-- It's not every day that you see 6-foot-7 Hal Gill
standing in the middle of a European city center blowing a Viking horn.
But that was just one of the indelible images from Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 Tuesday as the Pittsburgh Penguins
took to the streets here as part of a scavenger hunt set up by a local public relations firm at the behest of Penguins management as a team-bonding experiment.
As Tuesday afternoon turned into a chilly and rainy evening, it was clear that the team-building exercise was a success.
“I'm glad we did it this way," said rookie John Curry
, the team's third goaltender behind vets Marc-Andre Fleury
and Danny Sabourin. “It was a lot of fun and a tremendous way to see the city."
The Penguins split into six teams of four players each -- Petr Sykora
did not participate because of illness -- and those groups were unleashed onto the streets of Stockholm to visit several historical landmarks before returning to the team hotel.
"This is Stockholm sightseeing the Pittsburgh Penguins
way," an employee of the PR firm, Subito Brand Building Events and Public Relations, told the players as they were briefed on the details of the hunt.
It's safe to say that nobody has ever taken in the city's sights in quite the same way as these Penguins. The hunt required visits to six locations – mostly centered in Old Town – and photo documentation of each visit. Teams would be judged on how fast they finished the circuit, as well as the creativity they used in staging the required photos.
Each location was determined by a riddle handed out at the previous location. It all began at the team hotel, where the groups had to assemble a small piece of IKEA furniture to get the first clue, which sent them to City Hall.
(Team H&M), Ruslan Fedotenko
(Team Nobel), Matt Cooke
(Team Roxette), Sidney Crosby
(Team Bjorn Bjorg), Mark Eaton
(Team IKEA) and Gill (Team Volvo) were chosen as the captains and were responsible for guiding their teams through the six missions.
Cooke's Team Roxette started the day strong, putting together the small IKEA drawer before any of the other teams. From there, it was off to City Hall for the first stop of the tour, a 365-step climb to the top of the City Hall Tower that tested the cardio health of even these well-conditioned athletes.
Cooke's team came down just as Gill's team was reaching City Hall. Team Roxette issued a dire warning to Team Volvo, which featured Gill, Evgeni Malkin
, Eric Godard
"You have no idea what you are in for," said Cooke, who was clearly sweating despite the fact that the mid-afternoon air outside was blustery and quite chilly. "It's snowing at the top."
It wasn't really snowing at the top of City Hall, but it did provide an excellent panorama of the city.
Team Volvo was the last ones out of City Hall, and never saw any of the other teams for the rest afternoon as they stylishly settled into last place for the remainder of the afternoon.
Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Royal Castle, a 10-minute walk from City Hall. Here, the boys were supposed to get a picture of the Royal Guards wearing a funny Viking helmet and holding a small Swedish flag. Only, somebody forget to let the guards in on the plan and they did not find the stunt to be the least bit amusing.
On the way to the next mission, a visit to the Gondolen Restaurant, the tallest restaurant in all of Stockholm, Gill bought a Viking horn from one of the merchants in Old Town.
"Just what I need, right?" he asked his mates as he tried to coax the proper sound, without success, out of the instrument. He did, however, draw a few stares from the tourists meandering throughout Gamla Stad.
The vista to the Gondolen -- reached by a very claustrophobic lift -- was simply breathtaking. There, the players tucked into a plate serving nine appetizers. Eight of the appetizers was traditional Swedish delicacies and the ninth was a rogue imposter. The players had to identify the non-Swedish offering, which was a clam-and-wasabi number.
As Gill, Malkin, Curry and Godard worked on their version of Iron Chef, they made sure to enjoy the view and rest their weary bones before heading to the harbor to take a boat to Djurgarden.
By now, Team Volvo was in serious arrears, but showing no signs of stress. After just missing a ferry to the island, an espresso run was called for to help settle down dinner. After the coffee break, Team Volvo straggled back to the harbor with Gill turning philosophical to pass on some words of wisdom to Malkin.
"This is an amazing city. I'm glad we had a chance to enjoy it like this." -- Hal Gill
"Remember, Geno -- life is a journey, not a destination," he said.
After a short boat ride, the mission was to visit the Skansen, the zoo on the island of Djurgarden, find the elk exhibit and get a picture with the elks.
By now, it was late afternoon and the weather had taken a turn for the worse with a light rain falling and a brisk wind turning the rain drops cold as they struck exposed skin. Yet, Team Volvo soldiered on, entering the virtually deserted zoo grounds.
"This is the creepiest zoo I've ever been in," said Curry with a laugh. "There's nobody here."
Nobody, that is, except for the bears, which were a big hit for Team Volvo, the seals, the goats, the peacocks and, finally, the elk. With the required picture taken, Team Volvo was finally ready to head back to their Old Town hotel.
This time, it was a packed rush-hour bus that served the team's purposes. Actually, two buses as the boys got separated, with Godard and Malkin catching the first bus just as it pulled away. Gill and Curry were left behind, with two representatives from Subito, to wait for the next bus.
Still, nobody was complaining. A magical afternoon was drawing to an end and the players knew that they had just taken in this city in a manner that few can claim: Sightseeing the Pittsburgh Penguins
"This is an amazing city," Gill said as he fell into a bus seat, unconcerned that his team had finished more than an hour behind the first team to report to the hotel. "I'm glad we had a chance to enjoy it like this."
As for the winner, it was Cooke leading his team to the bragging rights.