Monday, June 22, 2020

Thorburn announces retirement from NHL after 14 seasons

Veteran forward spent his last two seasons with St. Louis, 
goes out a Stanley Cup champion; didn't play in 2019-20 season 

ST. LOUIS -- When Alex Pietrangelo got the Stanley Cup first from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, there was no denying who he was going to give it to.

What may have been overlooked, though, by some was how quickly Chris Thorburn, who played a grand total of 1 minute 52 seconds in one game (Oct. 13, 2018 against Chicago) last season, was in line to get his hands on it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Thorburn announced his retirement from the NHL on
Monday after 14 season, including last two with the Blues.

No, not at the end with the black aces or those who were marginal players during the season, but how about fourth in line? Right after Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Alexander Steen, who handed the Cup to Thorburn fourth and yelled, "Let's go Thorby! Let's go!"

For a guy who spent one full season in St. Louis, played 50 games in 2017-18 before spending all but that one game in San Antonio of the American Hockey League before the Blues brought him up late in the season and for the playoffs to help with insurance purposes to help his young autistic son Bennett, that's how much the veteran was revered in that locker room.

On Monday, Thorburn's walk into the sunset as a Stanley Cup champion became official when the veteran of 801 regular-season games spanning 14 seasons announced his retirement from the league.

"To finish my hockey career with the St. Louis Blues and finally get an opportunity to lift the Stanley Cup over my head, I could not have scripted a better way to go out," Thorburn said in a statement. "Thank you to (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong and (owner) Tom Stillman, as well as (coach) Craig Berube, the coaching staff and the training staff. Most importantly, thank you to my Blues teammates for taking me on a journey of a lifetime."

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native was drafted 50th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the 2001 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound forward went on to play for four NHL franchises, the Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and lastly, the Blues; he finished with 134 points (53 goals, 81 assists) and 968 penalty minutes playing the physical role.

Thorburn signed a two-year contract with the Blues as a free agent prior to the 2017-18 season; he now resides in Michigan with his wife Sara and their three children (Bennett, Mary and Oscar).

"It was an unbelievable ride with a storybook ending," Thorburn said. "As tough as it is to close this chapter, I am excited for the new adventures ahead for myself and my family.

"Thank you to everyone who supported me, believed in me, and influenced me throughout my hockey career. The Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues all took a chance on me and for that I am forever grateful."

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Down time has enabled Pietrangelo to recharge batteries

Blues captain hasn't skated since season was shut down, 
allowing him to physically heal ailments of long season

ST. LOUIS -- The day he stepped off a plane following a cross country ride from California on March 12, Alex Pietrangelo and the rest of his Blues teammates had no idea they would lace up the blades for the last time in some time.

A few weeks, perhaps? Yeah, they could see that, but months? Not a chance.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates with the puck past that of
the Florida Panthers' Jonathan Huberdeau on March 9.

COVID-19 has put a halt on all major sports in the United States and around the world for the better of the past three months, with some sports leagues in Europe and Korea returning to action already. 

Not yet for the NHL, which is in the Phase 2 process of limited workouts for teams in groups of six or less.

"I think most of us were probably thinking this could be maybe a 2-3 week break," Pietrangelo said. "No one really kind of knew the extreme circumstances that we were in. It hadn't really picked up in the United States, so we weren't really sure, but obviously the more news that came out, the more information that came out, it was obviously the right decision to continue doing what we were doing and kind of wait. Certainly a different circumstance for all of us. Maybe the hardest part I'd say for the most of us feel right now has been the waiting game of whether we're going to play or not. You try and treat it like maybe a normal offseason and use a couple months to take a break and plan your workouts, but most of us have kind of felt we were going to start sooner than we are right now. 

"It's been a waiting game. It's easy for us to be confused and frustrated, whatever the word is, but we all know it's for the better of society and better health for all of us. The league and the PA aren't going to do anything that's going to put the players in harm. I like the fact that we're taking our time making sure we're doing it the right way."

But here we are, more than three months since the father of triplets has put his skates on, and who can blame him?

Since entering the NHL as the fourth pick in the 2008 draft, Pietrangelo has logged 18,668 regular-season minutes, or an average of 24:38 per game, and 22,915 shifts, and another 2,262 playoff minutes, or 27:15 per game. His 30.2 shifts per game rank No. 1 overall since he entered the league, so forgive the Blues captain if an extended break was in the making for the 30-year-old.

