Sunday, November 29, 2015

Veteran Upshall ready when number called on

Blues winger understands role, provided game-winning goal in win Saturday

ST. LOUIS -- Scottie Upshall understands the drill.

A veteran of 13 seasons who came into Blues camp this season without a job having to earn a contract, the 32-year-old Fort McMurray, Alberta native is grateful for the opportunity to play whenever his number is called.

Upshall, who earned himself a one-year, two-way contract worth $600,000 for the season, was a healthy scratch in the Blues' 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. It's not the first time and likely won't be the last time.

It's the nature of the business and the way the Blues (15-6-3) are constructed to utilize a particular lineup on a game-by-game basis, when Upshall is inserted into the lineup, he'll be asked to provide spark, grit, energy and the occasional offensive production.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scottie Upshall (left) has given the Blues solid minutes when his number
is called upon to play. 

The ladder came in the form of a game-winning goal in a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.

Upshall, who has four goals in 18 games this season and has 22 game-winners in his NHL career, had what was needed of him from the opening drop of the puck.

"I'm confident with the way my game is," Upshall said. "I've played in big games before, been on great teams. But this feeling in this room is really special. I've said that since Day 1. It's the guys inside the room that lead and ply for each other. It's a great group of guys. We've got a great goaltending duo, we've got great defense and then with our star players scoring two or three goals a night, it makes it tough for teams to beat us and that's our attitude."

Upshall and Scott Gomez, another professional tryout signee, understand the circumstances. They know they won't play 82 games a season anymore. But when they are called upon, the Blues will look for them to play within their element and give the team the best chance to win.

"It's their job to play, it's my job to monitor the energy they bring," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Those guys have been through a lot. They're not big guys. They've been through a lot. They're gonna be needed down the line here. Gomez is going to get in in the next couple games. He's going to get back in the lineup, he's going to have to contribute, but we've also gotta pay respect for guys that have played and gone through the wear and tear of it, guys like (Upshall) have. 

"Nobody's happy not playing every night, but you've got to get your 'A' game out there or else there's no point in just playing. When they play, we want them to play well and that's what they've done for the most part."

Upshall was in on the forecheck that helped force the turnover before scoring a goal, a shot in which he patiently outwaited Jackets defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk before firing a wrister upstairs over the glove of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

"He played great," left wing Alexander Steen said of Upshall after the game Saturday. "He had a lot of energy after the first. 

"We go around the room talking about what's been good and the first period, 'Uppy' had some really good legs. You could tell he was going to have a good game. He had a couple shifts where he banged some bodies around, got some shots off and it looked like he was feeling it today."

As a veteran player told to sit, it's understandable if one has a chip on his shoulder. They've been there, done that. But for the Blues, who support each other no matter who plays, it's been a great system in light of some injuries that could have decimated a team. The positive reinforcement has allowed the Blues to stay afloat in the standings as guys return to the lineup. They call it a competitive spirit that's enabled them to overcome obstacles, including deficits early in games.

"I would say the best way to describe it is the players are genuinely happy for each other," Hitchcock said. "There's a camaraderie that creates the chemistry that's been going on since Gomez and Upshall came in. They're veteran players who have really good spirit, good team spirit and I think when you see veteran players who are unselfish like those two are, I think it rubs off on guys the right way. But there's a genuine excitement for somebody else having success other than yourself and I think that creates that spirit where they're cheering for each other, they're trying to help each other, and I think it goes a long ways into why we've got the points we do right now."

Teammates agreed.

"Every time he's been in the lineup, he's brought a lot of energy, a lot of grit," goalie Jake Allen said of Upshall. "He doesn't get rewarded sometimes on the scoresheet like some other guys do, but it was great to see tonight. He does have a good shot. The hardest thing in hockey is getting the shot off. When he got that off, he made no mistake."

"He's been real good for us," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Upshall. "He's been bringing a lot of energy, is great in the room. (Good) to see a guy like that get rewarded, comes into camp, played well. ... A guy like 'Gomer' or 'Uppy.' Those guys bring a lot of energy into our lineup. Good teammates, all of them."

So if Upshall is scratched again, don't be surprised. But knowing you don't have to have eyes in the back of your head, Upshall can just go out and play. And when his number is called on, he'll be ready to work.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
When Scottie Upshall (front) scores, there's usually a lively flare that
tends to do along with the goal celebration.
"I finally just felt like you're not worried about making mistakes," said Upshall, who has 119 goals and 119 assists in 571 NHL games. "You're out there doing a job and you're out there doing it as best as you can. This group in here, they're a great hockey team, 25 guys deep. On any given night, guys have got to step up and play hard and do a little extra. When you feel like you've got it, you've just got to keep running with it and continue to play hard and keep your legs going. Everyone's been chipping in over the last 10 games. We're in the tough part of the schedule, so we've just got to keep going in these games at home to put us in a good spot going forward."

And when Upshall chips in, there will always be the penchant for the vivacious goal celebration.

"I like scoring," Upshall said. "I used to do a lot of it."

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