Monday, October 13, 2014

Bonding Blues look to grow in California

Team departed after Saturday game for Palm Springs 
ahead of three-game trip to Los Angeles, Arizona and Anaheim

ST. LOUIS -- It was a lengthy flight of four hours to begin with for the Blues, but the travel became pleasant one instead of a longer journey following a victory.

The Blues (1-1-0) took off for Palm Springs, Calif. following their 4-1 victory against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

The Blues left for California to spend a few days away together ahead of the first away games that will take them to Los Angeles on Thursday, Arizona on Saturday and Anaheim on Sunday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott (1) gets congratulations from Ryan Reaves and Kevin
Shattenkirk (right) after the Blues' first win of the season Saturday night.

It's a chance to grow as a team, just like they did last season during a week-long trip to Charleston, S.C. when the Blues had an unusual week off between games in October. But according to coach Ken Hitchcock, it's a few days that will be spent growing together and prepare for an early-season tough test.

"To be honest with you, we've had no time together as a team," Hitchcock said after the victory Saturday. "We're not a team yet, and we've had no social time together. We've had no fun together. It's just been training camp, exhibition games, start of the season. There's been no building and bonding that's gone on. Everybody goes home, there's no quality time together. 

"This is a terrific opportunity if we take advantage of it. We've got lots of time with each other, we've got lots of practices planned. The players have a lot of stuff that they can do. It's a great place to relax and enjoy yourself. Quite frankly, we need to do that. We need to start having a little fun here so we can build a little bit better bond than we've got right now. We're an OK team right now, but we're not near as tight and cohesive as we need to be. Hopefully this can do it. ... We've got to take another big step here. Win lose or draw, we've got to take steps. We're playing three really good teams, and we've got to show that we can play with them. I think we will."

It's a time for those familiar to get re-acquainted as teammates, and it's a chance for those who are new to get familiarized with their new teammates.

"The wife's sick right now, so I get away from her and try to get the flu bug out of me," center Paul Stastny, who leads the Blues with four points through two games,  joked. "When you go on the road, you hang out with the guys, get to know them a little better. 

"That's one of the fun parts of playing hockey, doing those road trips. Going out west, we get to go out a couple days early to do a little team bonding, so it should be fun."

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had three assists against the Flames on Saturday, agreed.

"We've had time here in the locker room, but we haven't really had real time on the road together," Shattenkirk said. "It's going to be fun to get to know some of these guys, allow them to get comfortable and feel comfortable in this locker room with the team. 

":It's really just a great time to get out of St. Louis and just get ready for the season. This is what you kind of get used to as the season goes along; be able to do this with a little more of a casual manner. Getting on the road early and get ready for L.A.'s going to be nice."

The Blues were able to connect with the hockey fans in Charleston last season and hope to do so in California, although they're close to enemy territory with fans of the Kings and Ducks so close.

"I'm sure there will be some youth hockey kids that come out like we (had) in Charleston (S.C.) last time," captain David Backes said. "It's fun. You connect with the community a little bit. They're hosting us, they're always treating us really well."

But it's important to put in the practice time as well, as the Blues -- who lost 3-2 to the New York Rangers to open the season -- get geared up for some big-bodied Western Conference foes on the docket.

"We've played the Eastern Conference champs, now we're going to play the Stanley Cup champs two out of our first three games," Backes said of the Kings. "It's going to be another measuring  stick, but we've got to show that we're up to that level and that we can play that hard, heavy game and let that skill element that we definitely have kick in when we get our chances rather than try to make that carry the game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes is looking for the Blues to bond with the hockey
fans of south California as the team spends a few days out west.

"I'm sure Hitch will have some things we'll pick apart and we'll focus on getting pucks to the net, finding rebounds, finding that heavy game."

It's early in the season, but these are the types of opponents the Blues will have to measure up against when it's all said and done at the end of the season.

"Just trying to get better every day and not really wasting those days," goalie Brian Elliott said. "It's an opportunity to get together and get your stories and go out to a couple dinners. Those are always good for the team  morale. But you're wanting to make sure you're not wasting those days. You want to get on the ice, work hard and get off and enjoy yourself after.

"They're going to be measuring sticks. You want to come out hard and show teams what you're made of. Build your momentum for the rest of the year."

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