Friday, April 10, 2020

From sushi to wine, cards, preparation, Blues recall road success in winning Cup, continued strong play in search to repeat

Superstitions play role for athletes; Steen, four teammates kept 
same routine with each win at TD Garden; Binnington studying Bieber 

ST. LOUIS -- Superstitions are meant to be fun. Some people take them with a grain of salt, some use them as motivation, especially athletes when they provide positive mojo.

It was no secret the Blues' run to the Stanley Cup last season was their penchant for winning on the road.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
If superstition tells the story, Alexander Steen (left) and four teammates used
the same dinner card when they kept winning in Boston during Cup run. 

According to veteran Alexander Steen, the reason for success in winning Games 2, 5 and 7 at TD Garden against a very tough Boston Bruins was sushi.

Steen and a quartet of teammates incorporated it before Game 2 and the method worked, an admission the forward made when the Blues got together as a group on a Zoom video teleconference set up by the NHL on Wednesday and moderated by CBC Hockey Night in Canada lead play-by-play voice Jim Hughson along with NBC Sports studio host, Kathryn Tappen.

"Before Game 2, it's probably the only story I can recall right now, Gunny, Sunny, myself, Parayko and Thorburn went to a sushi restaurant, and then Gunny got that big game-winner for us (3-2 in overtime of Game 2) and then we went back to St. Louis and split the home games, so we went back to Boston for Game 5 and the night before then, I think Gunny, Sunny ... correct me if I'm wrong, Thorby was kind of pushing that we had to go back since we won the last time," Steen said of teammates Carl Gunnarsson, Colton Parayko, Oskar Sundqvist and Chris Thorburn. "So we went back there for the sushi again, won Game 5 and we had to go back to Boston for Game 7 so then there was no real discussion. We just kind of ended up back at a sushi spot. 

"We went 3-for-3 with sushi in the building so it was pretty good."

There are always untold stories that never make it in the public eye, but the Blues were willing to share some things that helped along the ride of winning the Cup, and for goalie Jake Allen, there was a reason for the method of going 10-3 away from Enterprise Center.

"I think we had such camaraderie and we had a great group, played a lot of cards, drank a lot of wine on the road," Allen said. "It was so relaxed that that's why it gave us the extra calmness going into games. We spent so much time together. A lot of cards. There were a lot of things won and lost, but a lot of good times together and I think that's what made everything click that much more."

Speaking of making things click, the Blues' run to the Cup went back months before reaching the mountain top, according to defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.

"There were a few instances over the stretch after January," said Bortuzzo, referring when the Blues were last in the NHL on Jan. 3 with 34 points. "I'd say the first we were building and then we came out of a bye week and we played some pretty tough teams. We played Tampa, which was a wrecking ball all season. We played them tight and we beat them 1-0 and we ended up winning about eight games after the bye week, which was big for us and you could tell we were building something (the Blues won a franchise record 11 games in a row). And then closer to playoff time, the standings were fairly tight and a couple guys were asking who do you want to play. It was a point where everyone was like, 'It really doesn't matter who we played.' 

"We have such a quiet confidence in our group that has been instilled from our leaders and our staff. And then through playoffs in every round, it didn't matter who we were playing. A couple guys will tell you the story after we lost to Boston in Game 6 at home, it as such a confidence with our group, we just got on the bird, we played some cards. It was such a good feeling that we knew Game 7 was going to be ours."

Entering the 2019-20 season looking to repeat as champions, which has not been put on hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic that has shut all sports down and not just the NHL, the Blues learned a valuable lesson in starting the season on time, something they didn't do a year ago after general manager Doug Armstrong retooled the roster and high expectations were laid at their skates from the outset.

"I think for us, you're getting the best from every team," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "It was no different than teams that had won it in previous years, you're going to get the best from them every single night. ... It all kind of blends itself together into one year almost between last year and this year."

The Blues are 42-19-10 when/if play resumes this season, good for 94 points and first in the Western Conference. They've put themselves in a good spot to have a shot at repeating and being the third team since 1998 to win back-to-back Cups.

"For us, it really helped our preparation to learn how to start on time because we knew going into every building or teams coming in, we know they're going to start fast, they're going to start physical and you could see when we start on time as well, we frustrate teams and eventually got to our game and put them away," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We did an excellent job at that and really found a way to get to our game quicker than obviously the year before. Everyone contributed in the right way and it was very nice to see."

Now as they wait and train on their own to be ready should the league resume, O'Reilly continues to fine-tune his love for the guitar and admits that as far as teammates go, "I don't think anyone can really play. I hope after this someone can play, but I've been playing a lot in front of my little guy (son Jamison). He likes all these kids' songs. I haven't been playing the stuff I normally like to, but I try and entertain him as best as I can."

Parayko has touched base and keeps tabs on Laila Anderson, who became a team inspiration last season and continues to trend in a positive light from her battle with Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), defenseman Marco Scandella keeps chopping trees, and goalie Jordan Binnington has taken the time to study up on Justin Bieber since the two have a standing bet when Binnington challenged Bieber to a breakaway shootout.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (right) has had plenty of down time to study
the breakaway habits of Justin Beiber during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Right when I found out the season was paused, I ordered a computer monitor just to get some double screens up there and really study his moves, see when he's picking up his head, how his backhand is, but for the most part, I'm just going to wing it," Binnington joked.

Stay tuned, not only for the 1-on-1 challenge, but for the season to resume.

The Blues -- and the rest of the NHL -- can only hope it does.

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