Playing 758 regular-season games and 83 more in the playoffs has taken a toll on the body.

"This is probably the longest I've gone without skating," Pietrangelo said. 'To be honest with you, after going through what we went through last year, playing a lot of hockey this year, it's maybe not necessarily a bad thing of really taking an opportunity to take a break mentally and physically off the ice. I've gone into my off-season program. I think I took a week off and then sat down with (Blues strength and conditioning coach) Eric (Renaghan) and came up with a program and said this could be two, three months, so lets do this one month at time. He's put together a pretty good program. I've got everything I need here at home to work out. I get my two, two and a half hours a day when the kids are napping or they go do something with my wife in the morning, she lets me work out. It's just a nice bit of a break for me to kind of keep focused. 

"I've always thought we were going to play, it's just a matter of when. That's what's kind of kept me motivated to keep doing what I'm doing because if we do play and we go into the later months of the fall, the offseason's going to be a lot shorter and I'm not going to really have the time I have right now to do what I want to do."

So what's an expectant father, wife Jayne is due in September with the couple's fourth child, been doing to pass the time? He's spent most of it here in St. Louis, aside from a family vacation in Florida. There's so much one can do with three vibrant, full of life kids that seem to each have never-ending motors running.

"I guess with three kids, the hardest part for us is just trying to find stuff for them to do," Pietrangelo said with a laugh. "I think we got the playset and pool in the back yard but eventually even that gets boring for the kids. It's a matter of trying to figure out stuff for them to do but we're managing just fine."

Pietrangelo was having one of his best statistical seasons of his 12-year career when the Western Conference-leading Blues (42-19-10) had their season cut short with 11 games left. His 16 goals in 70 games were a career-high, and 52 points were two off matching his career-best set in 78 games in 2017-18. He's has been the Blues' minutes leader in each of the past nine seasons, so the down time allows the unrestricted free agent to-be to recharge the batteries like never before considering the Blues have reached the playoffs in each season he's been in the league except one (2017-18).

But ... 

"You know me, I'm always moving, I'm always bouncing around," Pietrangelo said. "I feel I always have to do something. I don't try an take too much of a break, but I've really had an opportunity to kind of work on things that maybe prevent injury, take an opportunity to kind of work on things that have been deficiencies for me physically. This has been a great opportunity because I don't get many opportunities to take two, three months off the ice and kind of refresh the batteries, especially after going as long as we did last year. I try to be smart about it, I kind of try and take my time to do this the right way because this offseason could really be short if we even get one."

Now comes the next steps for Pietrangelo and the Blues, and it includes small-group workouts beginning Monday (the Blues chose to wait), and then Phase 3, which includes the opening of training camps on July 10 in the Return to Play Plan that includes 24 teams.

"There's not really a right way to do this because we've never been through this," Pietrangelo said. "We've come up with countless proposals. To me, they all look good and there's parts of them I didn't like. You can nitpick whatever you want, what's the right answer, what's not, but I think the way we've done it, most everyone's agreed on it that it's a fair way to get everybody involved, it's a fair way to keep the fans entertained, keep us excited and gives us an opportunity to play. There's always going to be people criticizing the format, but we took our time and we came up with as many possibilities as we could, we presented all the possibilities and this one gained the most traction within the players and the league and off we went with it."

The Blues will be part of the West's round-robin format that includes three games, one each, against Colorado, Vegas and Dallas to see who winds up as the Nos. 1-4 seeds. Right now, the Blues go in as the No. 1 seed, but will they stay there is to be determined.

"The group's been the same group as last year for the most part after winning so we know how we've got to play, we know our identity," Pietrangelo said. "I think every team's on a level playing field right now. I think you look at teams that had guys that were injured and even us, we didn't have guys that were out for an extended period other than Vladi (Tarasenko), but all of us playing as much hockey as we have, we've got bumps and bruises and this is a good opportunity to rest. It's going to be fun to see everybody playing healthy because if you know what we went through last year when you're playing 108 games, 106 games, whatever we played, you're playing through stuff that's not very comfortable. This is the first time we're going into the end of the season completely healthy."

Pietrangelo said what will be weird will be the thought of playing games without fans.

"It's a little bit different, I will say," he said. "I haven't really given it that much thought. It'll be difficult at first, but I think maybe those first couple games, first couple shifts when you get bumped a few times and realize that it's still competitive, I think that'll kind of pass through. It'll be a little bit different if one of the teams scores because there won't be a lot of noise unless they do fake noise. I'm not really sure what they're going to do. I think you might hear a few too many inappropriate words maybe coming when some of us make mistakes too. It'll be a little different on TV with the audio up."

