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Visit to Great Wall of China an incredible experience for Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Being a man acutely interested in the art of defensive fortification, Mike Smith found himself very much in his element.

"This," said Smith, staring down from a tiny stretch of a 21,196-kilometre-long twisting, turning dragon of stone, brick, tamped earth and wood, "is pretty darn impressive.

"I mean, it's unbelievable, to be quite honest. Spectacular. It's obviously something you have to see once in your lifetime.

"It's been here how many thousands of years? They obviously built this to last.

"Pretty hard to breach, I'd say."

Such is the case often with Smith.

In rare brilliant sunshine for infamously hazy, smoggy Beijing, in another change of plans dictated by equipment issues, the Flames bumped up a scheduled visit on this O.R.G. NHL China Games odyssey to one of the most venerated monuments on the globe, the Great Wall of China, up a day.

They went up via chair lifts, slalomed down on slider sleds, bought hats and tiny Terracotta Army warriors and took in sumptuous vistas from parts of the ramparts of one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

"If someone asked me: 'So what did you do today?'," said GM Brad Treliving, bottle of Tsingtao in hand, "I could tell them: 'Actually, I just had a beer on the Great Wall of China.'

"Pretty good day, I'd say.

"Before coming on this trip we talked about, No. 1: Getting our work done. That's the most critical aspect of this, no question. But No. 2, experience things that you may never again experience in your life.

"I'm a big believer in moments, in capturing moments. Over time, there's a lot of crap you forget about. Other things, important things, you take a mental picture of the moment.

"This is a moment.

"The guys are enjoying the heck out of it."

Yes, they were.

"We're in a part of the world so different from our own,'' said defenceman Travis Hamonic. "And when you think what had to happen to build this Wall, the vision it took to imagine it, the effort and ingenuity it took to complete … you take a step back and realize what we just did, as a team and as an organization.

"Something I'll always been grateful for, I know. Someday I'll be old - really old - and look back and be able to say: 'You know, back in the day I went to the Great Wall.'

"That's cool."

The wonder and amazement of the day escaped no one.

"You hear about it, see the pictures, but you wonder if you'll actually ever see it,'' said assistant GM Craig Conroy, enjoying the view. "Well, here we are. And such a beautiful day.

"To get all this material up here and actually build it? So long ago? I'm kinda hot just coming up on the gondola. This is pretty special. I guess if you could go to Egypt and see the pyramids, or Rome and see the Colosseum or India and see the Taj Mahal. This is like that.

For captain Mark Giordano, too, another item checked off the bucket list.

"We're fortunate because hockey's obviously taken us to a lot of great places during our careers,'' he acknowledged. "For me, traveling to Moscow and seeing some of the history there made quite an impression. Same with going to Germany for the World Championships and the history surrounding the war. Those were fantastic experiences.

"But this one ranks right up there."

The visit proved a perfect tonic for a somewhat unsettled week that had seen the team practice only once since Tuesday's departure, owing to equipment shipping snarls and a matinee in Shenzhen that opened their two-date set against the Bruins.

"In the long run, we'll laugh about some of the gear not making it and some of the bus-ride production,'' promised Hamonic. "But you don't really remember those things other than as funny stories.

"What you will remember most … is being all together, laughing and enjoying each other's company.

"Sometimes things that seem big at the time, aren't. Maybe today's a blessing. (Monday)'s supposed to be rainy.

"Things happen for a reason. And we're here on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. Not sure how many of those they get around here. So we should be thankful."

It's back to work Monday with two full practice days scheduled before the second and final pre-season date versus Boston, at Cadillac Arena.

The Flames will make the 14-hour flight home via charter immediately following that game to continue preparations for the regular-season opener.

"What we talked about as a group,'' said Treliving, "is that even with some of the stops and starts of the trip, you come up here and you try to comprehend what people had to go through to build this Wall … well, it makes the last few days, what we think was our 'adversity', seem a little trivial.

"In many businesses, ours just being one of them, you're always talking about building a solid foundation.

"Right now we're standing on one of the most solid foundations ever built by man.

"Pretty amazing is what it is."

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