– It took 42 days, 14 games and nearly 13,000 miles, but Vancouver's historic trip finally hit the final milepost, appropriately enough, at the tail end of a three-day rainstorm in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
The longest road trip in NHL history did have a two-week hiatus when the Canucks could wash clothes, stock up on supplies and fight for Olympic medals. But nary a home game for Vancouver since Jan. 27, when the Canucks beat the St. Louis Blues
, turned over the keys to GM Place and embarked on a journey only Magellan could appreciate.
"I don't think I looked at the schedule in July and said, 'Oh man, that's going to be the worst thing that's ever happened in my life,'" goalie Andrew Raycroft
said before Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes
at Jobing.com Arena. "It's the way the cards (were) dealt. It's an Olympic year.
"But now that we're at the end of it -- yeah, it was a tough deal. You look back, and that's an awful lot of road games."
The airports and cities changed – Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Tampa, Florida, Columbus, Minnesota, Columbus (again), Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Denver, Phoenix – but the hotels and those visiting white sweaters never did.
"Groundhog Day?" You bet.
"There were days when you woke up in another hotel and wondered ‘Where are we now?' before you get it together a little bit," said center Ryan Kesler
, a driving force behind Team USA's silver-medal run during his Olympic "break."
"The last six we've played here on the other end of the Games, that hasn't been as bad … but those first eight were real tough. They took forever."
To their credit, the Canucks are heading home -- they host Ottawa on Saturday -- on top of the Northwest Division. They went 8-5-1 on the trip, including a 4-1-1 mark since play resumed after the Games. Vancouver rallied from a pair of three-goal deficits in Colorado on Tuesday for a 6-4 win that showed they still have plenty of gas in the tank, and took the Coyotes to six rounds before losing in the shootout on Wednesday.
The same couldn't be said during the first half of the journey, when they split eight games during a 17-day odyssey that left them with multiple days off in Toronto, Montreal and Tampa.
"We felt like tourists," Kesler said.
The pre-Olympic portion of the trip ended with a 6-2 spanking at the hands of the Minnesota Wild
, when the Canucks were finally checked into a mental wall.
"We were down like 6-1 in the second period and it was like, 'OK, time to go home,'" defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
said. "That was tough and Chicago was tough on the second half (a 6-3 loss on Mar. 5. But otherwise, we played good hockey and when you are winning and you're playing well, it makes the long trips a lot better."
Ehrhoff never got sick of roommate Aaron Rome
as the days and the cities piled up laughed in saying "but it's definitely ... I guess you call it a bonding experience." Kesler didn't have a roommate for the first half of the trip, but was happy when Kevin Bieska returned from injury recently. "That long, having someone to talk to is good," he said.
"There were days when you woke up in another hotel and wondered ‘Where are we now?' before you get it together a little bit." -- Ryan Kesler
For center Henrik Sedin
, it was the same as it has been much of his life – sharing a room with twin brother Daniel. "When you're winning, you can handle something like this a lot easier," he said. "If we were 3-10 and putting ourselves in a bad spot on this trip, it might be a little different."
Several Canucks said the six-game post-break segment of the trip was much easier to deal with than its eight-game big brother. Raycroft disagreed.
"On that first trip, at least you have that long break out there as a carrot dangle at the end of the tunnel," he said. "But we've played a lot of hockey in a short time on this one. It's good we're going home, but there's no break. You have to keep going."