Playing for native country worthwhile
experience for young Blues defenseman
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As Roman Polak sat at his stall inside the Blues' locker room at St. Louis Mills' Ice Zone, he didn't waste any time poking fun at his defensive partner Barret Jackman.
"I did (miss him)," Polak said Sunday. "I was just wearing this number and I was telling him he can have it back. I don't want it anymore. He was joking and said, 'Is it too heavy?' I said yeah, I couldn't skate with the number."
Jackman did chime in with, "It was too heavy for him. He couldn't handle it."
That number being No. 5, Polak's number with the Czech Republic at the Winter Olympics, and Jackman's number with the Blues.
Polak and Jackman, a steady and stalwart defensive pairing for the Blues all season long, didn't take long to get reacquainted with one another.
They'll get to do so once again here as they try to lead the Blues (28-25-9) back into the playoffs.
But Polak, 23, first needs to settle into his familiar surroundings after spending the last two weeks playing for his native country.
And although Polak did not come home with one of three coveted medals, the Olympic experience for the Ostrava, Czech Republic native is something he can cherish for the rest of his life.
"It was a great experience, especially in Canada," Polak said. "There was lots of fun in Canada. We didn't finished like I wanted to, but that's hockey. Everything else was great. The Olympic village, you can actually walk to it, it was a 10-minute walk.
"(Not medaling's) the biggest disappointment. I thought we were going to play better that that. Even myself, I thought I was going to be playing better so I was kind of disappointed with my play, with my game, too, a little bit. I had two great games, and then I just shut down and that wasn't good enough."
Polak got his fix of all things Olympics while in Vancouver. From the Olympic village, which he said was within 10 minutes walking distance to a 24-hour McDonald's, Polak experienced something he didn't think would be as lavish and extravagant.
"I was kind of thinking it was going to be like the World Championships last year, but it was not even close because everybody lives for the Olympics," Polak said. "In Vancouver, I saw a lot of people walking the streets because it's the Olympics and wearing the jerseys, all kinds. Russia, Canada, USA, it didn't matter. I was excited about it. I liked walking the streets and watching the people around me."
But now that it's back to the NHL grind, Polak said fatigue is not a problem. He's focused on helping the Blues get back into the playoffs.
"Right now, I'm focusing on the season," he said. "We've got 20 games left and we have to make the playoffs. Through the Olympics, I was focusing on that, but right now, it's done. I have to focus on the season to make the playoffs. It's a big goal for us."
With both of Team USA's Blues participants David Backes and Erik Johnson set to join the Blues tonight in Phoenix, and with Polak's experience with the Czechs, wear and tear may affect these guys.
But Polak says game on. Let the season resume.
"We have over a month left and 20 games, so it's a tough schedule, but it doesn't matter," Polak said. "There is no excuse for it. We have to just play the games, and I'm ready for them."
* King to get opportunity? -- With Cam Janssen's five-game suspension, an opportunity is about to rise with another of the Blues' enforcers, D.J. King.
King, who has skated in only four games over the last two seasons because of various injuries, likely will step into the Blues' lineup at least until Janssen is eligible to return from suspension.
The Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan native is looking forward to contributing to the Blues' cause.
"It's obviously not the way you want to get in, but even when (Janssen) was healthy, I just worked hard and got ready for the chance to play," King said. "You just play hard when you get into the lineup.
"Just because I haven't played so much hockey, the hunger's always there for sure. I've only played so many games over the last few years and I'm eager to play. I've been waiting a long time. Obviously with the situation I'm in right now, I'm going to get a good shot, but I've been hungry for a long time."
Both Janssen and King play similar roles, and despite Janssen's suspension, King -- just like Janssen -- said he won't change his style.
"There's obviously no reason to change," he said. "I know my role on this team. I'm going to play it how I know best."