Thursday, February 11, 2016

Blues hope dads bring more magic

Two-game Florida trip takes fathers along for second 
year in a row; Allen talks injury, recovery; Hitchcock on Harrold

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues' practice at St. Louis Outlet Mall had some extra bite in it, and with good reason.

When players are skating under the astute and watchful eye of their fathers, one must perform at a top level.

And for the Blues, who begin a two-game trip to Florida against the Panthers on Friday before concluding Sunday at Tampa Bay, it's a second go-round with their dads.

Blues players' dads chartered off to Sunrise, Fla. with their sons after last season going with them to Raleigh, N.C. and Washington, D.C., where they went 2-0. 
Blues dads watch their sons practice on Thursday at the Ice Zone inside St.
Louis Outlet Mall.

"The dads trip was the highlight of last year," said captain David Backes, whose father Steve made the trip for a second straight season. "They were still talking about last year's a week ago. We'll make new memories and have new bonds made with a few new faces in the dads crew. We're going to a nice warm climate this time with a little bit slower of a schedule. We'll have a few off-ice memories to make as well.

"You start reminiscing about some of the youth days and the memories that you made back then. It's nostalgic, but two games, it's a good stretch, get them on the road and they get a little taste of what the travel's like, too. As accommodating as it is, they're pooped for a week afterwards."

Twenty dads in all made the trip, and some are making it for a second time, and some are making it for the first time, including former Winnipeg Jets center Thomas Steen, Alexander Steen's father, who gets to see life in the NHL today as opposed when he last played in 1995.

"It's nice to get to know all the fathers. We have a lot in common. Should be a good trip," said Thomas Steen, who spent 14 seasons with the Jets from 1981-95 and had 817 points (264 goals) in 950 games regular season games. "It took us three days to play games. It's a little different now with chartered planes and they come home after the games, which is good for the family life.

"It's something that we never had when I played. I wish my dad could have come on a trip. I'm happy that I can do on some of them with Alex."

And Alexander Steen, who enjoyed every bit of the trip last season despte his father not being there, is stoked to have his dad here this time.

"It's cool. I think for him, to see the difference in what the league was like when he played and what it's like now, especially around the scenes with video and all the other stuff that's been added over the years and get a feel for what it's like now is cool," Steen said. "To have him around close, talk about the games and stuff, it's going to be special.

"It's still business. It's just a little bit of a fun twist to it. Moods are great, boys are happy and dads are obviously in a great mood, so that spreads. ... It's always fun with the dads. It changes things up a little bit."

And when Alexander Steen said it's still business, he meant it. Thomas Steen sat in on his meetings with his son Thursday.

"I went in and watched my clips this morning and asked him to sit in," Alexander Steen said. "He gives me some pointers on faceoffs. He was a good faceoff man. I'm not half as good as he was on faceoffs."

Brian Elliott's dad Bill Elliott is a seasoned vet at these things; it will be the elder Elliott's fourth dads trip, second with the Blues.

"My mission is to have as much fun as we possibly can. So far, so good," Bill Elliott said with a big smile. "We all have our own little hockey stories of our own guys and everything, but it's fun and exciting to find out about their lives as hockey dads and some of the stories that they had coming through. Especially with guys like Thomas Steen, he's been there, so he's got old school stories, too. We love hearing about those.

"I couldn't be prouder, and all the dads are that way about their boys. It's just so wonderful to see them get out there and skate around. We're going to enjoy the time that we have. It happens so fast; it's so quick. We try to make the most of it."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he looks forward to the trip for obvious reasons.

"It's like watching a bunch of guys your own age have some fun," Hitchcock said. "Good feeling for us. I think these times are special and they just bring you back to minor hockey days. I think it's awesome that dads get to share this time with their kids. You look back at these times and they end up being the highlight of the season quite frankly.

