Team Canada head coach Andy Murray explains a drill during a practice session at the Khodinka arena Thursday in Moscow, Russia. Team Canada will play Belarus Friday during the first game of the qualifying round of the IIHF World Hockey Championship. (CP PHOTO/Jacques Boissinot)
The NHL players are used to feasting like kings, but the buffet at the team's hotel during its first week in Moscow offered up a menu more fit for a peasant.
Nick Schultz saw more than his share of "mystery meat" while Dan Hamhuis wondered if the pasta was meant to be served without sauce.
Judging by the team's perfect 3-0 record at the event, it hasn't affected performance. But there wasn't anyone looking very upset Thursday as the team moved downtown into one of the nicest hotels in Moscow.
Coach Andy Murray viewed the team's first week as an important experience.
"To be honest with you, I'm glad that we went through that hotel and where we were," he said. "Now they know that's Russia . . .
"In the middle of that stay, it wasn't quite as much fun because the food's not good and that."
Teenager Jordan Staal joked that he might be able to lose a few pounds in Russia. He'd usually like to see something else on his breakfast plate than ham and cheese.
The Canadians spent the first week in the same hotel as several other teams, which was located close to the suburban Mytischi Arena where they played their preliminary round games.
It gave the players a view of Russia that they might not otherwise have gotten had they spent the whole time at their new digs. The new hotel is something to behold.
"It's better than any Ritz Carlton I've been at," said Murray. "It's pretty plush. It's nice that we're going there, but that's not really Russia.
"It's maybe the new Russia. We saw a look at the old Russia there. I think that was really important for our guys."
Not only will the Canadian players have had a few good meals before Friday's game against Belarus (8:15 p.m. ET), many of them will have seen some family members and friends.
About 40 people will join the team and the first wave of that group arrived on Thursday.
"It's kind of nice that they let them come over and kind of share in the experience," said Schultz, whose wife Jessica is in Moscow. "Hockey Canada always treats us well. Not every country does that for its players."
The visitors will be made to feel like part of the team, but they will also be kept busy.
"It's great that they're here," Murray said of the families. "I think that everybody's excited to see them but we're going to be busy . . .
"We've got a job to do."
The next task comes against a team from Belarus that is missing eight of its top players, according to coach Curt Fraser. Two of those are Montreal Canadiens prospects Mikhail Grabovsky and Andrei Kostitsyn, who are still in the playoffs with AHL Hamilton.
With a less experienced lineup, the Belarusians need everyone to contribute if they're going to compete against a team like Canada.
"We either play good as a team or we're in trouble," said Fraser, a former coach of the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Canadians are preparing as though that will happen. Murray remembers the Salt Lake City Olympics when Belarus upset Sweden in a quarter-final game and that's all he needs to know.
Cam Ward will start in goal for Canada as Murray continues to alternate him and Dwayne Roloson.
"I think it's good right now to have both guys going," said Murray.
One player staying put is defenceman Cory Murphy, one of four Canadians tied for the lead in team scoring with four points.
He's spent the past six seasons playing in Europe, the most recent with HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish League. Murphy will be in the NHL next season with the Florida Panthers after signing a two-year contract with them in March.
Coach Murray also indicated he'd remain in the Canadian lineup even after Shea Weber is eligible to return from suspension following the game with Belarus. It means a lot to the 29-year-old from Ottawa.
"The fact that I'm here and playing and part of the team is pretty special for me," said Murphy, who is a fixture on the power play. "I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can."
He's had plenty of experience in foreign countries while working his way to the NHL.
Murphy's wife, Natalie, even lived in Moscow for six months while working as a dancer in a performance of "42nd Street."
The food isn't so bad, he says, and some of his teammates agree. It just took them a little while to get used to it.
"It was definitely not probably what we're accustomed to but there is great food here," said Schultz. "We've gone to some great restaurants. You've just got to be in the right spots."
And keep an open mind.
"I've been over (to Europe) enough," said defenceman Eric Brewer, who is playing in his fifth world championship. "You know that things are going to be a little different. It's not what we're used to. There's always things and ways of life that you're not used to.
"You have to kind of look past some obvious things here, but you have to realize we're not at home anymore."