Friday, October 28, 2016

Determined to stay in game, Reaves changed playing style

Blues winger, known more for physical play, 
altered training style to fit today's NHL game

ST. LOUIS -- It started with a knee injury before it ultimately led to being in and out of the lineup.

It wasn't the way Ryan Reaves envisioned last season going for him, so instead of pouting over what didn't happen, the Winnipeg native took matters into his own hands to make himself a better player, one more equipped to suit today's quicker NHL.

Reaves altered his summer workout regimen, which included coming down to St. Louis twice during the summer and spent a week at a time working with Blues assistant coach/video coach Sean Ferrell working on ice and off the ice.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) lays a check on former
teammate and Nashville's Barret Jackman last season.

Ferrell filmed the on ice work, sent it to Reaves and he took the information back with him to Winnipeg to extend the training at home.

Ultimately, Reaves wants to get away from the reputation of being a hockey tough guy, one that uses his minutes looking specifically for physical play.

The game has changed, the times have changed and Reaves has changed.

He came back from his knee injury and things didn't feel right, and when he started going in and out of the lineup, that called for change.

"I think it kind of started the beginning of last season when I had the knee injury and when I came back, I wasn't really fast enough," said Reaves, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 224 pounds in his seventh season with the Blues. "The pace of the game was too quick for me and I could tell and 'Hitch' could definitely tell, and at the end of the season, you could tell the game's speeding up. I wanted to get a little faster so I just changed up a little bit how I worked out and a few things I do over the summer. I feel a lot better this year.

"I'm definitely leaner, I'm down about five pounds. I think the biggest thing I can tell is I feel faster. Over the summer, I did a lot more explosive jumping, explosive movements. I did a lot of work with weight vests off the ice. Jumping with weight vests, doing sprints on ice with weight vests. I feel like that helped my speed big time."

In a 2-1 shootout loss to Detroit Thursday, even though he only played 6 minutes, 49 seconds, Reaves made an impact on the ice. He and linemates Kyle Brodziak and Dmitrij Jaskin (usually Scottie Upshall) played with the puck in the offensive zone and Reaves, who doesn't have a point this season and is coming off a four-point season in 64 regular season games last year, had the penchant of getting to pucks quicker and retrieving them.

He's not just going on the ice looking to fire up the crowd with some bone-crunching hit in the corner of the offensive zone or in the middle of the ice. Reaves is trying to make a difference on the ice, and for the team.

"I think the biggest thing I notice in my game is, and I'm sure other people notice is my hits are down," Reaves said. "I think mainly because ... I think when I get in trouble sometimes is when I go out in a game and all I want to do is hit guys, and I find that ... yeah, OK, I may lay a big hit into somebody, but all of the sudden, the puck's going back into our zone and yeah, it's good for the crowd and make some noise, but it doesn't really help the play. I've cut out chasing hits. I'm definitely not going to pass up one if an opportunity comes, but I'm not going in hitting just to hit. I'm trying to play a little more positionally sound and also I feel like I'm getting to pucks before other guys now. I feel like I'm arriving before I need to hit them; I'm getting to the puck. I think that's the two things that have changed in my game.

"I think using my speed and a little bit of my reputation where guys think I'm going to go lay the body no matter what. Sometimes they might hesitate a little bit to go to the puck. I think it's allowing me to get there quicker and get there first sometimes. I think I can let my speed and my reputation do a little play for me now."

Coach Ken Hitchcock likes the results of the new changes.

"Ryan had no choice but to change because he saw where the league's going, it's not going backwards and he's had to make adjustments, so he's had to get quicker, he had to get faster, he's had to have more endurance and there's been a lot of guys that have refused to make that adjustment and they've just said, 'No, I am who I am and I'm not going to change,' but he changed," Hitchcock said. "So his agility on the ice, his quickness to get to spots, his movement on the ice is much more fluid and it's allowed him to be relevant in the game."

Sitting is not an option anymore, and Reaves -- thus far -- has made sure of it.

At least through the early part of the season.

"That was a big part. I hate watching hockey," Reaves said. "I love being in the battle with the boys, and I want to try and extend my career. I got into this league my changing the style of play from what I was in junior and my first year in Peoria. And the game's changing again. If I want to extend my career a couple more years, I've got to adapt with it. I don't know anything but hockey; that's been my life. I've got to do whatever I can to stay in this league. I want to play on this team. This is all I know and I don't want to leave here, so whatever I gotta do to stay in this lineup is what I've got to do.

"Everyone knows I love the physical style of play. I love the physical part of the game, but if just being a physical player's going to run me out of the league, then I've got to change up a little bit. That's how it is."

Hitchcock has received the message clearly and would rather it play out this way.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) gives chase to Dallas' Travis Moen 
during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

"It's not just the option, he's had a great attitude and a great work ethic and it's allowed him to stay in the lineup on a nightly basis," Hitchcock said. "He's an effective player, but there's sometimes you think you need ore from a certain position, but he hasn't given us that option because of the way he's performed. He's performed at a high level."

If the offense comes, great. But for Reaves, adapting and adjusting to change was necessary to extending his NHL shelf life. 

"Obvously no points yet, but I think our line has been in the offensive zone a lot more than we usually are," said Reaves, who has 20 goals and 38 points in 347 NHL games. "We've had a couple meetings together about playing more positionally sound and trying to get every puck that we can to the net. But when we start going out and just trying to make something happen and go lay a body out, then that's when we're back-checking all the time ... maybe not Brodziak ... but making sure we're in the right position and we're supporting each other, supporting the puck all the time, making sure everything's going to the net is kind of been the focus for us."

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