Even though Joel Quenneville knows that business trips in Europe were tough on NHL coaches last season, he has no qualms about heading there with his Chicago Blackhawks.
Last year’s Western Conference finalists are only days away from departing on a journey that will see them play twice in Switzerland before facing the Florida Panthers for a pair of games in Helsinki to open the NHL regular season.
With four games in six nights, it would be considered a busy stretch if it was happening close to home. When you factor in the flights and time change, it has the potential to be an extremely tough trip.
But Quenneville is refusing to allow his team any excuses and expects the Blackhawks to pick up right where they left off in the spring.
“I don’t find any negatives in this experience,” Quenneville said Tuesday on a conference call. “It’s something that we should be excited about and look forward to taking advantage of – (it’s) a tremendous opportunity (for the) players.”
It could be a different story for the guy behind the bench. All four coaches that opened the regular season in Europe last fall failed to finish the year with their job: Barry Melrose (Tampa Bay), Tom Renney (N.Y. Rangers), Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa) and Michel Therrien (Pittsburgh).
“I’ve heard more than once the track record of the coaches that went over last year,” said Quenneville.
The Blackhawks face Swiss team HC Davos next Monday before playing the Zurich Lions a day later in the Victoria Cup. After that, they travel to Finland to start the regular season.
At least one Blackhawks player will be familiar with the environment. Defenceman Brian Campbell spent the lockout playing with Jokerit in Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena and expects the NHL teams to receive a warm reception there.
“Finland’s not the biggest country in the world and for them to have the best hockey in the world come over there, that’s something they truly … (get) excited about,” said Campbell. “I’m looking forward to getting back there and seeing the fans … the flags waving, the chants, the nicknames – hopefully they still have that going on.”
The Panthers, meanwhile, have been piling up more air miles than any NHL team since training camps opened. They’ve played exhibition games in Halifax, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Dallas – with only a couple days in South Florida mixed in before heading to Helsinki.
“I used to have one of those Rolling Stones concert T-shirts and I wondered how they got to all those cities,” said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer. “I can appreciate that now. That’s what I feel like.
“It hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t been the perfect situation, but we’re getting through it.”
Like his counterpart in Chicago, DeBoer is choosing to embrace the positive aspects of the starting the season abroad.
He’s hoping that a change of scenery helps change the fortunes of a franchise that hasn’t appeared in the playoffs in nine years. A major reason for that run of futility has been consistently starting the year slowly.
“From my point of view, anything different from what had been going on here in the past, I was open to,” said DeBoer.
Ultimately, it remains a unique opportunity for everyone involved.
Even though the NHL is intent on continuing to expand its presence in Europe, to date there have still only been a handful of regular season games ever played outside of North America.
“I just think you get a little bit of culture, you get a little bit of flavour and the feeling of what’s going – the excitement,” said Quenneville. “I’m sure we’ll get to taste that and feel that.”