Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Playing in Europe easy for some, not so for others

Blues veterans don't appear ready to bolt; McDonald
said decision should be easy for younger teammates

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- If the current NHL lockout has a prolonged effect to it, veteran Blues forward Andy McDonald feels he has a wise piece of advice for some of his younger teammates.

"I encourage all of our younger players to go play," the 35-year-old McDonald said recently.

When McDonald, a veteran of 11 NHL seasons, says "go play," he's unfortunately talking about a last resort. That last resort would be to go play overseas in Europe, whether it be the KHL in Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, anyplace where the hockey is competitive.

With the lockout -- in full effect since Sept. 16 -- now running into November and on the verge of wiping out the annual Winter Classic and on the cusp of eliminating the all-star game in Columbus, there seems to be no end in sight despite players staying positive that a deal can be reached.

(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald will not be uprooting his family for the
chance to play in Europe should the NHL lockout last.
The Blues already have eight players performing in rinks all across Europe. With Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund (Sweden), Chris Stewart, Roman Polak and Vladimir Sobotka (Czech Republic), Kris Russell (Finland), Matt D'Agostini (Germany) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia), they are well-represented on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Blues, who have had regulars on a consistent basis working out and skating at the Hardees IcePlex, have been represented well in their informal skates. There have been a number of veterans skating with McDonald, Scott Nichol, Jamie Langenbrunner, Barret Jackman, David Backes and Brian Elliott as well as a younger core of players, including T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and even David Perron, who trained here last week.

The opportunity to play hockey overseas in case nothing transpires here weighs heavily for all players but for different reasons. McDonald said it's much easier for those younger guys to just pick up and go. And if he were one of them, the choice would be an easy one.

"You get to play games, you get to be on a regular schedule, regular practice, but you also want to make sure you're playing at a high level," said McDonald, who's married with two young children that he would have to consider uprooting. "Taking a step back and playing at a level that's not going to help your game ... you've got to weigh all the benefits. There's also the risk of injury. There's a lot of things to consider, but for the younger players who don't have the families and uproot and take kids out of school, this might be a good opportunity to go and play hockey and keep yourself ready.

"Last time around, I had a girlfriend and went over there with no responsibilities. Now I have two kids and they're the priority. I'm certainly not going to take my kids out of school and run across to Europe to play hockey. I'm kind of weighing all the options."

For those that haven't made the decision to head across the Atlantic yet, a lot of it has to do with remaining hopeful that they'll be suiting up in an arena near NHL fans soon.

"Some guys are just a little more patient with it than others," Shattenkirk said. "Some guys just need to play right away. ... Some guys just feel like let's go over there, get the games and when it comes back, it comes back.

"To be dead-honest, if I was home right now with two or three guys skating, I think the motivation factor would be very hard. Being here (in St. Louis) with guys on your team, there's definitely an accountability factor. We're all in this together. (The NHL) could come back tomorrow, it could come back in three months. We want to make sure we're at least trying to get better every day and keeping ourselves prepared."

However, the element of the unknown is what makes a decision so difficult.

"I think that's the hardest part for everybody," said Pietrangelo, who's rehabbing ankle surgery after having a bursa sac removed. "We don't have a date yet for when it's going to start or stop. To go over there now, anything can turn around in a hurry.

"There's still a lot of things to take into consideration. You're picking up and going over there and there's the potential of having a season soon. You never know when it could happen. It's definitely a possibility. I think everybody's kind of got it in the back of their mind right now."

But the thought of going to Europe is intriguing on more levels than just playing hockey.

"For a guy in my position, you can almost kind of look at it as a life experience to get over there and play in front of a foreign crowd and a different style of hockey," Shattenkirk said. "... As a young player, at least having that option to do it, if it's going to be a long-term deal with this lockout, it's something you can make the most of if you go over there.
(Getty Images)
For a player that's not married and with no kids, the choice to go to Europe
is a bit easier for Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (right).

"... We love the game. The fans are different over there. They're crazy. They love their hockey, just the same as here. It's a completely different experience. But I think at the same time, you have to weigh it out and make sure you don't go somewhere where it's not going to be quality hockey. You have to make sure you're putting yourself in a good position."

Nichol, Langenbrunner, Jackman and Backes all are married and they have kids to consider except Backes. None seem to be in a rush to jump across the ocean anytime soon. But if this lockout extends well into 2013, it's an option some may have no choice but to accept.

"For me, I'm going to wait here a little longer and make sure my ankle feels the way it needs to be, but definitely the thought's been there," Pietrangelo said. "When the time comes, I'll have to decide."

"There's positives and negatives to looking at it both ways," McDonald said. "The positives are your family is going, you expose your kids to a different culture, different schools.

"Speaking personally, I think it's important for my family to be here and be in school here. As bad as I want to go over and play, at this time I'm not going to take my kids out of school and go to Europe. ... You want to keep it in the back of your mind if this thing goes the whole year. How are you going to stay ready? How are you going to keep yourself, your mind in it to come back next year and play and be ready? Are you getting enough in St. Louis practice-wise that's keeping you at a level that's high enough to play in the NHL when that starts? These are all things to consider."


  1. Great read, Lou, thanks for sharing this view into the players' thoughts we otherwise might not get.

  2. Thanks for your feedback and for reading.