In a perfect world, Ben Bishop would have time today in St. Louis to visit family and friends, maybe get a home-cooked meal.
The Lightning goaltender grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Des Peres, Mo., and from 2008-11 played 13 games for the Blues, the team he grew up worshiping.
Instead, Bishop will have to be content soaking up the atmosphere at the Scottrade Center as Tampa Bay is on a 2:30 p.m. flight to St. Louis, plays a preseason game there tonight and flies right back to Tampa.
"It's not really as sweet of a homecoming as you would like," Bishop said, "but it will be nice."
Bishop isn't the only Lightning player in tonight's lineup with a connection to the St. Louis area. Right wing B.J. Crombeen played for the Blues from 2008-12. Defenseman Eric Brewer played for them from 2005-11.
And coach Jon Cooper in 2007 and 2008 led the old Bandits to championships in the junior North American league.
Bishop and Crombeen will play their first games against their former team. Brewer has faced the Blues in one regular-season game. It's been five years since Cooper was a bench boss in St. Louis.
"Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to this," Cooper said. "St. Louis is a hidden gem of a city. The hockey community really accepted me when I went there."
"Obviously," Crombeen said, "it's a neat experience to go back."
That's in large part because of how the community embraces the team. Crombeen talked fondly about "the loud, rowdy crowd we had every night." Bishop described a city in which former Blues players stay, raise families and coach the neighborhood kids.
"When I was growing up, I was coached by Mike Zuke and Perry Turnbull," Bishop said. "Al MacInnis is coaching, Basil McRae, so the coaching is above and beyond what you usually get at that level."
Then there is what Cooper accomplished with the Bandits, playing in front of 1,000 fans a game in the suburb of Chesterfield. He helped then-Blues coach Andy Murray at development camps and remains friends with GM Doug Armstrong.
"Unfortunately, the Bandits team I coached … doesn't exist anymore," Cooper said. "That's the tough part tough, but a lot of great memories."
It's not all emotion and old stories. As Crombeen reminded, players constantly move around: "You play against guys you played with almost every game. It's neat to go back and see the place you called home for a while. But other than that, it's not like it's a real emotional thing. It's a quick business trip."
"I'm not even telling many people I'm playing," Bishop said. "That's not the focus. It's more to get out there and get a game under your belt and get that feeling back playing in front of screens and tips."
As for facing his hometown team, not to mention the one that gave him his first NHL chance, Bishop said, "There's a lot of good people there who helped me grow as a player. There's definitely a place in your heart for them. But when you play against them, they're the enemy. After that, you can think what you want about the team, but when we play against them, it's game on."