For the first time in what has seemed like an eternity, the Blues took the ice at Scottrade Center today. Training camps around North America opened up today and the Blues opened theirs to the public. Nearly 6,000 puck-heads filed into Scottrade to catch a glance of their favorite players.
The team offered discounts at concession stands and the team store to begin making amends with fans for a lengthy lockout. Then, after a couple hours of practicing, players attended special sessions where fans were able to ask them questions ranging from team expectations to why Kris Russell had a funny accent. The whole experience was pretty cool to say the least.
However, the most important thing that went on at Scottrade today was the practice. 25 players took the ice, dawning the blue note for the first time in 8 months. So, how did all those players look on day one of training camp?
The answer to that is pretty darn good. Hitchcock had the team partake in several dump-and-chase, breakout, and forechecking drills in which players seemed to be executing well. The team did look sloppy at times, but that is to be expected on the first day of training camp, especially after a prolonged offseason. All-in-all, a fan could not expect much better.
The Blues returned with nearly the exact same roster that won a central division championship last season. The only new faces to the team were veteran D-man and former Blue Jeff Woywitka and super-prospect Vladimir Tarasenko. The team did however introduce a couple of new lines and pairings today.
The most intriguing new line up front was Tarasenko lining up with McDonald and Steen. The trio looked pretty impressive throughout practice, making several nice passing plays and driving a couple pucks home. Even though it is very early, they showed some potential to be a potent line for Hitchcock.
There were also a couple new pairings on the back end. With Carlo Colaiacovo out, Ian Cole is expected to slide into the top six as he skated with Roman Polak today. The two seemed to skate together well, but the practice did not feature a whole lot of defensive work so it is hard to gauge how the two will work together at this point in time.
Another new pairing featured Alex Pietrangelo with Polak’s former partner, Kris Russell. During the offseason, GM Doug Armstrong expressed that the team was looking for a good puck-moving defensemen to partner with Petro through either trade or free agency. Although they were unable to find an answer abroad, they may have found a darn good answer from within.
Russell is one of the best skaters on the team and has shown plenty of ability to help create offense for the team. After practice, I got the chance to ask Kris what he thought about playing with Petro. Russell expressed that although it is early and he is unsure of how the two will mesh together, he is looking forward to the opportunity to play alongside a world-class player.
Just as Kris expressed, we must wait and see how the two play together. They looked good in limited action, but only time can tell us if the two can be an elite pairing together. That being said, it is a hell of a pairing on paper. Petro has shown that he is one of the better D-man in the league, and if Russell plays up to his potential, the two could be giving opposing teams fits.
In conclusion, the practice was quite a success. The team looked happy to be on the ice and did not seem to be too disturbed by the long layoff. The team’s training camp will continue throughout the week and all sessions are open to the public.
The Blues will be holding scrimmages both Tuesday and Thursday night. Radio play-by-play man Chris Kerber told me that Hitchcock is having the team treat the scrimmages as real games and that several players from Peoria will be coming down to partake in them. Needless to say, Hitch is trying to ensure that the players have the right mindset heading into next Saturday’s date with the Red Wings.
I suggest that all fans try to make it down to Scottrade at some point this week. Again, all sessions are free and open to all. It was a very friendly and fun environment as players and staff were eager to see and communicate with fans. Even new owner Tom Stillman was out and about talking with fans and taking pictures.
Hockey is almost back in St. Louis. In less than one week, Scottrade will be packed with fans and the puck will finally drop this season. It will be a long week hockey fans, but there is one big ol’ pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.