By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Alex Steen remembers Keith Tkachuk as a kid, running around in the locker room in Winnipeg when Alex's dad, Thomas, was a teammate of the man they call 'Big Walt.'
It's quite the career when a player of Tkachuk's stature was around and successful long enough to play with a father-son combo.
"The best thing about Walt is the way he was off the ice," Alex Steen said. "He obviously was a terrific hockey player and what he did takes a lot of (guts) standing in front of that net for so long and getting hit with a puck by (T.J. Oshie in the mouth last season) like that ... pucks were whizzing by his face for a long time.
"The first day we got to Colorado and we played that night against Colorado, and afterwards we got on the bus and you don't really know anybody. Carlo (Colaiacovo) and I kind of stuck together when we're sitting on the bus and Walt kind of gave the old, 'Steener, get back here.' You felt like right away, he was trying to get you into the team. That's just part of the greatness Walt was."
Tkachuk, along with Red Berenson, Garry Unger and Joe Mullen will be recognized in a pregame ceremony in a Salute to No. 7 night prior to the Blues and Columbus matchup at 8 p.m. today.
Unger, who played in a Blues uniform from 1970-79, was in the locker room prior to today's morning skate and talked to the players of life as a Blue and the trials and tribulations he went through to become a professional.
But the players in the room today, most remember Tkachuk, who was their teammate a season ago before 'Big Walt' retired at the end of the season.
"It's great to have been able to play with greats like Walt," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "The accomplishments that he's had is far and above anything I have ever expected to be able to play with somebody. He was a great teammate, a great competitor and for him to be honored the way he is is pretty cool.
"He's such a fun guy, caring, great family man. He's the type of person I strive to be and the leader I strive to be. Any time spent with Walt is always fun."
Oshie had the privilege of sitting next to Tkachuk as a rookie and immediately took in the learning curve.
"You always know when he's in there, you always know where he's at," Oshie said. "I have a year's full of stuff sitting next to him my rookie year trying to learn what he does and mimic it the best I could.
"He taught me a lot. More so than hockey, just how to be a pro and how to go about your business away from the rink."
Blues coach Davis Payne said it's more than just playing a game tonight. It's about the history of Blues hockey, and the four players honored tonight are a big piece of it.
"Understand that tradition is built on consistency, tradition is built on effort, it's built on guys coming into this city and providing an atmosphere of team hockey," Payne said. "That's always been our focus here. When you look at four guys wearing the same number and having the type of careers that they have had, it provides that family-type atmosphere. That's how you have to win, that's how you have to win long-term. You have to have guys collected, focused with the same goal.
"It's a game that involves skating, it's a game that involves skill, but ultimately it's the tough areas that really define how the game's really played and how you win and lose. Keith's a guy who did that and played in those areas. We certainly have lots of example from him and lots of example that guys in our locker room are trying to follow."
The Blues have had similar ceremonies honoring previous greats, including Al MacInnis, Brett Hull, Bernie Federko to name a few.
"I really like these nights," Steen said. "It's nice for the Blues organization to show that appreciation. Not just to him but to the other three guys. It's a sacrifice on the body that these guys have done for the organization, for us players that have come in from the next generation that have come in after them. I think it's very important to acknowledge that, appreciate it and make sure they know that."
The Blues (28-28-9) will try to use the ceremony as motivation, attempting to snap a four-game slide and a 1-7 mark that has seen their record dip to .500.
"Playing Columbus tonight should be enough inspiration," Jackman said, "but to have a guy (Tkachuk) who's in this dressing room and went through the battles with the guy a year ago and him being honored is definitely something we've got to take pride in and show we're going to get his back and make the night more enjoyable for him."
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The Blues recalled center T.J. Hensick from Peoria, as B.J. Crombeen (upper-body) will miss the game and is listed as day-to-day, according to Payne.
Also, Roman Polak (lower-body) will miss the game with a foot injury.
"Poli's still dealing with discomfort, took a puck on the foot (in practice Friday)," Payne said. "Just trying to get comfortable to the point of getting back in there."
Goalie Jaroslav Halak, on injured reserve since Feb. 14 (hand), was on the ice this morning but deemed not available. He did practice fully with the team Sunday and Payne says the likelihood of a return to the lineup is soon.
"We're hoping to get him in one of these next couple games," Payne said, as the Blues play at Columbus Wednesday and host Montreal Thursday. "Another full day of practice tomorrow. Hopefully we wake up on Wednesday with him ready to go."
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Here is the probable lineup for the Blues tonight:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini
Chris Porter-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-T.J. Hensick-T.J. Oshie
Cam Janssen-Adam Cracknell-Ryan Reaves
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Ian Cole-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carlo Colaiacovo-Nikita Nikitin
Ty Conklin gets the start tonight. He's 3-0-2 with a 2.64 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and one shutout in his career against Columbus.
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The Jackets (31-26-7) are on the last leg of a five-game trip that has seen them hit the skids.
Columbus is 0-3-1 one trip, which is on the heels of a 8-1-1 stretch that saw the Jackets get back in the playoff race in the Western Conference.
Their probable lineup includes:
Rick Nash-Derek MacKenzie-Jakub Voracek
Matt Calvert-Antoine Vermette-R.J. Umberger
Derek Dorsett-Sammy Pahlsson-Scottie Upshall
Ethan Moreau-Kyle Wilson-Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin-Marc Methot
Jan Hejda-Craig Rivet
Kris Russell-Grant Clitsome
Steve Mason is expected to get the start in goal. He's 2-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .941 save percentage in two starts this season against the Blues but is just 4-5-1 with a 2.89 GAA and .889 save percentage in his career against St. Louis.