When it's all said and done, Pietrangelo said the players have been in constant communication and they all come to one conclusion: there's the belief they can repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo (left) has averaged 30.2 shifts per game since
he entered the NHL, the most among all players since 2008.

"A lot of people thought there would be a hangover or whatever they want to call it, but if you look at our group, experienced, professional, whatever you want to call it, I don't think there's any worry in our locker room that this thing wasn't going to turn out the way we wanted to, especially at the start of the year," Pietrangelo said. "We felt like we had a group that really kind of flipped that switch to get ready for the start of the season. That's the reason why we've been able to carry it as far as we have and why we'll have success moving forward into the end of the playoffs."

As for his impending UFA status, Pietrangelo said he has nothing new to say about it and wants to keep his focus on the here and now, something he's maintained throughout the season, and will deal with that decision when the time arises.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Perron stepped up when Blues needed a boost

Forward was on way to career year that got derailed by 
pandemic, filled role vacated when Tarasenko departed due to injury 

ST. LOUIS -- Statistically-speaking, the 2019-20 season was going down as one of David Perron's best in the NHL.

The 32-year-old was second in points to Ryan O'Reilly (61) with 60 of his own (25 goals, 35 assists) in 71 games with the chance to establish career highs in goals (28 in 2013-14) and points (66 in 2017-18) with 11 games remaining. Perron's 25 goals were also tied for most on the Blues with Brayden Schenn.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (57) tied for the Blues lead in goals (25) this season. He was
having a career year when coronavirus halted the NHL regular season.

But like everyone else, Perron had to put his season on hold, and in doing so, would eventually put the brakes permanently on his regular-season stats. Those stats will go down as is, and it is a tough pill to swallow for someone who stepped into a more prominent offensive role this season in light of Vladimir Tarasenko's dislocated left shoulder.

Or is it?

"A little bit of both," Perron said from his offseason home in Sherbrooke, Quebec. "When you're having a good season, it's easier to carry the momentum game in and game out. You don't think about anything really. You just play because it seems like the harder you work, you're also rewarded with that and it's not just a grind for opportunities and things like that. You're going to have them just working. You just kind of manage the workload and all that stuff. 

"I was also kind of at the point where some of the injuries that I've been dealing with were kind of overwhelming a little bit. They were starting to add up mentally in my head to me. I guess I was getting frustrated but kind of that it wasn't going away. I'm still kind of at that point where even though I've had a lot of time off, I still feel like there are some things where I wish were a little bit better. I'm a little bit surprised that I'm kind of still dealing with some of it, but at the same time, I've done some good work in the gym, some rehab here with some people that are helping me. When we get going, whenever that is, I'll be ready to go and prepared. There's no different expectation for myself and I know the team won't have different expectations. I want to be a difference maker and I want to get the job done out there and not have to worry about that."

Some of the nagging injuries may have led to a direct result of Perron's numbers falling off a bit the last 19 games (two goals, five assists). Bumps and bruises are a common occurrence for NHL players, especially as the season wears on and games get to be more a physical grind.

Perron has been able to benefit using the time off to heal some of his injuries but not all of them.

"Yeah, some of them. For example, I got a puck in the face in Edmonton at one point in the year where I had two teeth in my mouth, broke my upper bone of the jaw and I had braces for six weeks," Perron said of the Jan. 31 game. "That's obviously one of the things. I got my braces off the flight before Anaheim I think. And finally, I was kind of almost fully healed from that, and now I am obviously. I had a couple other things obviously that didn't go well. But at the same time mentally, just getting a little bit of time off is always good in that standpoint. The only thing is it's tough to get away completely mentally just because even though it's been that much time, you still kind of week to week, day to day at that point, you still kind of hope we're going to get a call within three, four weeks. You're kind of like, 'Alright, let's get going again while the bodies are warm.' Now we've had time to cool off and at the same time mentally, I can't say that I've ever not expected to get a call in the way where it was going to be like, 'Alright, let's get going here.' It's not like you've completely unplugged from it. You have to kind of have to stay somewhat ready. 

