Chuck Kobasew thought he'd never see the inside of a bus again.
And who could blame him?
The hard-working winger played a large role in the Flames run to the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2004.
A perfect blend of grit and talent, the Vancouver product fit like a glove on a Darryl Sutter-coached team.
But the labour dispute reared its ugly head and forced the 23-year-old to head back to the minors.
"After our Cup run, I wanted to get back playing again," Kobasew says of his season spent in the AHL. "You get a taste for what it's all about and you want to get back there as soon as you can.
"But going to the American Hockey League was great. I wanted to go, I wanted to play. There's no way I wanted to be sitting out and not play for a year."
And it wasn't as if he was playing against a bunch of stiffs in the minors.
With other young players in the same boat as Kobasew and choosing to head to the AHL, every team had NHL-calibre talent.
"I played in the league two years ago in Saint John, and it didn't even compare," he says of his first professional season.
"I talked to the people up top, like the commissioner, and they said it was the best hockey they've ever seen."
Rather than taking a step backward or remaining stagnant, Kobasew believes he was able to further develop his game in the AHL.
"The coaching staff in Lowell gave me an opportunity to play. I played lots of minutes and I was on the ice when a lot of guys weren't playing.
"We also played lots of games, sometimes three in three nights, so there was a ton of ice time."
The Flames first-round pick in the 2001 draft took advantage of the situation, piling up 38 goals and 75 points in 79 games with Lowell.
And there was the added advantage of not having to listen to non-stop talk about the NHL work stoppage.
"Living in the U.S., you didn't hear as much about the lockout as you would in Canada," he says. "So I was able to put it behind me and just go play."
But Kobasew is more than ready to trade that bus pass for an airline ticket and help the new-look Flames pick up where they left off.
"I'm excited, I can't wait to get going," he says.
"I've been working out hard all summer, getting in a lot of skating.
"The Flames give out a good program and if you follow that, you'll get everything in."
With veteran forwards Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty bolstering the forward ranks, Kobasew expects the Flames to be even better.
"It's tough to see certain players leave, like Marty (Gelinas).
"But, from what I've heard, the new guys coming in are great guys and they're obviously good players."