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Sabres will cherish trip to Europe

by Shawn P. Roarke
BERLIN, Germany -- Sure, the four points that Buffalo takes home from Compuware NHL Premiere action are nice. But just as important are the memories the club will take home after its week-long journey through Germany and Finland.

The Sabres departed Europe for western New York about an hour after the final horn of Saturday's 4-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at the O2 World Arena.

As the team boarded the bus for the airport to begin a long journey home and toward Friday's home opener against Carolina, the players and coaches had nothing but glowing things to say about the entire experience.

"I think the one only real tough part about coming over here is now we have to go back," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff.

Like any team that goes on a long road trip -- especially early in the season -- the Sabres tried to use this four-city trip to build some bonds between players and create team chemistry.

According to Ruff, it was a huge success in that regard.

"We used this as an opportunity to bring the team closer together; that we could come over here and do a couple things together as a team, let the players enjoy it and see some sights as a team," Ruff said. "But, (they have to) come to work at practice. The focus the night before the game, getting ready, was like a normal first game of the season."

And, that preparation paid off with a 4-1 victory against Anaheim in Friday's opening game of the NHL Premiere in Helsinki and Saturday's win by the same score.

Aside from the results, which remain the most important part of coming to Europe, each member of Buffalo's travelling party took a different favorite memory home.

For German natives Jochen Hecht and Christian Ehrhoff, it was the opportunity to show their teammates a small slice of their culture during a three-day training camp in Mannheim followed by an exhibition game against Adler Mannheim, the local DEL team.

"It's been great to show those fans what hockey is like in Germany; how we sing, how we party and it's been a lot of fun," said Hecht, who smiled at the thought despite missing the exhibition game against his hometown club and both regular-season contests because of a concussion. "It's very exciting to show that."

The players certainly enjoyed Germany, especially the raucous atmosphere at the Mannheim exhibition game, during which the home fans stood, sang and clapped throughout the game, even after Buffalo took a commanding lead.

"I think the game we played against Manheim was a great experience, just fan-wise and how loud the building was," Ruff said "The fan interaction was tremendous. Some of our players have never seen that before."

For Ehrhoff, another German, the trip meant a chance to bond with new teammates, as well make a special visit to his family, which has not joined him in Buffalo yet.

"I was able to see my kids this morning, which was nice because they have not been with me yet (in Buffalo)," Ehrhoff said, not even complaining that team did not arrive in Berlin until after 4 a.m. Saturday. "It was definitely exciting to see them."

For still others, it was the visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a trip the team took Monday to visit wounded warriors from the American military.

It was a profoundly moving experience as the players spent time with some of the hospital's most severely injured patients, including soldiers wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We visited the hospital and that was a tremendous experience for the players, the coaches, everyone on the media front," Ruff said. "Sometimes if you think you have it tough, you walk in a place like that and there are tougher situations you can be in."

All, though, will remember the post-game celebration in Berlin as team and crowd interacted in an elaborate on-ice celebration led by Ehrhoff.

"It was good to feel that," Ehrhoff said of the crowd serenading himself, Austrian forward Thomas Vanek and all of the Sabres. "We experienced that in Mannheim too and the guys were excited to get it going again and I wanted to do it. We really enjoyed it."

Regardless of which memory the players cherish, there is little doubt that this trip could not have gone better for the Sabres -- especially with the four points in the bank. Buffalo was the only of the four European teams to make the trip this season that returned with two regulation wins.
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