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Only souvenirs 'Canes want from Euro trip is wins

by Dan Rosen
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The whirlwind is just beginning for the Carolina Hurricanes.

They handed a few necessary documents, as well as their passports, to Brian Tatum, the team's senior director of team services, weeks ago. When he returned the traveling documents to the Carolina Hurricanes' players, each had a Russian visa stickered on one of the pages.

Since their game at Florida scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled due to tropical storm warnings, the Hurricanes used this week to practice in the morning and get some last-minute errands done in the afternoon. They had to pack for an extended road trip to Russia and Finland, countries where the weather is expected to be about 30 degrees cooler than it was in Raleigh on Friday.

By 12:30 p.m. Friday, Carolina's entire traveling party, including players, coaches, staff, media and NHL personnel, had to load their luggage onto the yellow Ryder moving truck parked at the security gate on the north end of the arena. It was bound for the airport and the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere.

While the plane was being stocked, the Canes had to go to work, taking the ice to play the Atlanta Thrashers in their final North American tune-up, a preseason game that was free to the public. They won't play another game at RBC Center until Oct. 27 against Washington, but they gave their fans something to remember Friday with a 2-1 overtime victory.

Brandon Sutter, who Thursday was named an alternate captain with Tim Gleason, provided the offense with both goals, including the winner 66 seconds into overtime. Nik Antropov had forced overtime by scoring with 1:03 left in regulation.

"It's a lot more fun to travel after a win than a loss and we're all excited about that," Sutter said.

However, by 6 p.m. Friday, the game against the Thrashers was an afterthought because it was wheels-up time for the Hurricanes' charter flight bound for Russia. Finally, after months of preparation, the team could turn its attention to its European adventure, something that has been hovering in the background throughout training camp.

"It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing for most of us in here, but on the other hand you're going to miss your family, your wife and kids, so there is some anxiety in that," captain Eric Staal told "But we'll be back soon enough and hopefully with two wins under our belt."

In separate interviews prior to Friday's game, Staal and Sutter each kept bringing up the four points on the line against the Minnesota Wild next Thursday and Friday in Helsinki.

The concept played a role in every one of their answers, which tells you where the Hurricanes' minds are as they get closer to touching down in Russia.

The experiences in St. Petersburg and Helsinki should be fun, educational and rewarding, but it will not be successful unless they come home with points.

"Sometimes when it's a different scenario like that it's something you're not used to," Sutter told "For us, though, we have to treat it as Game 1 of getting back to the playoffs. Those first two games are important and all the teams going over there are thinking the same way. Guys are pretty anxious for it. It'll be fun and traveling over there will be cool, but at the end of the day we're still going over there to play. It's still part of the job so we have to make sure we're ready."

Staal, who last traveled to Europe in 2007 for the World Championships in Moscow, said setting the players' own body clocks to a new time zone is the most important adjustment they'll make while over there.

The Canes' plane will touch down in St. Petersburg at 1 p.m. local time Saturday, but to everyone on the flight it'll feel like 5 a.m. due to the eight-hour time difference. Carolina has a planned off-ice workout two hours after they land and then a players-only dinner with representatives from the NHLPA.

"The key thing is trying to stay awake when you get there as best you can and then go to bed early, eat the meals on their time and by Sunday I think we should be OK," Staal said. "It's important to drink lots of fluids, especially on the flight over. Everyone here is athletic and should be able to take care of themselves to make sure we're ready to go by next week."

There's that theme again, being ready for next week. It's pervasive here in Canes Country.
"Those first two games are important and all the teams going over there are thinking the same way. Guys are pretty anxious for it. It'll be fun and traveling over there will be cool, but at the end of the day we're still going over there to play. It's still part of the job so we have to make sure we're ready." -- Brandon Sutter

Even when Staal was asked about the excitement level rising among the team's Finnish population, including Helsinki resident Tuomo Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen, the captain couldn't help himself.

"For us to be a part of this with them will be cool, but we want to make sure we get the W's," he said.

Sutter was asked what he's most looking forward to other than the hockey.

"It'll just be cool playing in a different environment," he said.

We repeat -- other than the hockey?

"I've never been to St. Petersburg before and I hear it's a pretty cool city, so I'm looking forward to having a chance to walk around a bit to see different sites in a new part of the world," Sutter said, "and play some hockey while we're at it."

Even with all of the prep work and anxiety, the prospect of exploring new lands and experiencing new cultures, all that matters to the Hurricanes is getting the 2010-11 season off to a rocking start in Helsinki.

The memories of their wretched start to last season (2-12-4 by Nov. 13) still haunt them.

"We're just looking forward to getting over there to get things going," Sutter said. "There's a lot of hype about it, but we're not worrying about that too much. We just have to go out there and play."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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