Warped and twisted

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

BERN, Switzerland -- It's like a warped, twisted, bizarre, surreal and even perverted episode of The Amazing Race. There's only one team in it, but it's been a trip.

"When they asked me to be on the team, I looked at the itinerary and thought, 'Wow, this is going to be great. This will be exotic.' " said Sean O'Donnell. "I'm not sure exotic would be the word I'd use now."

After another six-hour travel day the Worldstars tour arrived here for tonight's fifth game of a 10-game, 12-day run involving 17,600 air miles.

There is some hope the luggage we last saw on the weekend back in St. Petersburg, Russia, will have arrived by the time you read this.

Luggage or no luggage, NHL season or no NHL season, this was a very happy team to arrive here yesterday with no game to play.

ALMOST HEAVEN

"Coming to Switzerland, after what we've been through, is almost heaven," said Pat Brisson, managing director of IMG Hockey yesterday.

Everybody on the trip has proved to be a real trooper to this point, although we just about lost Tie Domi for a while there.

"Until we got to Prague, I was ready to take a plane home," said Domi of the nightmare experience involving two games in Russia. "I am never, ever, ever going back to that country."

On with the show, this is it.

With the NHL saying no to the NHLPA proposal, the Worldstars go back to the realization that they may be the only team of all NHL players in action.

What has this tour group been through?

Let's start with the TV crew.

"In Riga, we were in the last two rows of the crowd. Fifteen minutes before the game, fans showed up with tickets for the seats in which we were sitting," said Dave Randorf, the TSN man doing the play-by-play calls for the pay-per-view telecast.

Try calling a game when you are handed the lineup just before the opening faceoff three nights in a row. That's tough enough but these are players with not a lot of vowels in their names.

"In Riga I couldn't hear colour man Gary Green in my headset," said Randorf. "In Moscow we were in a soundproof booth unable to hear the crowd with the whole setup facing a monitor on the wall and the game behind us at our backs.

"We had to twist around sort of sideways and look through glass which hadn't been cleaned after years of people smoking in there.

"In St. Petersburg we had the Russian play-by-play broadcasts in our headset throughout the entire game and a big row of flags hanging over our location, blocking our view of part of the ice.

"It was hysterical to see the truck our producer Ed Milliken had to work from. Jonesy, you would have had no shot of getting in there," he said of this sizable scribe and the setup in a minivan that was more mini than van.

Milliken is a two-time Gemini award-winner as a producer of Hockey Night in Canada. "There have been dozens of scenarios where I've asked myself 'what am I doing here?' But at the end of each day I have a smile on my face. It's been a wonderful experience. It's been so bizarre I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on this. I'm having a ball."

Green is the old pro over here.

"I've been working TV games in Europe for more than 20 years and nothing surprises me," he said. "On this trip almost everything has surprised me.

"I though I'd seen it all when we had a game over here and Canada had a two-on-one break and the camera decided to cut to a pigeon flying around the inside of the rink.

"An NHL broadcaster working in Europe for the first time would have jumped from the Charles Bridge when we hit Prague. It's been a great challenge but it's been a lot of fun and an amazing adventure."

EQUIPMENT PROBLEMS

Then there's the training and equipment staff.

"We brought our own skate sharpener over here. We had it in Riga. It just caught up to us again,'' said Steve Latin, who figures a team going three-and-one without having their skates sharpened is not bad.

"We arrived at 3 a.m. at the airport in St. Petersburg and saw the Russian truck driver pulling sticks out of our equipment bags. And he really seemed bleeped off that we'd have the audacity to ask for them back," said Thom Plasko. "In St. Petersburg, they wanted us to pay money to get into their rink with the equipment."

Several players say their cabs were stopped by police in Russia and they were shaken down for $100US because they didn't have their passports. Russian officials took the passports at the airport and didn't return them to the hotel until the next day.

Everybody has a story.

"It's been fantastic. Even Russia was good because now we've been there and don't have to go back there," said coach Marc Bergevin at the press conference.

If there is a season, former Oiler Anson Carter says he'll probably return to Europe to play after Christmas - and he'll have a pretty good scouting report of where to go.

"Not Russia," he adds of what he'll always remember as a Banana Republic.


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