By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It was Nov. 24, 2008, a day that changed the lives of three young hockey players.
Lee Stempniak had just finished practice for the day with the Blues when general manager Larry Pleau called Stempniak into his office to deliver the news that he had been traded to Toronto.
Coming to the Blues was a young but promising forward named Alex Steen and another young defenseman who had the talent but developed the reputation of someone who was injury-prone and could never stay on the ice in Carlo Colaiacovo.
Fifteen months later, the three will face their former squads tonight when the Blues entertain the Leafs at Scottrade Center, but for all intents and purposes, the luster has worn off for Steen and Colaiacovo.
Most of the teammates they played with on the roster have either moved on via trade or free agency or in Mats Sundin's case, retired.
"Yeah, there's not a lot of guys there," Steen, 25, said Friday morning. "Obviously the organization went through a lot of changes. I, myself, was a part of it. It's going to be fun. Kabby (Thomas Kaberle) and Poni (Alexei Ponikarovsky) are still there, I played a long time with them. I spent a brief time with some of the other guys, so it's going to be fun though."
For Colaiacovo, a native Toronto son, who has since thrived mostly during his time in St. Louis minus a few minor ailments, made it academic that this is just another game after the Leafs dealt away two of his best friends recently (Matt Stajan and Ian White) to Calgary in the Dion Phaneuf trade.
"Somebody asked me (Thursday) if I was going to be nervous playing this game, and I said, 'Why would I be? I really don't recognize three-quarters of that team over there,'" Colaiacovo said. "It's an organization that I previously played with, so there is going to be that extra motivation.
"They're going through some serious changes over there. Obviously, we read about it and pay attention to it through the TV and stuff, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter to me anymore. I'm here and I couldn't be more happy."
Colaiacovo, 27, admitted that when the date got closer and closer, he was looking forward to playing against his two close friends.
"I was really looking forward to this date to play against those guys and have a night with them last night, but obviously they've moved on, too," Colaiacovo said. "Tonight's just another game for is, and it's obviously a huge game for us considering where we sit in the standings and with Calgary losing last night. They're playing real well and we can't overlook them.
"It is a former team of mine, and I'd like to get the win a little more, but at the end of the day, it's all about the team inside here. We need this win for us in here."
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As for Stempniak, 27, things have also changed for him since the last time he walked through the Scottrade Center doors, but much is still the same.
"Obviously where you get started, it's really special," Stempniak said. "I made a lot of friends away from the rink and a lot of good teammates. There are a lot of guys I still keep in touch with and it's definitely going to be a fun night tonight.
"I talked to big Walt (Keith Tkachuk) a little bit yesterday just over the phone. I keep in touch with Jay McClement. Other than that, it's sort of tough. I didn't want to make it a big deal coming back here. I just went to dinner last night with a few of the guys from the Leafs. I just try and look at it as another game. Obviously, it's a little different being back in here on the other side being in Scottrade Center. But at the same time, you've just got to approach it as another game."
The trade was quite a shock to Stempniak, who has 14 goals and 29 points in 60 games for the Leafs this season. But looking back on it now, it may have been best for everyone. Stempniak has a few more responsibilities since the switch to the Eastern Conference.
"I spend three and a half years here," Stempniak said. (Former Blues coach) Mike Kitchen gave me an opportunity to play. When Andy (Murray) came in, he really gave me an opportunity to grow in my role, play the point on the power play and things like that. I grew a lot as a player.
"I think I've become a more complete player. I play a lot on the penalty kill now, I've played the point on the power play at times throughout the year, even a little defense late in games, which is something new for me. I've played in a lot of different situations. That's what you want as a player. The coach has faith in you, your teammates have faith in you to be out there whether you need a big goal on the power play or whether you're killing a penalty late or protecting a lead late in the game. It's been great so far."
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Tkachuk (upper-body) will not play tonight and Blues coach Davis Payne said his gritty veteran is day-to-day.
Tkachuk, 37, took a puck up high against Detroit Tuesday. He didn't skate Thursday and was not on the ice Friday morning.
Cam Janssen will return to the lineup, while forward D.J. King and defenseman Darryl Sydor will be healthy scratches.
Payne said to expect Brad Boyes to "see some time at center" tonight.
Line combinations today at practice looked like this:
Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester-Brad Boyes-Cam Janssen
The D-pairings remained the same:
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
Chris Mason will get the nod in goal.
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The Maple Leafs (19-30-11) come in 11 games under .500 but since acquiring Phaneuf and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, they have gone 2-2 and both losses were by one goal against New Jersey and San Jose.
"We talked this morning about how big a mistake it would be if we were just looking solely at the record," Payne said. "We go back and look at the kind of games they've put up there the last three or four games. They've had some success and they've played some pretty good teams. We have to make sure that our opponent isn't adjusting our level. We make sure we bring our level and it's ready to go, because we know how crucial points are."
The Leafs sported the following lines at the skate this morning:
Alexei Ponikarovsky-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Viktor Stalberg-Christian Hanson-Lee Stempniak
Fredrik Sjostrom-Rickard Wallin-Nikolai Kulemin
Wayne Primeau-John Mitchell-Colton Orr
Their defensive pairings will feature:
Thomas Kaberle-Dion Phaneuf
Francois Beauchemin-Carl Gunnarsson
Garnet Exelby-Luke Schenn
Giguere will get the start in goal, Toronto's final game before the Winter Olympics.