BANFF, Alberta - From the quaint downtown street of Banff Ave., lined with boutique storefronts, restaurants and lodges all festively decorated for the holiday season, to the snowy, mountainous backdrop of a national park, Banff is a postcard.
"God's country," as Haydn Fleury called it.
A Saturday matinee in Calgary followed by a two-day gap in between games afforded the Carolina Hurricanes a window to escape to the picturesque resort town nestled into the Canadian Rocky Mountains, where they recharged away from the rink, reset their minds and bonded as a team.
"Part of our identity is caring for each other, and you can't do that unless you get to know each other," Jordan Staal said. "How you get to know each other is spending time with each other, and that's what we've been doing. I think everyone here enjoys each other's company."
"I think the players enjoy it," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "Any time that you can get the guys together on the road and have some enjoyment, not thinking about hockey, is good."
A 4-0 shutout win that doused the Calgary Flames' seven-game winning streak spurred a jovial, 90-minute bus ride to Banff on Saturday evening. Along for the ride was a certain former Stanley Cup champion and robe-wearing Hurricane who claimed his former teammate's seat at the front of the bus before being booted by the now head coach.
The team took a curling outing on Sunday afternoon, some friendly competition between teammates. Jordan Martinook, who has curled in a summer league, had an edge in strategy. His form was probably best, too.
Otherwise, the team was left to its own devices to enjoy Banff and all it offered.
"We've had a great time," Staal said. "Definitely have learned a lot more from my teammates hanging out with them and spending time with each other."
A return trip, perhaps, at some point down the line?
"I'd love to," Staal said. "Not the greatest idea right now to go skiing and stuff, but when it's all said and done, I'd like to get into that. This will definitely be on my list."
On Monday, it was back to work. The Canes spent around an hour on the ice at a local rink in Banff - the same recreation center where they curled the day prior - in preparation for the continuance of this road trip.
"We've been playing some good hockey. There are a few periods or a few minutes here and there that we've slipped a little bit, but all in all, we've been pretty solid," Staal said. "We want to make sure we get our rest here and get our minds back on the way we're playing and what we're doing."
Erik Haula, who has missed the last 13 games with a knee injury, joined the road trip in Calgary and got back on the ice with the team in practice on Monday.
"For him, it was really important to finally get with us. He's been out for a long time," Brind'Amour said. "That's positive that we're headed in the right direction."
Haula's return to game action, though, is still a question mark.
"It might be soon. It might not be," Brind'Amour said. "We're day-to-day on that. Hopefully just keep improving his health and conditioning."
From there, it was on to Winnipeg, the last stop in Canada on this five-game trek before the Canes cross back into the States and head to Denver for the road trip finale.
And Banff, now a postcard forever in our minds.
"We've had some fun these few days, and we're excited to get back to work," Staal said. "Refreshed by this beautiful scenery. It changes your mindset just a touch. It was a good couple of days."