"Normally after the season, when you have a longer offseason, I like to really unplug the cord a little bit for a while and then once you get reconnected, you seem like you're so fresh. I guess I'm not fresh mentally, but I'm ready to go. I've always been ready to play hockey, but we'll see where it's going to go. We're still in the unknown. That's tough. We're June whatever and even though there's dates thrown out there, there was a date early May that Phase 2 was going to open up, it took another month. Now there's a date thrown out for camp. Who knows, maybe it's going to be another month. I hope the second (COVID-19) wave doesn't hit or maybe who knows, right?"

Perron had nine game-winning goals (four in overtime) this season, which shattered his previous high of set twice (2011-12 and 2017-18) and tied for second in the league this season with Buffalo's Jack Eichel (one behind Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl and Boston's David Pastrnak). He was shooting the puck more (166 shots on goal, an average of 2.34 per game), he was playing an average of more than a minute per game (18:19 to 17:06) compared to last season, and a lot of that had to do with getting more power play time and responsibilities from assistant coach Marc Savard, and playing with O'Reilly as his primary set-up man didn't hurt either.

"There's many reasons," Perron said of his success. "Obviously when you win, you want to follow it up even though it was a short summer. You feel like you're not quite ready to start even when it starts, but you're just throwing everything out there that you've got, you prepare as much as you could in that month and a half, two months that we got. I had the chance to deal with that the summer prior and it worked out pretty good obviously with our season last year even though I had a shorter summer. I had somewhat of a quiet confidence that I wanted to do it again with the season I had, which was pretty good. Finding the chemistry with O'Ry, I wanted to follow it up and show that it wasn't just a one-off. I had the chance to really prove that again with the opportunities from Chief again, and then more opportunities opened up when Vladi in a sense went down. I think the power play, we really kind of changed some of the units around. We were going to spread even kind of all the way through in two units before and now it's kind of loaded up. We had a successful unit, and obviously I got a lot more ice time than I ever got with the man advantage. It was nice that I could make a difference there and I know that when Vladi comes back things might change, so it is what it is. I just wanted to make the best of it and as a unit in the league, we had good resolve to convert (against) the other teams and things like 5-on-3, overtime, power play, those are things I never got before so when you do step out on the ice after 12, 13 years, you kind of are hoping for that. I guess I can't say I never had a shift in those situations, but now it was just my name was written on the board before the game. It was a regular thing that I could see and other guys could see. I was just trying to make the best of it and lucky enough that it went in a few times early. It kind of gave me even more confidence that you get to the point where you don't even look at the board anymore just because you know, or you're hoping you'll be out there. You keep working for that to work out.

"Having the chance to play with O'Ry was the biggest thing for me. Some of the plays he made this year, even though he scored (fewer) goals than last year, the number of assists he got, some of the assists he gave me ... those are the kinds of plays that he made all year again. The confidence from building all that and when he gets some of the matchups that he gets, the 4-on-4 situations and just kind of be tied with him there, it's definitely nice."

When it became clear that the pandemic was going to be longer than just a couple weeks, Perron decided to pack up and head home, which is something he hasn't done a while. His family was already there.

"I definitely knew I was going to feel comfortable here," Perron said. "I think for me, the last couple summers I didn't spend back home just because of going all the way to the end (to the Stanley Cup Final). It was nice to get a spring season at my house. I never witnessed a spring season here in a long time, and that's a good thing. My family was here already so it was kind of easy travel for me. I got on a plane by myself and got back. I was already doing the two-week (quarantine) that we needed to do and Canada extended that at least five weeks, if not more. We're still kind of not opened up fully so here we are."

Now that dates have been given for the NHL's Return to Play Plan for Phases 2 and 3, the next step is for Perron to get on the ice. He's been able to do regular exercising but as far as getting onto the ice, no such luck in Canada.

Not yet.

"No. With Phase 2, the CBA allows for guys that, say like a Patty Maroon that lives in St. Louis, to use the Blues facility and from what I am hearing, it doesn't sound like the Blues have opened up yet," Perron said. "I'm not sure entirely because I'm not there. I haven't talked to many guys (last) week. But we have been keeping in touch with guys and it's been pretty cool to see how much in our group, some back and forth guys are chirping the usual stuff that you get in the locker room. We stay in touch that way. 

"I'm going to expect to skate in Montreal, but same thing, they didn't open up yet. I'm going to look to find out when the date is and we're going to make the time. Me, Sammy Blais, (Marco) Scandella, a couple other guys around here in a group of six, we can get that going."

