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Blackhawks Welcome Annual Circus Trip

By Chris Emma-

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With new surroundings and teammates to familiarize himself with, Adam Clendening's call-up came just as the circus was coming to town.

The Blackhawks' rookie defenseman -- called up to replace the injured Trevor van Riemsdyk, who will be out three to four months -- won't have a chance to play in front of a Chicago crowd until December as the circus makes its annual visit to the United Center.

"I can go on the road or be at home," Clendening said. "Just to be able to throw the sweater on is fine with me."

For Clenending, this could serve as a valuable opportunity. The Blackhawks receive the ultimate team-building experience during their two weeks on the road in late November each season.

When the circus invades the Blackhawks' home, the team heads west. Chicago faces a stretch of six games, with three stops in Canada, a visit in Colorado and games in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

"They're six tough opponents, on the road," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

Through long flights and little sleep, the Blackhawks are able to develop closer chemistry. When they're not on the ice, the players are in the hotel room rekindling the Mario Kart rivalries or exploring the towns they travel.

Part of the team building comes from the collective adversity. Most stems from the fun along the way.

"We're all close," winger Brandon Saad said. "I think it's a fun trip."

The circus trip serves as a rite of passage for the Blackhawks. Six games 10 days, along with seven flights, await the team.

However, there's an apparent consensus in Chicago's locker room that the experiences as a team are greater than the inconveniences of a tiresome trip.

"The travel sucks, obviously," center Andrew Shaw said. "But being on the road with the guys, it's kind of nice. You get to know the guys a little bit more."

Added winger Kris Versteeg: "You look forward to it. You look forward to going to some pretty cool cities, too."

The reality is simple. The Blackhawks aren't going off to summer camp; they're looking to win hockey games. This trip is a grueling experience. Between jet lag, sleeping in new hotels and just being away from home, fatigue is a factor.

Chicago is facing some of the Western Conference's elite teams, doing so on little rest. At the trip's end, with a return home in sight, the Blackhawks must battle the conference-leading Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 28 and defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings a day later.

"It's a challenge, for sure," Saad said. "We're playing good teams, and with the travel. It's something to being a pro. We face it every year."

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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