BEIJING -- Their bags were packed, their souvenirs and memories tucked away. There was one more game to come in China and then it was off to buses and planes, bound for Boston and Calgary, for the realities of training camp and the NHL season to come.
They had spent more than a week here, in Shenzhen and in Beijing. They had climbed the Great Wall of China and tobogganed down. They had cleaned up at the Silk Market and walked the streets to Tiananmen Square. They had gone to Hong Kong and the Forbidden City. They had downed dumplings and noodles and duck feet.
They had experienced China. China had experienced them.
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The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames had come for the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games, bringing hockey to people who had never before seen it, interacting with fans and soon-to-be fans, exploring a country most of them never thought they would see.
They wrapped up the second NHL China Games here Wednesday, following the opener in Shenzen on Saturday. In an effort to expand the reach of hockey here, the initial NHL China Games were staged last preseason, between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks.
At Cadillac Arena on Wednesday, the scene was rowdier than in Shenzhen, the building exploding in cheers and music and waving towels at the first goal of the game, by Boston forward Jake DeBrusk, who scored twice in an eventual 3-1 Bruins victory to conclude the two-game preseason trip; Boston defeated Calgary 4-3 in overtime in Shenzen on Saturday.
And with that, it was off to Tianjin airport, and back home to North America, the images of China fresh in their minds.
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For Flames coach Bill Peters, it was the Great Wall and the market in Shenzhen that would last in his mind. For Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau and defenseman Mark Giordano, the Wall. For Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, it was Hong Kong.
"There's been tons," Peters said. "It's a beautiful country."
Cassidy also took in another particular benefit of the China experience.
"I would probably now not get nearly upset over traffic in Boston," he said.
That was far from the only benefit. During a normal training camp, as Bruins forward David Pastrnak explained, players would head home after practice. They would separate and disperse, spending time with their families and the friends they've developed in Boston.
[Game-used Pucks from the 2018 NHL China Games available on NHL Auctions]
They wouldn't spend nine full days together, as they have in China.
"I think probably the biggest thing you try to get is chemistry in training camp," DeBrusk said. "Obviously with the amount of experiences we've had on this trip, I think it brings that out naturally, especially for the younger guys mingling with the older guys. I think it helps them a lot. Hopefully that translates on the ice as well."
The plane rides to China had been quiet affairs, full of people who didn't entirely know each other yet. The Bruins had rookies. The Flames had newly acquired players and new coaches. By the time they reached their return flights, bonds had been formed. Players had experienced bus rides and tourist destinations, traffic, exotic food and haggling. And they had experienced it together.
"Now you can see the guys getting along, chatting a little more in the locker room, around the hotel," Gaudreau said. "I think it was a good trip for us because of how many new faces we have and the new coaching staff we have. I think it was really important for us."
It was something that would have been difficult to form from one-day excursions to Vancouver or Winnipeg or Washington.
Video: DeBrusk mic'd up for Bruins' visit to the Great Wall
"I just think most years it takes a while," Giordano said. "It takes a road trip or something to get into and really spend those quality hours together, those days, and this year we've had the advantage of being together right off the start of camp. It feels like we've been out here a long time together, so it's good. It's good for our group."
There will be recovery from jet lag and reintroductions to the rest of teams left behind in North America. There will be fewer practices than they are used to during training camp. But the Bruins and Flames are confident in what they've brought back from China, not just in the gifts for wives and friends and kids, but in the bonds. In each other.
"Hopefully we can look back and say this is what got our season off to the right track here," Gaudreau said. "This trip there's only 25, 30 guys here. You're interacting with everyone, you're on the same bus with everyone the whole time. I think it builds chemistry pretty quickly.
"Hopefully that pushes us to get off to a good start and then, come December, we're in a good spot and we can look back and say we made the most of this trip."