If the NHL is able to get going, Perron doesn't feel like it will be too tough for the Blues, who were first in the Western Conference at 42-19-10, to get going. The round-robin format for the top four seeds has been a mixed bag of reactions from players but for Perron and the Blues, it's dealing with the cards they've been handed.

"I think we'll be fine for sure. It's kind of interesting," Perron said. "We kind of hit a bit of a slower path, then again we were back on an upswing, momentum trending our way. We were getting wins in different ways, Vladi was going to come back, many things going our way. Scandy came in and played really good, really supported the d-core, many positives going our way. I think everyone was excited that finally it was going to be the end of a longer-feeling season when you win or when you go deep. The next 40-60 games, they feel like a little bit longer. You can't wait to get back in the dance again. We were finally getting to that point and it's tough. We'll see how we react to that, but I think with our group, we're relentless, we're deep. I think that's going to help us because the way our lines were created all year and all last year in the playoffs, many lines stepped up at different times, different guys. We're confident that way. 

"As far as the format with the way it is, the only thing that is disappointing, we get that everyone's going to kind of feel like some teams will have an advantage but some don't, but it's just kind of disappointing where there's a couple teams that really weren't going to catch us at all no matter what was going to happen and now they have a chance in three games to kind of take over and then obviously on top of that, the teams that advance, they keep that seeding all the way through and they (reseed). I think Colorado and St. Louis deserve to be in the top two no matter what, but it is what it is. We're going to play the rules the way they made them now. There's nothing we can do. The only thing we can worry about is when we're on the ice, we're ready. Hopefully we find a way to preserve our spot because I believe it's going to be good to have that."

No matter what, Perron feels the Blues are good enough to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (57) put up 60 points in 71 games this season. His chemistry
with Ryan O'Reilly, power play production fueled rise in points.

"I certainly hope so," he said. "We were a good team and we are still no matter what happens. It doesn't always work out for you in a season, but the only thing I care about is doing with this group was so much fun. I include everyone in the organization from top to bottom. Our coaches have been incredible managing the rest last year and even training camp this year, that's as smart of a training camp I've ever got as far as rest and the way practices were. To me, it made a huge difference with how we started this year. 

"When you asked about my season, I think guys needed to have a little bit of a smart training camp knowing we just kind of got off the ice with the Cup. We didn't get killed at training camp. It was done in an incredible way. I was really, really impressed by our coaching staff and everyone that took part in making those decisions."

Friday, June 12, 2020

On one-year anniversary, Blues still reflect fondly of greatest achievement in winning Stanley Cup

Won Game 7, 4-1 in Boston, on June 12, 2019 
to claim franchise's first championship

ST. LOUIS -- On the eve of the most important game of not only their lives but the Blues franchise, David Perron summed up just what this team was all about.

"Last year we practiced on this day, and it's funny because I remember stepping on the ice  and other guys, you had the joyful feeling of knowing this is the last practice," Perron joked before laughing. "We weren't even thinking about the game just yet. It was a, 'Finally, we know we're not skating again boys' joke kind of thing. It was in a funny way. 
Oakville's Pat Maroon hoists the Stanley Cup after the
Blues won Game 7, 4-1 in Boston on June 12, 2019.

"I think that's what I love about our group. We find ways to make those situations, those pressure situations ... we have fun with it still. We find a different meaning, just like that one."

The summarization is that the Blues just don't get all hyped up for important, intense, potential history-making kinds of games. At least on the surface they don't, and if there was any meaning, or downplaying, to practicing for the final time on the day before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, then the Blues again passed one more test with flying colors.

After getting blitzed 5-1 in Game 6 on home ice in front of a pack of sardines inside Enterprise Center along with 100,000-plus outside awaiting to light the St. Louis sky up, nobody gave the Blues a snowball's chance of escaping Boston with hockey's most prized possession.

No way, no how. Not past this Boston Tea Party.

But first, there was Jordan Binnington and the Blues weathered the Bruins' storm, settled in, and the rest, shall we say, is Bluenote history that resulted in the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup, 4-1 on this date, June 12, 2019, one year to the day.

Amazing to think it's been a year. So much has happened, including the Blues vaulting to first in the Western Conference with a 42-19-10 record prior to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic shutting down the remainder of the regular season, but one thing is for certain, even a year later, these Blues, many of them the same players on last year's team, will never forget this day, this night, this moment.

"I know it's crazy to think it's been a year," defenseman Colton Parayko said. 'A lot has happened over the last year too. With the year going by, I thought it flew by. 

