-- It didn't take long for the New York Rangers
and Tampa Bay Lightning
to pack their bags and head for the airport Sunday night.
After all, the rest of the NHL is waiting for them back in North America.
As the players got settled on their charter flights, reporters were pecking away at their keyboards and the O2 Arena ice crew was shaving down the NHL ice to prepare for another event coming Tuesday.
The now-annual global event, which this year was called the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008, was over. Czech fans that had waited a lifetime to see an NHL game were treated to two dandies, each 2-1 victories for the Rangers.
But as things were quieting down and some NHL staffers began saying their good-byes to the wonderfully helpful group that assisted them throughout the week, the response from the Czech folks seemed to always be the same.
"See you next year?"
It's a good question and time will tell on that, but by listening to the players and coaches in each dressing room this weekend, you got the sense that after experiencing the NHL in Europe they wouldn't mind doing it again.
"I think any NHL team would love to come over," Lightning coach Barry Melrose
said. "The people are great. The building is beautiful. We played in the one in Berlin, too, and that was magnificent. I think any NHL team would have a great time coming over and playing. I'm sure the NHL will continue to do it every year. Each year they do it, the North American teams learn more about how to do it, but we have so many European players that the fans over here in Europe deserve to see their homeboys play."
The players and coaches were treated like celebrities wherever they went. Autograph seekers stalked their hotels, pens and markers in hand. Even some members of the Czech media were asking for autographs in the Rangers dressing room Sunday night.
As odd as that was to see, you can understand why. It doesn't happen often that the top hockey league in the world touches down on this continent. These people soaked up every last drop of it, while the teams left a lasting impression of how professional and sincere pro athletes in North America can be.
"We're ambassadors for the game," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "Our legacy is to leave behind good things and I hope we come back and create even more things. While we're here on behalf of the League, we have to do an excellent job of showcasing what we're all about from how we play but also by how we treat people here."
As for the success of the entire trip from a player and coach perspective, both the Bolts and the Blueshirts felt galvanized getting on their planes Sunday night.
Tampa Bay would have loved to leave Prague with a point and Melrose was displeased with his team's play this weekend, but it's a relatively new team and over the course of the last 12 days the Lightning got to know one another much better.
"We have lived together for 12 days and spent a lot of time together," Melrose said. "That has certainly accelerated that process, there's no doubt about that."
The Bolts' journey took them from Tampa to New York to Prague, Berlin, Bratislava, back to Prague and finally home to Tampa.
"It would be easy to say, 'Yeah, it wasn't a good idea,' " Vinny Lecavalier said after Sunday's 2-1 loss, "but if we had two wins we'd have said it was a great idea."
The Rangers certainly think it was a great idea to play in Europe. They left the continent having won the Victoria Cup in Bern, Switzerland, as well as both regular-season games in Prague, staking themselves to an early lead in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.
Eleven teams haven't played a game yet, but they're all playing catch-up now.
"The main thing is I think we kind of showed our identity, how we'll be this year, in your face with four lines and speed," Rangers alternate captain Scott Gomez
said. "You have to learn how to win. Even with the Russian game, to come back like that (from 3-0 down to win 4-3). This weekend was a good learning experience. People were down on us the way our preseason was, but there were a lot of new faces and guys trying to make a name for themselves."
"We're ambassadors for the game. Our legacy is to leave behind good things and I hope we come back and create even more things. While we're here on behalf of the League we have to do an excellent job of showcasing what we're all about from how we play but also by how we treat people here."
-- Rangers coach Tom Renney
Now that they're back home -- each flight touched down early Monday local time -- the Rangers and Lightning have an altogether different and unique challenge facing them.
The hangover effect.
"Conventional wisdom suggests it's a day for every hour in the time zone change," Renney said.
The Anaheim Ducks
complained that they never got over it last season after opening against Los Angeles in London. But Ducks General Manager Brian Burke
told NHL.com he blamed himself for the hangover problem because he insisted on playing road games on the way back to Anaheim.
Before returning home, the Ducks played in Detroit, Columbus and Pittsburgh. They didn't open the Honda Center until Oct. 10 and by the end of the month they were 4-7-2, barely treading water in what already was becoming a tight Western Conference race.
The hangover shouldn't be as big of a problem for the Rangers and Lightning. The Lightning won't play again until Saturday, but that's the first of five straight home games.
The Rangers begin a stretch of six games in nine nights Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks
at Madison Square Garden, but remember they're feeling pretty good with four points already in their pocket.
"I think any NHL team would love to come over. The people are great. The building is beautiful. We played in the one in Berlin, too, and that was magnificent. I think any NHL team would have a great time coming over and playing. I'm sure the NHL will continue to do it every year." – Barry Melrose
"It's a lot easier getting here and playing hockey than going home and playing hockey," Renney said. "We have our work cut out for us when we get back, but these are professional people that get paid well to play this game and perform at a high level and, so far, I'm happy to report that our players are certainly embracing that."
The Rangers and Lightning also appeared to embrace every aspect of the NHL Premiere trip. In fact, when asked if he would enjoy watching next year's games from the comforts of his own couch, Renney looked the reporter straight in the eye and said:
"I have no problem coming back here again next year."
The people of Prague certainly would embrace that.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.