By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ian Cole is the odd-man out, Tyson Strachan and Alex Pietrangelo are in as the Blues made final roster cuts Tuesday, finalizing their opening day roster.
The competition for the final two defensive pairings were fierce and competitive, but both Strachan and Pietrangelo made the grade.
With Cole being sent to Peoria, that means both Strachan and Pietrangelo will be among the top seven defensemen when the Blues open the season Saturday against Philadelphia.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said the decision on Pietrangelo was an easy one because he offered an immediate need.
"When we looked at our team, what player best complemented what we needed, we thought that Petro's offense (was needed)," Armstrong said. "What we want to do is be a good transition team, and we'd like to increase our offense, not only from the blueline but all three zones. Petro has the ability to make the transition pass and then become involved in offense. The three left-handed shots and three right-handed also worked in his favor. He's best fit for our group.
"One of the things that will work in Petro's favor is that he creates that offense ... Petro brings that element that helps our team."
Pietrangelo, the team's top pick and fourth overall in 2008, has been told the previous two seasons after a nine-game NHL stint that he would return to his junior squad, first Niagara then Barrie. The news was more pleasing this time around.
"It's a relief. It's exciting," Pietrangelo said. "It'll probably hit me more on Saturday during the home opener, if I'm playing. But it's exciting. I've enjoyed the process here ... it's been a pretty good competition. We've been pushing each other pretty good, the guys that have been sticking around.
"It's a relief, that's probably the best way to put it. But at the same time it's only a start right? There's guys breathing down your neck, trying to get the same spot. You've just got to keep playing, keep pushing forward. They said the same thing I'm saying right now ... it's just a start and you've got to just keep pushing forward."
Strachan, who signed a one-year contract after being a restricted free agent this summer, spent parts of three seasons in Peoria after the Blues signed the Melfort, Saskatchewan native as a free agent in 2008.
"It's a pretty exciting feeling," Strachan said. "... The last weeks here and so forth at camp have been pretty stressful at times. That's the only thing you can control is the on-ice stuff. To get that nod and knowing you're going to be here just gives you that little extra incentive. You have that excitement and you think of Saturday night. I've got to work hard here, hope I get into the lineup and I'm excited to play some hockey."
Armstrong said experience was obviously a feather in Strachan's cap, and that experience was enough to beat out Cole.
"His experience (was a plus), and it came down to Ian Cole," Armstrong said. "We wanted Ian as part of the six or playing quite a bit. Ian had an excellent camp, did all the things we asked and he's on the right track. We just want him to play. We feel right now Peoria is the best place for him to keep expanding."
Both Pietrangelo, 20, and Strachan, 25, feel like a heavy burden has been lifted and they can now focus on being in the lineup. One of them will likely be the odd-man out on game nights. Pietrangelo hopes he gets the call.
"Hopefully, and 'Strachs' will say the same thing ... hopefully you're playing every night. But you don't really know," said Pietrangelo, a King City, Ontario native. "The big thing for me is, keep playing, keep earning my spot and keep showing that I belong here. It's an 82-game season, so there's lots of time to get better and there's lots of time to make mistakes. But hopefully it stays on the positive side.
"I'm feeling a lot more confident these past couple of days. I've got to go out there Thursday and Friday and have a good practice and Saturday is a big start to the season."
Strachan's road has seen more time in the minors than any. An Ohio State grad, Strachan saw time in Las Vegas of the East Coast Hockey League before settling in at Peoria or parts of the past three seasons.
Strachan did play in 30 games with the Blues in 2008-09, registering three assists and in eight games last season, he picked up two assists.
"Every year, I looked at it as a steppingstone and that's the way I needed to get better," Strachan said. "It's all about the mindset you have when you're there. It can be a great opportunity. I think I took advantage of all the coaching opportunities I had down there. I obviously last year played a lot of minutes. I used that to my advantage and just came in here this year in good shape and spent the summer and was ready to go."
Strachan did go on to say Cole will one day be in the NHL and that playing in the minors might be a blessing in disguise.
"After being a guy that came through the minors, you look at it as an opportunity and a kid like him that's so young and talented, those experiences of playing down there are very valuable. It really is," Strachan said. "Playing down there will be really good for him. I obviously feel terrible for him, but I know he's going to have an opportunity to play a lot of minutes down there. He'll be beating down the door trying to get back up here."