"Obviously we have a good team again and when you're having fun, your time flies. It was a special day for everybody on our team and in the organization and obviously our family. 

"I'll never forget always seeing the Cup for the first time on the ice, being in the locker room with the guys after. I think just on the plane ride home, how much joy there was for everybody. That was the coolest plane ride home I've ever been on. There were so many different opportunities, cool moments throughout the summer that we had as a group. Obviously the parade was tremendous. The fans in St. Louis are amazing on that. That was so much fun for all of us. Just different events that we got to do. We went to the brewery where they had a beer made for us called Gloria. It's an endless amount of cool things it brought to our team and to our families. You can say the day with the Cup was my favorite day of the summer just getting to share a lifelong dream with all my family and friends that helped guide me along the way. It was really special to me and kind of put things in perspective."

Captain Alex Pietrangelo is thankful for iPhones, because in a time of uncertainties these days and the unknown of when/if the current NHL season will resume, it's a good time to reflect on what's happened over the past year and just how special that night was for all.

"It's strange to think. I was looking back at pictures of my kids (triplets Evelyn, Oliver and Theodore) sitting in the Stanley Cup and you look at where my kids are now, it's hard to believe what happens within a year in terms of my children growing up and the fact that it was a year ago, those big moments, you always kind of wish you would have enjoyed it a little bit more than you did because it goes by so fast," Pietrangelo said. "Part of me wishes I would have enjoyed it more because you forget some of it, but pretty special. Good thing they have iPhones now because you can kind of relive the moments."

Remember when the season started, all the hype surrounding the Blues after general manager Doug Armstrong brought back David Perron, signed Tyler Bozak and "hometown hero" Pat Maroon and traded for Ryan O'Reilly? Then the Blues spit and sputtered out of the gates, costing Mike Yeo his job, and ultimately Craig Berube given the reigns to get the ship back on course. 

On Jan. 3, they sat in last place, 31st out of 31 teams and nowhere to go but up, but off they went, and forget the ship, that jet continued to soar all the way to the end.

"I think the coolest part or the story is kind of where we started and how we bounced back," Parayko said. "I think that was almost beneficial to us in the terms of we weren't going to quit because we knew how good we were. 

"The year went by quick, a lot of time to reflect on the season before and just how cool it really was."

Perron said it was, "The greatest night for sure," in the end, but the emotions leading up to what would be the most important game of their professional careers was packed with adrenaline and anxiety.
Alexander Steen holds the Stanley Cup high for thousands of Blues fans to
see during the team's Cup parade through downtown St. Louis.

"Just going through that day, obviously a lot more nervous," Perron said. "I don't get nervous before games but definitely got nervous that day. It was just managing the emotions, managing the pressure. I tried to save the energy for the right time. 

"I always fell back to what 'JayBo' used to say: you can only control your preparation, and when things kind of get rowdy or more of an intense situation, you just fall back in your head and do normally what you do two hours before a game and you just kind of go back to your routine, stretching, all that stuff. Obviously guys managed it well and it got better with the way 'Binner' played in the first to keep us in that. We didn't have the greatest start, but once 'O'Ry' scored, it seemed like we were building and building and building, and obviously 'Petro' gave us a huge boost with that goal. Here we are celebrating. Obviously most amazing moment of my career. Not many guys can say as a team they won Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final and I couldn't be more proud and excited that I shared that moment with that group of guys. The friendships that we have in the room, the fun that we have in the room, the craziness from guys chirping and having fun on the road, things like that, I miss that the most. It just kind of brings up good memories. It was such a special group of guys and most of us are still here. We're hoping that we get a shot at doing it (again) at some point also. We'll see what's going to happen."

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Roller blading, walks, bike riding among activities Parayko has taken advantage of during pandemic

Defenseman stayed in St. Louis during COVID-19 rather than risk going
back home to Canada; was playing arguably best hockey when season stopped

ST. LOUIS -- A number of his teammates tried to wait out COVID-19 and remain in St. Louis. 

But when it became obvious this was going to be an extended layoff, a number of those players decided to head home, whether it be Canada or Europe.

Not Blues defenseman and St. Albert, Alberta native Colton Parayko.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, an Alberta native, has remained in St. 
Louis during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parayko decided to pitch his tent in St. Louis, spending the entire coronavirus pandemic getting to know his second home city more while waiting for the NHL season to resume.