"I think it's important that their dads get to see how we do business and what their sons do for a living, and then to have the off-day in good weather and be able to do things you want to do socially with their fathers, I think is awesome. It's the best of both worlds and hopefully we can get a couple wins for the dads and really enjoy it."

It's a bit of a breath of fresh air for the players, who are in the midst of playing out the stretch of what should be a tough road leading into the playoffs to have their dads there for support and guidance, as it's been for all of their lives.

"They obviously sacrificed a lot of their time and a lot of their money growing up," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose dad Pat couldn't make the trip this season. "It takes a lot for us to get to this level. They still make sacrifices now for us. They have to come into town and babysit kids and do all those type of things, but that also goes out to the mothers. I know they're hoping for a moms trip here pretty soon. As parents in general, they were selfless our whole lives and hopefully it's a way to may them back a little bit.

"It just breaks the monotony of the season up. You get to this point in the season and everything starts to become a little tenuous, just an every day Groundhog Day kind of situation. When you add some fresh faces in here, they breathe a little light, they breathe a little energy into you. It's just great to have them around."

Or for Rick Schwartz, Jaden Schwartz's dad whose timing is perfect, he gets to see his son return from a fractured ankle that sidelined his kid for 49 games.

"He's really looking forward to it," Jaden Schwartz said of his dad. "Kind of good timing as well that I get to play the first game back. It's pretty cool that way, but this is something that they love to do. They've supported us and helped us our whole lives. I don't think any of us would be here without them. It's kind of a nice little reward for them. This is something he really looks forward to and tells a lot of his friends about it, too."

* Allen talks injury, recovery -- Blues goalie Jake Allen spoke to reporters Thursday for the first time since sustaining a knee injury against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 8.

Allen, who's missed the 12 games (all started by Brian Elliott), got on the ice "not too long ago," but began taking shots from teammates the past two days.

"Just tried to get on the ice and get some agility back," Allen said. "Just get your feet on the ice."

Allen said he knew something was wrong almost immediately when he got injured.

"I think I tried to be sort of a hero I guess and tough it out, but I took 30 seconds and tried deep breaths but as soon as I had to play puck, I knew something was wrong so I had to get out of there," Allen said. "I was waiting for a whistle and luckily we scored. I just got off immediately."

Allen, who is 18-10-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, took time off the ice before he could resume any on-ice activities. 

"Just follow doctors orders, Ray (Barile's) orders and make sure you come back at 100 percent. I don't want to come back before that. It's going well.

"... I've never been hurt in my life, knock on wood. It's weird being out. I don't like it at all. I want to be there giving the guys some help in some shape or form."

There's no timetable for Allen's return. At this point, he's glad to be progressing in the right direction.

"I'm feeling on the upward swing," Allen said. "We'll see where it goes from here, but it's good to get on the ice and get some shots again.

"Just keep getting on the ice, keep getting longer practices in and go from there. I've never been hurt before, so it's all new to me."

In the meantime, he'll continue to be Elliott's biggest supporter. Elliott is 7-3-2 in 12 starts since Allen went down.

"I can't say enough about him right now," Allen said of Elliott. "He's playing, I'd say he's the best goalie in the league the last month; it's not even close. He's given our team a chance every night. It's been impressive. It's great to see; I'm really happy for him. He's really keeping our team in this right now."

* Harrold recalled -- Veteran defenseman Peter Harrold, who was recalled from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, is the latest player to get a crack with the Blues as added depth.

The veteran of 274 NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings and most recently with the New Jersey Devils had 20 points (19 assists) in 45 games with the Wolves.

"I know (San Jose coach) Pete DeBoer had him last year (with the Devils), loved him," Hitchcock said of Harrold. "Smart, moves the puck, great transition player. He's a guy that played a lot of games last year. We can use his help and if he jumps in, I know he's going to make a good account of himself. There's only one reason he's not an every day player, and that is the size after extended time wears him down a little bit, but we just need some help immediately and he's a guy that can come in and help us."

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