in a routine all season and I think it's good to change it up. You have really no one else but us here to hang out with. It's a good experience. It's cool that we get to come overseas. We're pretty fortunate that we get to do this."
Following the Blackhawks' 3-1 victory over Eisbaren Berlin on Sunday to close out the exhibition slate, the team traveled to Prague on Monday and had a scheduled off day Tuesday and practices Wednesday and Thursday before the opener against the Flyers on Friday.
The team also has a planned outing to a Champions League soccer game as well as some sightseeing when not at the rink.
"We are using this trip as a team building mechanism," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We want to take this trip with us home. We want to carry it home and use it as momentum to have a great start and bring the team together. We're here to prepare, finish our preseason, finish our evaluation of the players we had in training camp (and) get two points in the first game but a large part of it is to try and bring this together as quick as we can."