Team faces Toronto tonight, Washington Saturday,
will take time off aside from three Olympians
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With a condensed schedule that is all too familiar in Major League Baseball, the Blues and the rest of their National Hockey League peers are more than looking forward to a two-week break.
With the 2010 Winter Olympics about to unveil its glory on Sunday -- ice hockey competition begins Tuesday -- there is a plethora of NHLers that will leave the grind and gruel of what is the 2009-10 season to allow the mind and body to heal, retool and reenergize.
The Blues, who conducted a lengthy practice Thursday at St. Louis Mills in preparation for home games Friday against Toronto and Saturday against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, will send three Olympians (David Backes and Erik Johnson for Team USA) and Roman Polak (Czech Republic) to Vancouver but for the rest, it will be time to rest.
Some players will partake in some sun and fun at exotic resorts, some will just go home (wherever home is) and get away from the frozen water and get themselves refocused for the stretch run.
For the Blues, that means 20 more games of battling for a berth in the Western Conference playoffs, but for the time being, once the clock strikes midnight on Saturday night, hockey will be the furthest thing for most of these guys.
"With the way our schedule's been and the travel, it's kind of welcomed," said goalie Chris Mason, a Red Deer, Alberta native who will grab his wife Courtney and daughter Avery and head down to Cancun. "It's been a pretty tough month-and-a-half with the schedule, but I think we're planning on going down to Cancun for a few days. It'll be weird not doing anything in the middle of the season."
Brad Boyes is also among those that wants to enjoy the sun in Mexico, but the Mississauga, Ontario native will also spread his time between Mexico and Canada.
"I'm going down to (Riviera Maya) Mexico," Boyes said. "And then my girlfriend and I are going back to Toronto for a couple days.
"A little warmth, (then) the freezing and back down here."
Then, there's T.J. Oshie, who wants nothing to do with sunburns and sandy beaches. He's going home to North Dakota.
"Just go back home -- just relax," Oshie said when asked what his two weeks will consist of. "No beaches, no Florida, no Mexico. Just hang out.
"I think everyone's looking forward to it. Kind of a win-win. You get a good break and you get to relax and come back strong in a couple weeks or you play in the Olympics."
Count Blues coach Davis Payne among the those looking for a little R&R. He'll go back to Peoria to spend time with wife Jane and two daughters. They've all been shuffling back and forth between St. Louis and Peoria since the 39-year-old was named to replace Andy Murray as coach on Jan. 2.
"I'm going to apply that theory as well. I've got some reconnect with the family," Payne said. "It's been six weeks I haven't been home. We've had our visits back and forth and lots of phone conversations, but that reconnect and family time is what I'm looking forward to."
Payne doesn't necessarily think that the Blues (26-25-9) will benefit from having so much time off. He feels this is the time all teams grin and bear the grind of the season as teams jockey for postseason position or fight for their playoff lives.
"I don't know if you can look at that as good, bad or indifferent," Payne said regarding the time off. "I always think that the grind of the season is what forges your mental toughness. Everybody has to go through games 50-65 and get into the 70s, that positioning that starts to kind of boost up your awareness going down the stretch. The teams that are able to grind through that part of the schedule and have success usually set themselves up for a pretty good positioning and obviously a pretty good spot mentally for the last 10-, 15-, 20-games."
Payne added, "I think everybody will be in the same boat. Everybody should come back refreshed (and) recharged. It won't be something that you have to deal with. It'll be everybody hitting the ground full speed, recharged. It should make for some pretty good tempo. To me, that mental challenge of grinding through that part of the season is something you want to take some pride in, you want to face head-on, you want to deal with it, you want to consider it to be something your team gets stronger with."
The Blues can only hope they have positive results moving forward from this weekend, then they'll worry about the home stretch.
"Our season's on the line. That's it for us," Mason said. "We've got to get our eggs in our basket. ... We've got to put efforts on the line every single night because we can't afford to give any more points away."