With White House visit in rear view mirror, Blues can officially turn page on
championship season, focus on new one; Thomas close; Berube to be honored
ST. LOUIS -- Players have spoken about it for well over a month now, since the start of training camp to be exact, but now, once and for all, they can finally turn that final page on last season's magical run.
After spending the past 10 days, including playing four games, on the road and attending a ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and presenting the Hall with a Stanley Cup championship ring, the Blues closed the book officially on last season's Stanley Cup title with a visit to the White House and a greet-and-meet with president Donald Trump.
When the Blues arrived home, it was time to finally close the book on the 2018-19 season and move on to 2019-20.
"It is nice," Blues winger David Perron said. "We're extremely proud in here that we were the first championship team. Everyone pulled on the rope so hard for so many years in this organization but even more so guys last year. It was a long process for this city, but it was cool to win it. It takes a little bit of time to turn the page on that, but now, all the stuff is over and in a way, it's a good thing and we can focus on start winning some more.
"I've turned the page a while ago for me, but definitely it's the last step of it. It's nice that it's over just for that part. No one can talk about that stuff anymore and we can just be viewed as the St. Louis Blues playing this year and we're going to try and do it again and build the same process as we did last year."
The Blues (3-1-2) hit the practice ice again on Wednesday in preparation for the Vancouver Canucks and the start of a four-game homestand after a 2-1-1 road trip.
"We knew going into this road trip that there was a lot of stuff going on," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We were well aware of it and I thought our guys did a pretty good with the trip, handling everything and playing. We got some points, which was good. We would have liked to get that Islander win, but overall I thought getting five out of eight points was pretty good.
"We kept it short today. I think energy's a big thing tomorrow. Long travel and getting back, that first game can be ... you've got to make sure you've got energy for it. That'll be key with the opponent tomorrow."
There were good memories and ones that will last a lifetime for those that got to see The Oval Office and took the tour of the White House for the very first time.
"That was awesome. It's pretty cool," said Blues forward Robert Thomas. "Obviously I'm not American, so for me just to kind of experience that whole thing and be inside, see The Oval Office and meet the president was a pretty cool day for me.
"When you're standing behind [Trump] listening to his press conference, it wasn't just about hockey, it was stuff that we watch on the news every day. Just standing there listening to it firsthand was definitely a different feeling. When he walked in the room, you can just feel his power and presence."
What caught players and even Berube by surprise was Trump summoning them up to say a few words, including Jaden Schwartz, who challenged Trump to a game of golf.
"You know what, that was awesome," Thomas chuckled. "Schwartzy's good on his feet. He got put in a tough spot there. He found a way to make it funny. That was pretty cool."
Berube added: "No, that was a surprise, caught me off-guard a little bit. I probably would have rather known, but it was fine.
"Yeah, it did (catch the players by surprise) for sure. I think it caught everybody off-guard, but it was awesome. I thought that was great of him to bring some guys up there and say a few things. I thought it was a real good day for everybody.
"It was a fun day. He was really good with us. Just to be able to go there, it was great for all the guys to go there and spend the day. Good stuff."
Ryan O'Reilly spoke, as did captain Alex Pietrangelo, who president Trump had trouble pronouncing his name, but then again, that's pretty common around the league.
Perron said he was certainly caught by surprise.
"Did it ever. Guys did a good job to go up there, have fun with it," Perron said. "Obviously being the president of the United States, it's really impressive. I'm sure the guys were nervous to go up there. You have a lot of people watching, but the guys did a good job. He did a good job I think too to keep it light and include the guys."
But when the plane touched down in St. Louis last evening, players were glad to be back home.
"It's crazy," Blues forward Ivan Barbashev said. "I was happy just to be home yesterday. A good time just to enjoy it with my family and dogs. It was great. It was a long road trip. Really tired.
"I don't think we were thinking about it, the celebrations or whatever, the things we had to do. But now, I guess it's all over and we've got to get back at it."
* Thomas close to returning -- Thomas could return as early as Thursday when the Blues host the Canucks; he has missed the past five games with an upper-body injury but skated regularly with the team on the trip. He skated Wednesday but ran line rushes with the fourth line.
"I'm feeling really good," Thomas said. "Everything's coming along really nicely and hoping to get back in here soon.
"I've got to talk with Chief but hopefully it's very, very soon. ... I wouldn't say ruling out tomorrow at all. I would say I still haven't talked to the docs or Chief. I think once we have that conversation, then we'll be able to make a decision."
Berube also left the door open.
"It's possible," he said. "He's feeling pretty good. He was fine again today, so we'll see tomorrow. There's a good chance he can play."
Thomas was asked if the injury is related to the wrist injury that hampered him towards the later rounds of the playoffs and subsequent surgery required for an injured left tendon.
"It had nothing to do with anything previous," Thomas said. "It was something that happened in Game 1. I've felt like I've progressed very well. I think I'll be back really, really soon.
"I was hoping it wasn't going to be this long. You've kind of just got to listen to your body and it'll tell you when you're ready. Everything's coming along really nicely and progressing good. Hoping to get back in there very soon."
* Blues OK with start -- Last year at this time, Blues fans were frustrated by the team's 1-3-2 start, and to a certain extend, there has been some concern with a 3-1-2 record to the start of this season.
Perhaps the last two games in particular, a 6-3 loss at Montreal and a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders in which the Blues led 2-0 with five and a half minutes remaining in regulation, are what have Blues fans scoffing a bit, but all things considered, eight of a possible 12 points thus far is not a bad place to be.
"We have some good minutes, we have some bad minutes," Perron said. "I thought our last game was one of our better ones as far as identity, being selfless, changing at the right times. We had a lot of zone time. Maybe we weren't connected enough offensively like that, but definitely a lot of good stuff compered to other games. I think we remember where our level was from last year. It's so fresh on our mind that we want to get there right away. I want to get there too right away, but I just don't think it happens that way. Coaches are doing a good job too to keep on every day bringing new details, bringing stuff that we have to constantly be reminded of. We'll get there and I'm sure we will, but at the same time, it's a process.
"I think if you create a panic situation ...not that we're even close to that, but if you start panicking on things, it just brings negative energy, it drains the positivity out of the group and I think that's what we need in here. We need to be calm, we've done it before, we won and we know how to do it. We've just got to relax a little bit and just focus on our detail and listen to our coaches, trust in our system and we'll be fine."
Berube said the team went over some video Wednesday morning and found a few things that can be cleaned up.
"We've got to do a better job of protecting the slot area in our zone, actually doing a better job in the offensive zone getting in on the inside more," Berube said. "The other night on the island, we had the puck a lot. We created chances but not enough. For that much puck possession, we should be able to create more than that.
"We can do a better job of denying our end a little bit more and forcing teams to turning pucks over. At the other side, we're almost chasing at times in our end instead of just playing at our structure. I'd say maybe a little over-aggressive at times. They're finding some plays and some holes on us. We've got to be a little more structured in our own end."
* Berube to be honored -- The MIssouri Athletic Club announced Wednesday morning that Berube was named the 2019 MAC Sports Personality of the Year.
Berube, who helped guide the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup, will be honored at the 50th annual Jack Buck Awards on Dec. 5 at Maryville University .
The MAC has been awarding the personalities of the year since 1970 and Berube will join Vladimir Tarasenko (2016), Al MacInnis (1999) and Brett Hull (1990) on the list of Blues to receive it. Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas (2018) and catcher Yadier Molina (2017) were the last two recipients.
Tickets are available for purchase on the MAC website or by calling 314-539-4470.