Saturday, September 14, 2019

For Blues, it's time to park history, get re-motivated for Cup defense

Training camp opened Friday with renewed hunger, drive to try and 
repeat as Stanley Cup champions with nearly entire roster back to defend title

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- For the Blues, who opened training camp on Friday at the new Centene Community Ice Center, the thrill of winning their first Stanley Cup will live for an eternity.

But now, they realize one common theme: the honeymoon is over, and it's time to get back to work.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forwards Ivan Barbashev (left) and Alexander Steen share a laugh on
Friday at the start of training camp. The Blues returned to the ice as Stanley
Cup champions preparing for a title defense.

The love affair with the hockey club and its fans will last a lifetime. That will never be taken away once the Blues made history by winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. But turning the page only serves one purpose for the defending Cup champions, and it's to gather that motivation again and keep a hunger alive to strive for a repeat championship, something only done once (2015-16 and 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins) since the Detroit Red Wings did it in back-to-back seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98 and the only time in the salary cap era.

That hunger and drive appeared evident after training camp opened on Friday.

"Before we won, I think if we won one, I think it's going to be enough, but we just want to win again," Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. "We don't want to lose anymore. I think we have pretty young group of guys there and it's good for them at the start of their careers to have Cup experience, and one is not enough."

'One is not enough.' Start printing those t-shirts, just like Tarasenko's famous phrase of 'What's a rub off means.' It should sell like hotcakes, and it should serve as a stark reminder that reaching for the stars again can be achieved. 

Players are buying into it, and the short off-season has helped them enjoy what they accomplished, yet offer sufficient time to now park a momentous achievement and begin anew.

"You've got to put it in the rear view mirror," Blues forward Alexander Steen said. "From Day 1 today, we've got to start over, we've got to start building what we want to do this year again, bring with us what we can from last year, all the learning experiences because we had a lot of them, especially looking at the first half of the year last year and make sure that we learn from all those things. I think you start fresh. We've got to redo everything again, build the same structure, the same team camaraderie and all those selfless things that we were doing last year and start fresh from Day 1 again."

Perhaps what makes that a bit of an easier transition is that nearly the entire roster that dropped their sticks, hoisted their gloves in the air and celebrated that championship in Boston following a 4-1 win in Game 7 on June 12 is back for another crack at it. Only Oakville native Pat Maroon, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who did not make a playoff appearance and signed with the Anaheim Ducks, are not back for the title defense.

But a good mix of veterans that now know how to keep things even-keeled and a hungry group of young players who are champions but striving for more ice time, can lean on one another to pull on the same rope again.

"We're familiar with each other," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Obviously there's still ice time to be up for grabs. There is every year, but I think guys have roles on this team. I think that's what makes this team successful. Everyone buys in, everyone feels like they're important and that was a huge key for us last year. When guys buy in, we're winning hockey games. When we're winning, everyone's confident and feeling good."

"When we talk about moving on, we can't sit there and (say), 'Aw, we're Stanley Cup champions.' You've got to work," said Blues coach Craig Berube, who enters the season having shed the interim tag and earning a three-year contract. "It's a tough league. It's tough to make the playoffs. There's a lot of good teams. Our division's very good. We've got to get ready. We've got work to put in, you've got to be ready, you've got to be competitive and you've got to be ready to go."

The Blues have had strong teams in recent past, only to have their goals shattered with playoff defeats, some in gut-wrenching fashion. They've entered every previous season as the hunters, but for a change, they're the hunted, and that's a satisfying feeling to have knowing there will be 30 teams gunning to take what you have.

"It's a good feeling," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I think it's going to make us better, especially early on knowing that teams are going to be coming for us right off the bat. When you look at our division, every team in our division either stayed the same or got better. People were adding players. We obviously know Dallas added some guys and what Nashville has done. Obviously the way we finished last year. It's a tough division to start with, but we're going to expect the best from everybody moving forward."

When teams see the Blues as the next opponent, there will be no surprises. Only the best from those that want to beat the best.

"I think looking back in previous years when we got a matchup against the Cup champs, you're going to get everyone's best game or everyone kind of knows that you're going to face the other teams' best," Schenn said. "For us this year, I think we've got to use training camp to get up to speed, kind of forget about last year. Obviously we had fun with it, but I think doing it once makes you want to do it again."

Indeed it does.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues opened training camp on Friday at the new Centene Community
Ice Center in Maryland Heights as defending Stanley Cup champions.

"That's where the hunger is. Once you've had it once, you want it again," Steen said. "It's pretty addictive. You want to have it all the time. I think remembering what that feeling is like and trying to get there all the time is the hunger that you want. Before, you might not really know what it's like to win, but you were really hungry to find out. Now we've done it once, it's almost an addictive feeling. You want it again and again."

Another motivating factor for the Blues: they've heard that their title win was a fluke, that the better team didn't win. Motivation comes in all shapes and forms. This one happens to hit right where it rings a bell.

"When people say you don't have some extra motivation after you're winning, a lot of people saying it was an accident and it's on us to prove we're not just a one-year team," Tarasenko said. "We're a good team and we can continue playing well."

No comments:

Post a Comment