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Laine, Jets arrive in Finland to begin NHL Global Series week

'It's awesome to finally be here,' -Laine

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

HELSINKI, Finland - Patrik Laine has been looking forward to this week for a long time.

The 20-year-old Finnish native will get to play National Hockey League regular season games in his home country later this week, when the Winnipeg Jets face-off with the Florida Panthers on Thursday and Friday night as part of the NHL Global Series.

"I've been waiting for this since I heard we were coming to play here last year," said Laine. "It's been the games that I've been waiting for since the season started. It's awesome to finally be here, be back home, and just be here."

Laine, along with Florida's Aleksander Barkov, will be superstars this week in their home country.

With all the family he'd like to see along with the amount that would like to come to the game, Laine is thankful he has someone he can rely on to keep everything straight.

"My mom is handling all the tickets," said Laine, who joked that the cost may actually come close to his pay cheque.

"I might be paying to play here," he said with his trademark sarcastic grin.

Video: GLOBAL SERIES | Patrik Laine

The Jets made the nearly eight-hour flight after Saturday's game in Toronto, arriving in Helsinki at 3:45 pm local time, or 8:45 am CT.

That seven-hour time difference from back home and the short sleep on the plane didn't seem to rattle head coach Paul Maurice, who joked that a coach's regular day usually includes only a small amount of sleep.

He believes the challenge for him, even though he's coached in the Kontinental Hockey League, and came over with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010, is assessing where his team is at when the players step on the practice ice in a couple days.

"Priority one now is to get them up to speed," said Maurice. "We don't have a lot of experience in bringing hockey teams across the water, and what they're supposed to look like. A lot of what you do as a coach in practice is you have a feel for what your team is supposed to look like that day based on your experience."

After that second day of practice we want to be moving right.

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff also has experience with the NHL Global Series. He went to Finland with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009 - ironically enough, Florida was the opponent that year too - and says perhaps the best memory, given the amount of logistics that go into a trip of this magnitude, is that everything went smoothly.

He feels this type of trip can be one of the experiences this group shares and bonds over as the season goes on.

"When you're trying to get a season started you're looking for things to come together on. You've got the on-ice stuff, you've got the off-ice stuff. But it's hard to manufacture things," said Cheveldayoff. "When you're on a trip like this, there is going to be laughter, there's going to be jokes. I'm sure there are different things that are already etched in the guys' minds from on the way over."

Video: GLOBAL SERIES | Kevin Cheveldayoff

He was also in Finland during the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship. He had a front row seat to see the home country take home a gold medal, and although he didn't know it at the time, he was watching not one, but at least two future Jets.

"I remember at that point in time saying 'someone is going to get a pretty good player," Cheveldayoff said of Laine. 

"For a younger player in an older tournament at that time, he looked very mature… I came in to watch Sami Niku really. He was my sole focus. They all didn't disappoint. It was a fun tournament to watch."

The NHL has played games - preseason and regular season - in a number of countries over the years, including Finland, Sweden, Germany, China, and Switzerland just to name a few.

Video: GLOBAL SERIES | Paul Maurice

It's all part of what Maurice describes as an opportunity to grow the game, something that those involved with the NHL are happy to be a part of.

"It's a global game now. We get players from all over the world that come over and play in the NHL," said Maurice. "There will be a kid that watches the game tonight who is five, six, seven, twelve-years-old that is going to watch Patrik Laine or Barkov, and maybe it's Mark Scheifele, maybe it's Josh Morrissey. That fire will get ignited and they'll be playing in the National Hockey League because of it."

For an example of just what these games mean to fans in those countries, look no further than Laine's own personal experience.

"It was awesome as a kid to come watch Florida play against my hometown team," Laine said. "Now being able to be one of those guys who comes here and inspires the kids here, it's an honour. I'll try and do my job as well as I can."

Team bonding will be the focus for the majority of the week, but Laine, Cheveldayoff, and Maurice all emphasized the importance of the two regular season games when it comes to valuable points in the standings.

Preparation for those games will be at the forefront, but with Monday set as a day away from the rink to acclimate to the new time zone, the players will have a chance to look around Helsinki.

They just can't rely on Laine, a native of Tampere - a two hour drive away - to be much of a tour guide.

"I don't know much about this city," said Laine. "They have their phones. They have Google. They know just as much about the city as me."

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