All smiles as Hurricanes hit the road: notes from practice | Sports

All smiles as Hurricanes hit the road: notes from practice

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Jeff Skinner, 18 years old and playing in the NHL
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH — Ladies and gentlemen, your Helsinki Hurricanes!

After taking their opening pair of games from the Minnesota Wild in Finland as part of the Compuware NHL Premiere, the Hurricanes logged one last practice on familiar ice Wednesday before heading back to the international gate at RDU. Ottawa, their Thursday night opponent, is at least in the same time zone as Raleigh.

Home fans won't get a chance to see the Canes in person until the Washington Capitals visit on October 27. After tonight's tilt in Canada's capital, the team soldiers on to Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix—half the Western Conference playoff field from last season. If the mood of the team is any indicator, however, there's reason to be optimistic about the road trip. A winning team is a happy team.

Practice was brisk and boisterous. Teammates hooted at each other through breakout drills and two-on-one rushes. Here was Jeff Skinner joyfully sliding on his knees to fling a cross-ice pass to Chad LaRose before the drills began. That white blur was Sergei Samsonov doing his best Apolo Anton Ohno impersonation, upgraded to day-to-day as he recovers from a headfirst fall into the boards in a preseason game in Atlanta. Associate Coach Ron Francis even cracked a half-smile, wristing a puck in off the goal pipe over backup goaltender Justin Peters' glove.

After 15 minutes of power-play scrimmage, Francis pulled Skinner and Brandon Sutter off to the side to work on one of the few weaknesses in the two opening victories: faceoffs. "Sometimes he steps in," Sutter noted later with a grin, "to show us different things. Sometimes you lift their stick and take it. Sometimes you slap their stick and take it."

Whether Sutter's still ginning after almost two more weeks on the road remains to be seen.

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