McDonald, Oshie, McRae tops in fitness testing;
camp opens with short amount of time to work
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Judging by their abilities to ace the VO2 fitness testing Friday, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, Philip McRae, Roman Polak and Chris Porter are in top shape at this point of training camp.
The Blues opened camp Friday at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Mills with their customary fitness level testing, conducted by strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte and the aforementioned five were at the top of the charts.
McDonald, Oshie and McRae topped the list with 13.5 levels, followed by Polak and Porter at 13 levels.
The Blues opened training camp on Friday at St. Louis
"We can say it all we want, but I think you can just look at our first group of testing out there today and everyone's a stage higher for the most part than we were last year and the year before," Oshie said. "I think everyone's trained really hard. We've got the maturity level and the confidence to step out of the gate, hopefully be hot right out of the gate and try to carry it on from there."
McDonald, 34, is among the regulars when it comes to being at the top of the charts.
"It's what he does. He's a pro," Blues coach Davis Payne said of McDonald. "That's how pros do it. It doesn't matter what your age is. You work in the summer, you're disciplined, you make sure you come back at that level so that you start where you need to. It's a great example by him."
As far as Oshie making the upward climb?
"It's something we want to see out of all our guys, and Osh is one of those for sure," Payne said. "The better today looks and tomorrow morning looks for these guys, it means that you made a statement to yourself and to your teammates and to the organization that we mean business here, and arriving in camp in peak condition is exactly that."
It's the Blues' MO this season, leading by example. And it all begins with the opening of another camp that carries lofty expectations that the players expect, deserve and crave.
"Everyone was excited to be back and kind of show that they've been working hard all summer," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We'll get some good practices going tomorrow and get ready for Tuesday.
"Without a doubt, I think (the expectations are) something that we all love. When you see the expectations people have for us, I think we've set our bar higher and expect more than the media or other teams around the league. I think it's really a chance this year to prove ourselves, come in and really make some noise."
Or as defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo put it, "I'm speaking on my behalf and I hope I'm speaking on behalf of my teammates is that I'm sick and tired of watching the playoffs. That time of the year is the best time of the year to be a hockey player. I think that's got to be our mentality. Once you get in, anything can happen."
* McRae solid in tournament, gives up No. 38 -- McRae, who had a successful week with the Blues' prospects in Traverse City, has changed numbers and will go with No. 39 when playing with the Blues.
McRae wore No. 38 but decided to give it up out of respect for fallen former Blues Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev, both who perished in the fatal plane crash that took the lives of the entire Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team out of Russia.
"Just from growing up in St. Louis, I didn't know (Demitra) on a personal level. I remember he was a very nice person," McRae said Friday. "I just wanted to switch my number just out of respect for both families (after talking it over with team president John Davidson general manager Doug Armstrong). I felt like it was the right thing to do. Obviously, I feel I shouldn't be wearing it any more after that."
But now McRae's got some lofty shoes to fill wearing No. 39, with Kelly Chase and Doug Weight being former players, among others to wear the number.
"I always wore (No.) 9 as a kid so I don't mind having a nine in my jersey, but I'm sure once Chaser finds out he's going to be giving me a hard time," McRae said laughing.
McRae led all scorers with four goals and three assists in four games playing in Traverse City playing mostly alongside of Ty Rattie, the Blues' first pick (second round) this past summer.
"I think each year I feel more comfortable and know what to expect," McRae said. "That always helps. It was unfortunate that we lost the first game and didn't get a chance to play for first place, but we were able to win our last three games and have a strong finish. I felt like everyone got better as the tournament went on.
"... I've been at the Mills skating with all the NHL guys. Then when I went up here, I'm one of the older guys. There's a lot of kids that were just drafted. I think I worked hard this summer and it paid off up there."
Rattie finished with two goals and four assists and goalie Jake Allen was 2-1-0 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .920 save percentage while stopping 104 pucks, or 32 more than the next competitor.
* Blue-Gold teams set -- The Blues will split up their camp roster into two squads, with the the Blue team opening up Tuesday against Tampa Bay and the Gold team the next night and so forth.
Here is the list of players and who they will represent:
Evgeny Grachev-David Backes-Jamie Langenbrunner
Alex Steen-Jason Arnott-Jonathan Cheechoo
Matt D'Agostini-Philip McRae-Tyler Shattock
Chris Porter-Brett Sonne-B.J. Crombeen
Anthony Nigro-Ryan Tesink-Anthony Peluso
Derek Nesbitt-???????-Cody Beach
Carlo Colaiacovo-Roman Polak
Danny Syvret-Kevin Shattenkirk
Brett Ponich-David Shields
Mark Cundari-Brock Beukeboom
Brian Elliott-Ben Bishop-Jordan Binnington
ForwardsBrett Sterling-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Andy McDonald-T.J. Hensick-T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Stefan Della Rovere-Adam Cracknell-Jay Barriball
Yannick Veilleux-Stephen MacAulay-Ty Rattie
Kyle Hagel-???????-Chase Polacek
Kent Huskins-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Ian Cole
Nikita Nikitin-Brennan Evans
Cade Fairchild-Jake Gannon
Jaroslav Halak-Jake Allen
For the Blues, it will be three days of pucks on the ice before opening exhibition play Tuesday at Scottrade Center against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"That day is gone. Training camp's short," Payne said. "Exhibition games come right away, and these guys come ready to play. Even the two and a half days doesn't seem like it's a lot of practice time, but in reality, these guys are game-ready. For some of them, probably as game-ready as they'll be all season. We can get right at it, we can get evaluated and then make some decisions."
So what will the first few days entail?
"We've got to cover some of our structural stuff," Payne said. "Some of the things that we've adopted and made some changes to. We've got to make sure these guys see and feel and understand exactly what we're looking for once the exhibition games start. There's going to be a large focus on that, and we want all these guys to be on the best footing they can possibly be when we're asking for certain things to be done. As a player, you go out there and if you're thinking too much, then your performance probably isn't what you want to put on the ice. We want to make sure these guys have enough repititions so when we hit Tuesday, these guys have enough familiar feel to how they need to play, the areas they need to be and then they can just go out and perform so we can evaluate that."
With so little time to gel lines, Payne was asked if he'll get the veterans, or guys guaranteed to make the roster playing together or mixing and matching.
"We'll mix things up," he said. "We want to take a look at guys in situations where it fits their abilities. It creates opportunities for them to have success. We're going to ask fair questions. We need to provide them the opportunity to give a fair answer. If it's a skill guy, we want to make sure he's in that role with the type of players that he'll be able to have success with. ... We're going to find out what these guys can do at these levels with NHL players. That's how we're going to structure it."