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Kings enjoyed visit to U.S. Naval Academy

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- Please excuse the Los Angeles Kings if they have difficulty remembering exactly where they are and what time of the day it is.
After all, they totaled some 16,000 airline miles and completed a five-city world tour comprised of preseason and regular-season games to kick off the 2011-12 campaign. That's a pretty demanding schedule for even the best touring rock bands out there.
Since late September, the Kings have traveled for preseason games in Kansas City against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Las Vegas against the Colorado Avalanche and Hamburg against the Hamburg Freezers. Then it was off to Stockholm for its regular-season opener against the New York Rangers and one day later Berlin to face the Buffalo Sabres before finally returning back to North America on Sunday.


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Instead of flying back to the West Coast, however, the Kings opted to spend three days practicing at the Gardens Ice House rink in Laurel, Md. There, players also had an opportunity to visit the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, something Indiana native Jack Johnson enjoyed.
"They gave us the option to go tour the Naval Academy and a few of us jumped all over it," Johnson said. "It was a pretty unbelievable experience to go see those boys and then stay and watch football practice since they were getting ready for Rutgers -- it was an unbelievable experience."
Johnson was also surprised when the team bus rolled into Gardens Ice House. It brought back some great memories of his days playing for Minnesota prep hockey power Shattuck-St. Mary's. Johnson's 2003 team, which included Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Sabres forward Drew Stafford, was actually in a framed picture located near the locker rooms of teams that had won tournaments at the rink.
"I didn't realize that was the rink we were going up to when we got out there," Johnson said. "We pulled up and I was like, 'This parking lot looks familiar.' We were on a 45-minute bus ride from the hotel and were staying in Annapolis and didn't know we were in Laurel, Md. It brought back great memories and I saw the team picture on the wall … they still had our banner up in the rink and it was a neat thing for a couple of days."
The photo that brought back all the memories was of a then 16-year-old Johnson, who was celebrating in a team photo with Crosby and Stafford, on the ice.
Despite all the travel, Kings coach Terry Murray said he and the team certainly enjoyed the experience.
"This is a great opportunity to get out and spread the word about the NHL and give back a little bit," Murray said. "The European countries have given us some great hockey players and I think it's a great thing for the League to go back over and play some meaningful games. Most importantly, to actually have something like two points on the line, you get the best out of the teams and I think the fans really appreciated the effort."
While there may be some rustiness at the start, Johnson and Kings forward Brad Richardson don't believe the club will show any signs of jet lag against the Devils.
"I certainly hope not," Johnson said. "I think everyone thinks we're OK. We've had a few days off and have had some rest. Whenever I go to Europe for tournaments, I feel I never really adjust over there, but as soon as I get back home I'm right back to normal time. It's all kind of like that sophomore slump thing … fatigue and leg weariness is all kind of in your head."
"I think if we had to play right away, maybe it would have been tough, but we got in on Sunday and have had three days of practice," Richardson said. "Those first couple of days back, we were trying to get adjusted again. I feel good now and should be ready to go; we should have our legs. I don't think we could really use that excuse too much longer anymore."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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