Workouts are anything but light, former Blue Jamie Rivers and staff putting
players through midseason workouts by design because players asking for them
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Informal skates are normally meant for players to get their legs under them and give them a bit of a head start prior to going through the rigors of training camp.
Most guys tend to show up a week or more ahead of the start of training camp to get the feel for the puck, get the timing down and all the other little nuances of the NHL game.
Players try to kick out the pond hockey type of mentality but with no hitting and/or physicality, it's a little hard doing that.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Alex Pietrangelo has led the way with skating during the
summer workouts with teammates preparing for 2018-19.
Don't tell that to the Blues and former Blue Jamie Rivers, who along with his staff of Synergy Hockey have been the organizers and daily planners for the past five weeks in organizing the Blues' informal workouts.
What began as a group of seven or so guys the first week of August has turned into a full squad led by leaders/veteran players Alex Pietrangelo, Alexander Steen and Chris Thorburn.
And Rivers, who played for the Blues from 1995-99 and again in 2006-07, along with Synergy Hockey instructors/coaches Mike Berra and Mike Richards, are having the time of their lives working with professionals who are more than motivated to make the 2018-19 season a special one.
Players have decided that a change in attitude, dedication and work ethic was needed, and the culture change of not making the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons needed to be a focal point and it's started with the summer training.
"It's been pretty incredible really to come from an era when I played where the off-ice skates were just pickup hockey, maybe 3-on-3, 4-on-4, have fun, get your legs going," Rivers said. "These guys have been going hard for a month now and it's been very structured with skill work, very structured with practices. They've been demanding that they get midseason practices right now, and we've got 20, 25, sometimes 30 guys on the ice."
And not just any guys, it's Pietrangelo, a recent father of triplets; Steen, Thorburn, Pat Maroon, Vladimir Tarasenko and Colton Parayko who have been going for more than a month now. Robby Fabbri, Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Joel Edmundson, Vince Dunn, Tyler Bozak and now David Perron has joined in on the workouts, and judging by Friday when it was O'Reilly, Schenn and Pietrangelo who stayed on the ice long after the team's hour-long workout was done getting in extra work, it shows how this group wants to get more than a leg up on the start of training camp.
"It surprised me big time because we went from seven, eight guys to 20 guys and they're really asking for that up-tempo practice, just like a regular season," Rivers said. "They don't want to think about it, they just want to work and work and work. Pace is a big thing obviously, so we try to keep up the pace as fast we can to simulate game situations and to get them in shape. A lot of these guys are going out before practice, doing practice and staying after practice for 30, 40, 50 minutes. The work ethic and the dedication that I've seen with this group is really something special.
"It kind of rests on the shoulders of 'Petro' and 'Steener.' O'Reilly just came into town, so he hasn't been here for the bulk of this, but 'Petro,' when he approached me to come out and start running these, was very specific in what he was looking for. 'Steener' the same thing, and that's your leadership group. I think that it's been weighing on these guys that maybe they didn't have the success that they wanted last year. Certainly they didn't make the playoffs and that stings in a city that's been spoiled for years of playoffs and not a Stanley Cup yet unfortunately, but years of playoffs, these guys have had to answer a lot of questions and I think that they don't want that to happen again, so they got out there early. Vladi's been out here for the last month, Fabbri, Pietrangelo, 'Steener,' O'Reilly, all these guys, Patty Maroon, that's the group of guys that's taking the ice every day and pushing themselves. How can you be a middle of the pack player or a young player and not be doing it too? I think that's the biggest difference is you have your leadership group that's leading the way and everybody has to file in and try to keep up."
Rivers was asked about what he's seen from a number of players and here are his takes:
On Ryan O'Reilly: Wow! I see now why he was paid so high, honestly. Everybody has question marks around guys' salaries. I think that was one of the biggest discussions when the trade was being made in and around there was, 'Wow, he makes a lot of money.' I'm seeing now why he does. His skill level is through the roof, his work level is through the roof. You can see that he pushes himself to the brink every day, and in doing so, it's pushing other guys to that spot, so the combination of his skill level and his work ethic, and obviously his locker room presence, is going to be huge for the Blues.
On Tyler Bozak: Tyler Bozak is another guy that came in and it looks like he's been skating all summer. Another guy that's out here working hard, doesn't complain, doesn't ask questions. These guys are going hard. A very high skill level. These guys have been underrated is 1) we don't see them a lot, and 2) especially in Bozak's situation, you're coming from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, all of these guys that are so high-profiled, that you lose some of that fourth, fifth, sixth center guy or fourth forward and you don't know how good they are. The skill level of what could be four lines of forwards is pretty wild.
