PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- It's been a trip. And they're not even there yet.
For four first-timers to the IIHF World Hockey Championships, the road to Innsbruck and Vienna has been an eye-opener in almost every direction.
"I've never even been to Europe before," said Scott Hannan as Team Canada arrived here yesterday. "Everything about this experience has been so cool so far. And the best is yet to come."
Hannan, the Richmond, B.C., product, played for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey. For Mike Fisher, Dan Boyle and Sheldon Souray, it's their first time wearing the red maple leaf.
"I had a Team Canada jersey playing street hockey. That's as close as I got," said Souray, the Elk Point product. "I'm still a little overwhelmed, to tell you the truth."
"Just to see my name on the back of my sweater with these guys and then to turn it around and see the Team Canada crest on the front ... I'm still trying to get over the nervousness of it all. I want so bad to perform well, to validate being here. I'm humbled by it all."
Souray has looked more than at home on the ice so far and he says it's amazing how the veterans of these trips have made him feel that way off the ice.
"It's so easy to be yourself and fit in," he said. "I feel like I've been here before yet at the same time every minute I'm bright-eyed because every minute is a new experience for me. It's kind of like going to an NHL training camp for the first time, except there aren't dozens of players here in the same boat with him."
In fact, if all those players who hadn't said no to Team Canada this lockout year had been here, Souray is one first-timer who has no problem admitting he wouldn't be here.
SAVOURING EVERY SECOND OF IT
"I would say that if I hadn't played this year in Sweden, I wouldn't have had this opportunity. I'm savouring every second of it because I don't know if I'll ever be back. With the defencemen we have in Canada, the Prongers, Footes, Neidermayers, those guys have been around a long time and are still going to be around a long time. Out of the guys they could have picked, I'm just honoured to be here.
"It was the same thing last year with the NHL all-star game. Who really thought I'd be there? But I'm enjoying it. What the hell. Some guys played 10 of them and get tired of it. Me? This is all just a blessing.
"You know, two years ago I wasn't playing hockey. I had a broken scaphoid, couldn't bend my left wrist. Couldn't even open the cap of a water bottle. They said 'We're going to get this thing, hopefully, to where you can carry your baby.' My wife was pregnant. 'We'll get you to where you can open the car door again, but there's a good chance you won't play hockey.' Believe me, to me this really is a blessing."
While Souray is most certainly the poster boy for the first-timers it doesn't mean the others are less impressed.
"So far, it's been a lot of fun," said Fisher. "Playing with the top players in the world makes it the most special, but travelling like this to play for your country and play in all these different atmospheres is amazing.
"I knew it was going to be a great experience and it's been beyond what I expected," said the Ottawa Senator. "And the best part is I know it's going to get even better."
Boyle, the Ottawa native who won a Stanley Cup in Tampa last spring, is Canada's top point-getter on the tour so far.
"I've always wanted a chance to play for Team Canada. This is my first chance," he said. "I've been in the league for seven years, so I'm not in awe. But every time I look around the room and down the bench I see players who are going to make me better. This experience will make me better."
THE FANS MAKE SO MUCH NOISE
Hannan says it's a blast.
"It's different. I couldn't believe that game in Riga. The fans make so much noise. You couldn't hear yourself out there. I can't see myself not wanting to be part of this again."
In there somewhere is what has made Team Canada so successful these past few years.