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HOME AWAY FROM DOME

Family photos at the hotel were a nice touch for Flames players as they settle in for what they hope is a loooooong stay in Edmonton

by RYAN DITTRICK @NHLFlames / Calgaryflames.com

When he cracked open the door and threw his bags down on the 21st floor of his new, downtown dwelling, his eyes immediately drew to the nightstand. 

A little piece of home was already there, tugging at the heartstrings. 

"Welcome to Edmonton," Milan Lucic wrote, as photos of Brittany, Nikolina, Valentina and Milan Jr. panned across on his Instagram story. 

'Hub life' isn't possible without sacrifice. 

For everyone.

 

Tweet from @27MilanLucic: @NHLFlames making my room a bit more like home! pic.twitter.com/RIlsRYGUie 

The Flames know this and went out of their way to bring some of the comforts of home life on the road with the players while living solo in the Alberta capital.

When Calgary's 31 players entered their rooms late Sunday after a three-hour drive on the old iron lung, framed photos of their loved ones were there greeting them, reminding them all of what they're doing and who they're playing for. 

It won't be easy to mimic the roles of a dad, from a distance.   

Hugs will happen virtually, for now. 

But the players wouldn't be doing this if they didn't have the love and support of their family in the first place. 

"We live in a world where it's easy to stay in touch now," Lucic said. "FaceTime is a beautiful thing. I've already FaceTimed them already twice today. 

"We'll stay in touch that way. See how their day's going, all that stuff.

"Sometimes, you've got to put what matters the most at the moment in front of you. … We didn't just come here to play a couple games and go home. The most important thing right now, and the thing that I'm most focused on, is winning this qualifier and putting us in a first-round playoff."

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: A Swede morning in the bubble. pic.twitter.com/CakktS3fCJ

 

The adventure begins on Tuesday when the Flames - who, in a beautiful twist, are listed as the home team - take on the Edmonton Oilers at 8:30 p.m. MT. 

They'll then get a few days off before kicking off their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. 

Until then, it's all about getting your bearings in this truly unique setting.

The Flames are staying at the Sutton Place Hotel - a five-minute walk from Rogers Place, where all the upcoming exhibition and playoff games will be held, and a three-minute trek to the JW Marriott, where most of the communal activities and small gathering spaces are set up for the players to (safely) socialize. 

Lucic, though, has already set up shop with his own, in-room entertainment.

"I did bring my Wii," the big man said. "Change it up. I know everyone's into Call of Duty and Fortnite and all that type of stuff, but I brought it so we could play Mario Kart. I got the (steering) wheels and everything. 

"That's actually the one game that me and my oldest daughter play all the time because she loves it."

Veteran move.

The players haven't had much of a chance to explore the bubble yet, but the early reviews are positive. The Flames have their own floor at the hotel and have already shared a few meals together, tightening the bond even further before their first (and only) exhibition tilt, Tuesday against the Oilers. 

"It's a lot better than everybody was expecting," laughed Matthew Tkachuk. "Coming in, I thought it was going to be very strict - which it is - and not much to do outside of the hotel room. But they've some cool stuff planned.

"Food's good, hotel's good. I'm happy with what's gone on so far. It feels like home with the pictures and we plan on being here for a long time, so we better get used to it."

That, ultimately, is at the heart of this whole thing. 

In addition to the menagerie of family photos of travelling gaming consoles, this is - after all - a business trip. 

A note left by general manager Brad Treliving in the players' room reminds them all of why they're here, what they're chasing, and what they've all given up for a crack at this thing. 

It's no small task.

"Thank you for your commitment to this point," the note reads. "We wanted you to have a little feeling of home with pictures of those closest to you here with you as we embark on this journey together. 

"Let's make all the sacrifices worth it! Let's go!"

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: The bubble set-up for media 🎥 pic.twitter.com/Mxd5SSOhkh

 

The last thing the Flames want is to make this is a short stay. The image of last year's defeat still lingers and serves a constant reminder of what could be. 

The Flames are using that as motivation this year, often referencing their five-game loss to the Colorado Avalanche in April 2019. While the Flames have all kinds of respect for the Winnipeg Jets, Tkachuk and his teammates have every intention of proving "(they're) an elite team," ready to make a run. 

"We know what we're here for," Tkachuk said. "The past four months, I've been waiting for this moment, waiting to see what it's going to be like. 

"We're here now and we're for a reason. We didn't come here for a vacation ... we came here to win. We didn't work hard for the last nine, 10 months since the start of the year, and four months since the pause, to come here for a quick vacation.

"This is a really great team, a group of guys, and we all want to win together.

"Hopefully we can do that."

In what figures to be one of the most competitive, most memorable playoff seasons in hockey history, winning it all and posing for that famous group shot would make all the sacrifice worth it.  

"The most important thing right now is to try and win another Stanley Cup for myself, and for this team," Lucic said. "There's no better group of guys than I'd rather do it with.

"That's what my focus is on."

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