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TRIP IS FULL OF VARIETY

From fun to tough, Lightning has many views of its weeklong preseason road tour.

It was difficult to find consensus as to what Lightning players think about their just-beginning preseason odyssey, er, road trip.

Is it a cool adventure, a chance for players to bond? Or is the trek - four games in four nights, five games in seven and a scrimmage in between - simply the trip from hell?

"It's going to be tough, to tell you the truth," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "We know it's a lot of traveling."

Come on, defenseman Lukas Krajicek said. "It's going to be fun to be playing in those smaller rinks. It's going to be interesting."

Check out this itinerary:

The trip opens tonight at the Brandt Centre against the Senators. The Coyotes are up Tuesday in Everett, Wash., and Wednesday in Loveland, Colo.; the Oilers are Thursday in Winnipeg.

The Lightning scrimmages its AHL affiliate Friday in Norfolk, Va., wipes its collective brow during an off-day Saturday and winds things up Sunday in Atlanta against the Thrashers.

The tally: 6,803 miles, four time zones and, as general manager Brian Lawton has said, enough money from appearance fees (games in Regina, Everett and Winnipeg are technically Tampa Bay home games) to cover the cost of training camp. Not bad for the financially troubled organization.

As for what happens on the ice, Lawton said, "This is really serious, is what it is. This is going to determine a lot of players. We have to make decisions by the end of the week, so the only way they should view it is very serious."

Forty-two players - the entire training camp, enough to field two teams - made Sunday's 41/2 hour flight to rainy, cool Regina.

With NHL rules prohibiting players from participating in more than two preseason games on back-to-back days, the Lightning will need them, and it figures to cut players slowly through the week.

In some ways, the trip is similar to last year's preseason European adventure during which Tampa Bay played games in the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia. Players and coaches agreed the moving around made teaching and installing systems more difficult.

That is why coach Rick Tocchet, who was on that trip as an assistant, said he has a narrow view of what he wants to accomplish.

"Obviously, it's not the perfect world, so you have to really pick your poison," he said. "You don't have a ton of teaching time, but we can still teach. What I learned is, pick a couple of points and be good at them and worry about the rest later.

"Instead of trying to do six things and be average at all six, let's pick two or three and be very good at it, and we'll get the other things down the road."

Nice to have that luxury.

The European trip ended with a tired squad facing the Rangers in Prague in back-to-back games that counted. After Tampa Bay finishes this trip, it has five days to prepare for its season opener, Oct. 3, back in Atlanta.

"The biggest thing was scheduling a lot of time after the trip to really get everybody grounded and put the finishing touches on the systems and what the coaches want to put in place," Lawton said.

In the meantime, forward Ryan Craig said, "We're going to different places. We're playing teams we don't necessarily see all the time, and we're going to buildings that will be full. That's the exciting part for our team."

On that, there was consensus.

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