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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres
Normally when someone packs their bags to prepare for a nine-hour plane ride to Germany, they are looking forward to some sightseeing, along with the impending meals of schnitzel, sauerkraut and beer. Who couldn’t use a good old fashioned European vacation every now and then, right? Okay, well maybe Lindy Ruff is in the minority.

“Don’t call it a vacation,” he stated firmly. “It’s a work trip for us.”

Ruff is referring to Buffalo’s participation in this year’s NHL Premiere Series, that will see the Sabres open the regular season with games in Helsinki, Finland (Oct. 7 vs. Anaheim) and Berlin, Germany (Oct. 8 vs. Los Angeles). Prior to dropping the puck on the regular season, Buffalo will conclude their exhibition schedule this Tuesday in Mannheim, Germany, against Adler Mannheim, the former club team of forward Jochen Hecht.

The trip gets underway on Saturday night when a travelling party of more than 80 players, coaches, management and media will board a 757-charter plane bound for Frankfurt, Germany. Also along for the ride will be a crew from MSG’s “The Game 365,” who will document the entire experience while also profiling the Pegula family for a future broadcast.

After a scheduled arrival of 9 a.m. local time, the Sabres will take part in an afternoon practice at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany. But don’t expect any work on special teams at this practice. It’ll be all about the players getting acclimated to their settings and loosening up after a long flight.

“I think the biggest thing is getting the jet lag out,” explained Jordan Leopold, who’s already gone through the European experience when he traveled to Helsinki as a member of the Florida Panthers in 2009. “We’re going to have that long flight right off the bat, and to get adapted to the time that we’re on over there is number one. Hydrating, nutrition getting our practice time in and getting a little time to ourselves is important.

The team will practice Monday morning in Mannheim, followed by a team visit to the USO Army Hospital on the Ramstein Air Base. Leopold says it’s team events like this that make this such a unique and memorable trip.

“It’s one of those experiences that not every hockey player gets to have, especially in our league,” he explains. “At our level, we tend to gravitate and stay in North America. It’s an honor and privilege for us to go overseas. And I think it’s important exposure for the game.”
At our level, we tend to gravitate and stay in North America. It’s an honor and privilege for us to go overseas. And I think it’s important exposure for the game. - Jordan Leopold

Tuesday will be a normal game day, with an 11:30 a.m. morning skate to prepare for that night’s 7:30 p.m. exhibition game against the Adler Mannheim Eagles. In addition to being a homecoming for Hecht, the Eagles will be retiring the jersey of former NHLer Rene Corbet who played with Mannheim from 2001-09. Corbet will only play the first period of the game, before having his number 20 raised to the arena rafters.

The Sabres will hit the road first thing Wednesday morning on a 9:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. ET) flight to Helsinki. After a quick stop at the team hotel it will be off to the Hartwall Areena for a 2:30 p.m. practice and media availability. Thursday is much of the same for the team, as they will return to the arena for a 10:30 a.m. practice.

Friday’s schedule looks daunting, but it’s not that much different than the normal routine of a regular season set of back-to-back games – except that there’s a very long flight awaiting them after the second game.

In preparation for their season opener against Anaheim Friday night, Buffalo will take part in an 11:30 a.m. morning skate. After a team meal and nap in the afternoon, they return to Hartwall Areena for the 8 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) puck drop. This game will also be going head-to-head locally with the Euro 2012 soccer qualifying match between Finland and Sweden at Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium.

Immediately following the game the team will take a one hour and 40 minute flight to Berlin, expecting to arrive at the team hotel around 1 a.m. local time.

The whirlwind week concludes on Saturday night with the first-ever NHL regular season game to be played in Germany at the 17,000-seat O2 World Arena against the Los Angeles Kings. Game time is 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET).

Less than 24 hours after arriving in Berlin, the Sabres will pack up their gear and make their way back to Buffalo where they are expected to land around 6 a.m. ET on Sunday morning.

Will it all be worth it? Absolutely says Leopold.

“It’ll be a lot of time together, a long time away from our families and home. But we’re excited. It’s a good opportunity and a good challenge.”

Patrick Kaleta took part in Thursday’s practice, the day after being hit hard by Thomas Vanek during the scrimmage on Wednesday night. Kaleta, who had a red welt under his right eye, said he holds no ill will towards Vanek and the two have already moved on from the incident.

“I think he felt bad about doing it because I don’t necessarily think it was on purpose. But it happened. All in all, he smoked me.”

Ruff said he doesn’t expect Derek Roy to play in Friday night’s preseason game in Washington, a week after injuring his shoulder against Toronto. Roy is skating well in practice, but Ruff doesn’t see a need to rush him back into the lineup.

“Unless he feels 100%, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use him in there in any way, shape or form, and jeopardize him for regular season games.” 
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