On Pat Maroon, who is coming off back surgery to repair a herniated disc: He looks great. His back, I think that Patty would say that he was a little apprehensive a month and a half ago, a month ago, but he's been out there doing all this work as well. I don't see any restrictions on this guy. Now we haven't started any full contact, and we won't do full contact, but to me, he looks 100 percent ready for any type of game situation. Contact is on the doctors. What he adds to the team is really unique. Certainly you look at his size, his toughness, but from the offensive blue line to the goal line, I don't know if there's a guy that's better in the NHL, and that's a bold statement. His hands are incredible, his vision of the ice and his puck protection skills are much like Joe Thornton, and it's pretty wild to see it because once again, we haven't seen him a lot because he's in Anaheim or he's in Edmonton, a couple games here or there. If Patty Maroon gets off on the right foot and he's healthy, this could be a 20-, 30-goal scorer easily.
On Robby Fabbri: Fabs looks great. He doesn't look 100 percent just yet or maybe he's holding back because he's trying to be intelligent about it, but he's been energetic, he's having a good time out there, you see he's going hard, he's going for loose pucks, he's challenging himself. It doesn't look like he's holding back, and when he gets the puck on his stick, he makes things happen.
On David Perron: Another guy who's really highly skilled. He had this season last year of what, 60-plus points, and he looks great. He's a guy that craves for more work, extra work, extra skill.
On Brayden Schenn: Another guy that you look at and you're like, 'Wow.' He had what we would say is a breakout season. Now he's going harder than ever. The possibilities are endless.
On Colton Parayko: A guy that has a shot that hard to begin with, he's a weapon out there, certainly on the power play, and there's a couple little things we kind of picked up on when he was shooting and reasons why he'd be losing a couple miles per hour if that's possible when you're Colton Parayko. Or possibility some accuracy. We've been trying to focus on keeping his weight down on the puck instead of coming out of his stance. To me, it looks like there's a big difference. He's firing that puck and out of 10 shots, he's hitting the net eight times and they're laser beams. Goalies and penalty killers beware out there. This guy seems to have figured out what he's doing out there and it's going to be dangerous.
On Carl Gunnerson and Jay Bouwmeester, coming off of a torn ACL and hip surgeries, respectively: Every time one of these guys takes the ice, it's our responsibility to ask them, 'What are your restrictions?' Because the last thing you want in an informal summer skate and an outsider running them is to put them in a situation where they're at risk. I don't need that, they don't need that, 'Army' doesn't need that, 'Yeozy' doesn't need that. They said no restrictions. Obviously we're not doing contact, so they're not expecting us to do 5-on-5 battle drill down low. Gunny looks really good. I'm not sure if he's cleared 100 percent yet, but he looks like he could be. Bouwmeester the same. They look like they could be right there. These guys should be, if not healthy for training camp, certainly 100 percent for the regular season.
"Looking at this team, I see a bunch of guys who are highly skilled and they're just craving that extra work," Rivers said. "They're pushing each other.
|(Buffalo Sabres photo)|
Former Blue and organizer of informal skates Jamie Rivers
called Ryan O'Reilly (pictured) one of the hardest workers he's
"Schwartzy looks healthy, you've got Brayden Schenn, O'Reilly, we just named a few of the other guys. You're nine, 10, 11 forwards deep with high end skill and these guys are out here working that hard. A lot of these times you have high end skill and these guys feel like it's okay to save it or, not cut corners, but keep the gas in the tank. These guys are leaving here every day with nothing left in the tank. That's self-inflicted."
For guys that work with kids on a regular basis, it's been quite refreshing working with NHL players and maximizing the benefits they're looking for.
"I love it," Rivers said. "It's so much fun to work with all the kids and the junior players, but it's a whole other level to work with NHL players and some of the best players in the world that are out here going top speed snapping the puck around at top speed, tape to tape, their shots are hitting the corners. What's amazing and fun about it is they crave more and more work, and that's fun. Back in my day, it seemed almost like punishment to do extra work before practice or after, like you were in the dog house. That's changed, which is great. These guys are putting in all this time and work and it's a lot of fun to be a part of it. It's an honor to be asked to help out and a lot of fun to do it."