The Penguins are headed West.
The team will make its longest roadtrip of the year this week as it heads to Western Canada for a three-game set against Edmonton on Wednesday, Calgary on Thursday and Vancouver on Saturday.
For many of the team’s young players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal and Ryan Whitney, this will be their first visit to those cities as NHL players. The Penguins have not been scheduled to play at those locations in four years – the first week of December in 2003.
“Everyone out there hasn’t had a chance to see Fleury and Crosby and Malkin and all the young talent we have on our team, so I think they are definitely awaiting to see that,” Penguins winger Colby Armstrong said. “It’ll be great; it’ll be great for hockey up there. I think tickets are pretty hard to come by.”
This trip has a special meaning for some Penguins as Erik Christensen (Edmonton), Darryl Sydor (Edmonton) and Armstrong (Saskatchewan) all hail from that part of Canada.
“I grew up in the Edmonton area and Edmonton is about three hours from Calgary. I played my junior hockey for almost five years in Kamloops, which is about four hours from Vancouver. Edmonton is Sydor’s hometown as well and Army is from Saskatoon, which is only about five or six hours from Edmonton,” Christensen said. “It’s going to be a nice trip for us. You see all the French-Canadian guys on our team and we’re so close to Montreal that they get to go play there a couple times a year. It’s nice for us to go to our stomping grounds and have everyone come see us in person.
“This is going to be a fun week. A lot of people are going to be coming. It’s the most-exciting time of year for me, just looking at the schedule,” he continued. “When the schedule came out, I was getting phone calls immediately from friends and family telling me they wanted to come to the game. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I am really looking forward to it.”
Armstrong is looking forward to playing in front of family and friends.
“Yeah it’s my first time I have played out there in a long time. It’s going to be really exciting, for sure,” he said. “My family has been able to come out here a few times to watch, which has been awesome, but a lot of my cheaper friends out there haven’t been able to make the trip. It’ll be a close drive or flight for them now, so it’ll be a lot easier for them to come. I know they are excited. Going to Western Canada in those rinks with those fans and the way hockey is up there will be fun.”
Sydor spent most of his career in the Western Conference, so his trips back to the area have been more frequent than most on the Penguins roster. Nevertheless, he’s happy to play in the area again.
“It’s always nice to get back in front of friends and family and see them. But, you go out there and your focus has to be on hockey. With Sid and the stars we have, they are sold-out shows,” he said. “With the way the schedule is set up now, you don’t get to see teams every year. So, it’s special this year for everyone out there.”
The schedule, which limits interconference play, will change next year so all teams will play each other at least one time per season, either at home or on the road.
“I am a big fan of the schedule change – I think we should go to every city at least once a year. I know they want to say we should play every team at least once, but I am a big fan of going to each city once a year and they come here as well,” Christensen said. “I think it’s good for the league to see every team and every player every year. Every three years we had to wait, but it is going to be worth the wait this time.”
Nevertheless, the Penguins look forward to seeing new areas.
“It’s one of the nicer spots to go and play and visit,” Sydor said. “I was fortunate enough to play out there and live out there and see it quite a bit in the summertime. It’s nice terrain.”
“Well where I am from, it’s a lot like Illinois and the Midwest. It’s pretty flat. I have been driving here the past couple years through the United States and then going back home,” Christensen said. “Where I played in Kamloops, you have the Rocky Mountains and it’s very beautiful. I live in British Columbia during the offseason and that’s why – for the scenery and the golf. It’s getting cold this time of year there, now.”
Armstrong is thrilled to get a chance to return home.
“Calgary is just outside the mountains and has some nice views. Edmonton, with the history of the Oilers, to get in there and see that is pretty great. Even further West, Vancouver is in the mountains, so it’ll be great. Three very nice cities to go to, for sure, and I think everyone is looking forward to that trip.”