VANCOUVER — The Senators will get a chance to bask in the afterglow of last month’s Winter Games Saturday night.
As the Senators prepare to wrap up their three-game Western Canada road swing at GM Place, they’ll be the first team in the door against the Canucks, who have finally completed a 14-game road trip through the Olympics that started on Jan. 27.
The Senators, coming off a 2-0 loss to the Flames on Thursday, know the atmosphere in the building is going to be raucous as Canuck fans welcome back Team Canada gold medal-winning goalie Roberto Luongo.
The last time hockey fans in Vancouver saw Luongo, he was celebrating with Sidney Crosby after the latter scored the OT winner in the gold-medal game vs. the U.S. on Feb. 28.
“They’ll be ready to play. There’s no question they’ll be excited to be back home,” Senators centre Mike Fisher said of the Canucks. “We’re going to have to be ready and try to weather the storm early. We’re going to have to have a good start and a solid road game.
“There was a lot of excitement about the Olympics. Having Luongo back, and I’m sure they’ll do something for him for winning the gold medal, I’m sure the atmosphere in there is just going to be unreal. It should be a great game for them.”
The Canucks are planning a pre-game ceremony to honour Luongo and American silver medallist Ryan Kesler. Both will have their medals on display at the rink for games against the Senators and a visit by the Flames on Sunday.
Usually teams that return from a long road trip have a difficult time in the first game at home. This will be different for the Canucks. They haven’t played at GM Place in nearly six weeks and the Senators know Vancouver players will be fired up.
“It was such an extended length of time,” said Ottawa coach Cory Clouston, who cancelled the club’s practice at a suburban rink and held an off-ice workout at the team’s hotel. “They’re going to have a pretty loud crowd behind them and there’ll be a bit of a ceremony for the medal players. We’re expecting a really intense game.
“We’re expecting them to come out with a lot of jump. They’ve been off for a few days. It’s not like they just came home (and played). We’ve been in situations where we’ve played the very next day or had one day off. They’ve been home and they’ve practised. I don’t think (this return) is even in the same category.”
The Canucks’ road trip was the longest in NHL history. They finished an 8-5-1 record and covered more than 21,000 km during the odyssey. The club played eight road games before the Olympic break and six when the Games were completed.
The only advantage to the high price the Canucks paid: With 15 games left, the club plays 10 at home.
“There were days when you woke up in another hotel and wondered, ‘Where are we now?’ before you get it together a little bit,” said Kesler. “The last six we’ve played here on the other end of the Games, that hasn’t been as bad … but those first eight were real tough. They took forever.”