STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- It's no secret that the Penguins are one of the glamour teams of the National Hockey League, grabbing headlines, generating ratings. They played in the first-ever Winter Classic . They regularly max out their national TV appearances. And now they're here in Sweden for the 2008 Bridgestone NHL Premiere.
Sometimes it means extra media demands, sometimes it means changing schedules, sometimes it means flying across time zones and practicing without much sleep. But team captain Sidney Crosby
made it clear yesterday that the players and the organization consider it an honor to be selected for the league's showcase events.
"We've gotten to play in some pretty cool events like the Winter Classic, and now we're here," Crosby said Sunday after the team's first European practice at venerable old Hovet Arena. "We're pretty fortunate to be chosen. It's going to be a great experience."
The NHL will be playing regular-season games in Sweden and the Czech Republic for the first time in its history, and it has arranged some marquee matchups -- no doubt by design. In Stockholm, it will be the young, dynamic Penguins, coming off a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, taking on the talented Ottawa Senators, who played in the Cup Final two years ago and are led by Swedish hero Daniel Alfredsson. In Prague, the tradition-rich New York Rangers, from the world's leading sports market, will meet the revamped Tampa Bay Lightning and Vinny Lecavalier.
But the fact that these are regular season games adds much more meaning -- for players, coaches and fans -- to this unique European adventure.
"We all want to have a good experience, and we want to be able to enjoy ourselves, but these aren't exhibition games, so we really want to be ready for business," Crosby said. "There are a lot of good teams in this league and you want to get off to a good start. We've got to work hard and come to the rink with the right mindset every day."
The Penguins underscored that attitude merely by hitting the ice yesterday -- not long after their plane touched down from a 10-and-a-half-hour trip from Pittsburgh, including a stop to refuel in Shannon, Ireland. The team landed at 9:30 a.m. Stockholm time Sunday -- which, given the six-hour time difference, was actually 3:30 a.m. in Pittsburgh and on their body clocks. Instead of going to sleep, however, the players dropped their bags off at their hotel, gathered for a team lunch and then took a bus to Hovet Arena for an hour-long practice.
It wasn't the most strenuous workout they'll have this season -- assistant coaches Mike Yeo and Andre Savard ran them through drills for about 15 minutes, then had them play four-on-four -- but their effort was spirited, and most of the players stayed on the ice even after the formal practice was over.
"It wasn't too bad," Crosby said, laughing. "Most of us have been through something like this before in our careers. You just want to shake you legs out and get moving a bit. We'll be able to adjust."
Starting Monday, the Penguins will shift venues to the modern Globe Arena, which will be the site of their games Saturday and Sunday against Ottawa.
They will hold daily practices at Globe from Monday through Friday -- although they'll also make a short trip to Helsinki, Finland on Thursday to play Jokerit of the Finnish Elite Leage in a pre-season game Thursday night. It's all part of the preparation process for the 2008-09 regular season and what they hope will be another bid for the Cup.
"The big thing right now is we just want to have a good start to our season," Crosby said. "There's a bit of history between Ottawa and us, because we've played in the first round of the playoffs the last two years, and they're a good team. So you know the intensity is going to be there."
The seats at Globe Arena are red -- Ottawa's color. And the fans here can be expected to get behind Alfreddson, another in a line of great Swedish players to grace the NHL; the Senators probably will be the crowd favorite. But the Penguins won't be fazed.
"We were the underdogs at the Winter Classic because we played Buffalo in Buffalo, and here we'll probably be the lesser of the two favorites," Crosby said. "But it should be great for the fans here, and we're looking forward to it."Discuss this on the Pens Message Boards!