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Penguins' Staal ready to see Stockholm

by Shawn P. Roarke

Jordan Staal hasn't broken out the Swedish tour book yet, but that doesn't mean he and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins aren't excited about the upcoming trip to Stockholm to play in Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008.

The Penguins leave Saturday afternoon for Stockholm to begin six days of practice before playing two regular-season games against the Ottawa Senators to open the 2008-09 season Oct. 4-5. The team also will play an exhibition in Helsinki on Oct. 2 against Jokerit, a top Finnish club.

The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning will hold their own set of games on Oct. 4-5, in Prague as the NHL continues to show the global reach of the sport.

"It's going to be really cool going to Stockholm," Staal told "I know fans are always pretty crazy about hockey in Europe and I know they'll do a great job of showing us around and showing us the city."

Staal has made a few trips to Europe in the past, most notably for the 2007 World Championship held in Russia.

"I've only been to Europe a few times and I've always had a lot of fun," said Staal. "I'm real excited for it."

Not excited enough to break out the tour book, though, to find out all the Scandinavian delights that await him upon arrival Sunday in Stockholm.

"No, I'm not into that stuff," Staal said. "I don't really know much about Stockholm and I'm going to keep it that way. I want to experience it for myself and, hopefully, I'll have some fun."

It's a good bet that all the members of the Penguins will have fun on this trip, just as the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings did during the season-opening Premiere trip to London last season.

Sidney Crosby, likely to be the main attraction on this trip after local-boy-done-good Daniel Alfredsson of Ottawa, knows that the Penguins are fortunate to be playing. But he also knows that when all the sightseeing and cultural exchanges are complete, this trip is still about starting the team's defense of its hard-earned Eastern Conference title on the right foot.

"We've been fortunate as a team to experience some pretty neat things, playing the Winter Classic and having a great run last year, and now going to Stockholm," Crosby told "I think we all feel fortunate we get the opportunity to do those things, and not every team does.

"We have to realize we're going there for 4 points and the regular season. It's not just a trip. It'll be a good experience and something that we should all appreciate."

In fact, Crosby, as the team's captain, is looking to use the Swedish adventure as a team-building experience.

After falling just two victories short of claiming the Stanley Cup last season, the Penguins were decimated through free agency. Regular contributors Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque and Adam Hall are all gone, as is backup goalie Ty Conklin. Regular defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are both out with injury. 

So the Penguins team that departs for Sweden Saturday will be far different from the one that walked off the Mellon Arena ice three months ago after losing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Eric Godard and Miroslav Satan are among the new faces on the team this season. Crosby believes the opportunities to bond presented by this European adventure are ideal as his club tries to recapture the team spirit that played such a big part in last year's success.

"On the road, that always helps," Crosby said. "Being over there, we'll be together a lot. You talk to a lot of teams, it's almost better to start the season on the road for a bit and get accustomed to everyone. Especially for us, we've had a few changes. We're going to regroup there and get ready for the season."

"It's going to be really cool going to Stockholm.  I know fans are always pretty crazy about hockey in Europe and I know they'll do a great job of showing us around and showing us the city."." -- Jordan Staal on the Pens trip to Sweden

While it seems like only yesterday that the Penguins watched the Detroit Red Wings celebrate their Stanley Cup title at Mellon Arena in mid-June, the Penguins are clearly ready and eager to move on.

They have heard the theory that starting in Europe could be adverse to their plans for going deep into the playoffs again this season. Last year, the Ducks were coming off their first Stanley Cup title and opened the season in London, splitting the two games with the Kings. Anaheim struggled upon returning to North America -- certainly not aided by a long road sing before returning home -- and played catch-up for most of the season. The Ducks finished fourth in the Western Conference and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

That's an interesting theory, but the Penguins insist it does not apply in this case. First of all, the Penguins return straight to Pittsburgh after the trip to Europe. They will have six days off before playing the New Jersey Devils in the home opener. From there, the team stays home for another week, playing three more games at Mellon Arena before making its first North American road trip Oct. 19. Finally, the team has 14 likely starters that are under the age of 30.

"I think it is a short summer, but at the same time, we have a young team and it seems we just enjoy playing hockey and having fun with it," said Staal, who just turned 20 this month. "I believe our team will be ready for the season to come. It's just a matter of getting off to a good start and all that stuff will be left behind."

And all that will remain will be vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these Penguins.

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