Pack up the suitcases

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

RIGA, Latvia -- Have pads. Will travel. "I didn't even know where Riga, Latvia, was a year ago. Now I'm back for the second time in five months," said national netminder Martin Brodeur.

"This is pretty cool,'' said Brodeur, who, along with Robyn Regehr, came here in December with the Worldstars Tour of 10 European cities in 14 days.

Team Canada stopped here two years ago with the team en-route to the IIHF World Hockey Championships prior to the tournament in Germany, so they're not the only players who have been here before.

Have stick. Will travel.

As the Canadians boarded their plane to depart to here from Montreal yesterday, it was a quick turnaround for the players who had played in Europe during the lockout and returned to Canada only a few days earlier.

"I just adjusted to this time zone by being here almost a week and now I have to go back and adjust again,'' laughed Chris Phillips.

Riga, Latvia, huh?

ALBERTA OILSANDS TOWN

"I never thought I'd leave Fort McMurray,'' said Phillips of growing up and spending his life entirely in the Alberta oilsands town. "Then one day I was playing for Team Canada in the U-18 in Japan.

"Japan. Who ever dreams of taking a hockey road trip to Japan?

"When you're just a kid and all of a sudden you find yourself in Japan ... It was wild. My eyes were open this big.''

He made a saucer-sized shape with his hands.

"I played in the world junior in Geneva and the world championships in Russia and overseas this year,'' he said of time served in the Swedish Elite League during the lockout.

"Now Latvia, the Czech Republic and Austria ... It's great to be part of something like this. I never dreamed I'd have these kind of experiences. And it's not like the NHL, going in and out of cities. With most of these events, you're there for two and a half weeks.''

Have helmet. Will travel.

Kids have always dreamed of playing in the NHL and always will, no matter how much damage has been done by the owners and players this past year. But as we've gone through this tortuous time in hockey history, Canada's best have been winning gold overseas and now it's becoming a double- barrel dream of playing internationally, wearing Canada's jersey.

There's no better example than Captain Canada.

"I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything,'' said Ryan Smyth, who has played in Norway, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic and is about to play in Latvia and Austria without going over and taking anybody's job.

Smyth has gone out of his way to bring his family and parents over with him and take a holiday to experience Europe at the end of each championship.

"After previous world championships I've been to Greece, Rome, Paris, Venice, Switzerland ...

"It's nice to see different countries. On one hand it really makes you appreciate home. But travelling like this is one of the greatest educations you can have,'' said Smyth, a guy who wasn't real big on classroom education but, in more ways than one, has become worldly as a result.

He was so far from being worldly when he played for Team Canada at the 1995 world juniors in Red Deer, it's difficult at times to realize he's the same guy.

HOCKEY NIGHT IN BUDAPEST

Dany Heatley has played for Canada in Sweden, Russia, Finland, Latvia and the Czech Republic before, and last year, in a pre-tournament game, found himself in Budapest.

Who grows up thinking hockey is one day going to take you to Budapest?

Heatley, 24, has already been to Sweden, Russia, Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and now Latvia in playing for three world junior and the back-to-back world championship gold-medal-winning teams.

"The first time you go over you realize what a great experience it is. And every year Hockey Canada does a great job for us,'' said the Calgary product.

"I played in the U-18 in Prague,'' remembers Simon Gagne. "I was 17. "I didn't know what was going on. Now I'm going back and this time I'm going to make sure I look around and experience the place. And when we have a day off in Austria, I'm going to make sure I come back with a taste of the place.''

Have skates. Will travel.


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