And he did so for good reason.

"I was planning on heading back at different points throughout this all, but just as we were continuing to go along, I kind of felt like we were maybe getting closer to playing," Parayko said. "If I would have had to go back to Canada, I would have had to do the two-week quarantine and then obviously waiting to see my family anyhow. I wasn't sure if I was going to have the time to go there and quarantine for two weeks and then by the time to come back here, had to quarantine (again) and get ready to go so it would have been months. I was kind of looking at that perspective. I wasn't sure exactly when we were going to start up again."

Blues forward David Perron and defenseman Marco Scandella went back to Quebec; forward Sammy Blais (Quebec), defenseman Vince Dunn (Canada) and center Robert Thomas (Canada) all remained in St. Louis for a while before going back home. Center Oskar Sundqvist is in Sweden, to name a few guys that left. 

Some guys thought best to go home and sacrifice the quarantine time. Parayko wasn't about to risk it.

"Some guys obviously got to go home, and credit to them for making that decision," Parayko said. 'If I would have understood it was probably going to go this long, I would be home and visiting with my family and seeing my family. I wasn't sure of the timeline. 

"I do have a home here, so it's nice that way. I don't have a home back in Canada. Not that that was really a big difference. My parents were hoping to have me back home, but I just wasn't sure when we were going to get back and I didn't want to quarantine for two weeks, maybe spend a week with them and then all of the sudden have to turn around and come back here and quarantine for two weeks. The weather was good here. The weather was nice and warm. Back home, when this all started, I believe it was snowing. It snowed a bit the other day. I'm fine going out on walks and stuff and it's been nice weather. I haven't been going out to different events and stuff like that, but I have been going on a bunch of bike rides. I've definitely been to places that I haven't been to before, which has been cool. It's been a good opportunity for me to just sit back and have some time alone. Obviously we're going 100 miles an hour when we're in-season, so it's just nice to kind of regroup and get ready when we start up again."

Parayko, who was arguably playing his best hockey of the season when the season stopped, picking up 15 (eight goals, seven assists) of his 28 points the past 18 games, was probably one that wished the season didn't stop on March 12. His chemistry with new partner Marco Scandella looked so seamless. The two picked up where Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester left off, even though Bouwmeester and Scandella are different players. It just shows the versatility of Parayko's game and his ability to play with anyone.

"I thought I was kind of trending upward as we continued the season," Parayko said. "I thought I was still playing good at the beginning, but as the season went on, I felt like I was getting more opportunities and more chances and they were just going my way. Sometimes you'll play a portion of the season, you get those chances and they don't go your way and then you'll play a portion of the season and you just don't even get those chances at all, but sometimes you find a way to make it work. It was a good time for myself. 

"Obviously you mentioned Scandella, we were just getting used to different tendencies, how we play together and we all realize he's a really good player and easy to play with and he's vocal. That was nice to have him on my side there. I'm looking forward to getting that back up and running when things get back to normal when we get back on the ice. ... It was good to capitalize on a few of those chances and maybe getting ready for when everything gets going again."

Parayko, who averaged 23 minutes a game in 64 games this season, said he's kept in touch with teammates, especially those that have stayed here throughout, including Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O'Reilly and Brayden Schenn, has found ways of keeping himself in shape while getting no ice time.

"I do some at-home workouts," Parayko said. "I think a big part of it as well is that skating is so much different than any of the workouts that we do in general. I've been doing a good job of keeping up with my fitness and making sure that I'm getting in some workouts throughout the week, making sure than when we get back at it that it's going to be an easy transition than it should be. As soon as we hit the ice, it's not going to take too long to get back in shape. Hopefully I'm in shape enough that it's just going to be those things, getting coordinated again with the puck, getting everything dialed back in, shooting, passing and stuff like that. I just try to do my home workouts, trying to get on the bike. I got some roller blades, I've been roller-blading a little bit. Just staying active in different ways. I think that's the tricky part of this whole thing is trying to find different ways to stay active throughout it. You just try to find different ways to stay fit and enjoy it."

Parayko is the Blues' player rep with the NHLPA and was involved in all decisions/discussions regarding the Return to Play format. He said the Blues' yes vote regarding the 24-team format involved much discussion but when all was said and done, one conclusion was the obvious choice.

"It's one of those things where you try and approach it from all different angles," Parayko said. "Even if you look back at it from a week by week perspective, there were different proposals weekly, different ways I think we can approach it. We wanted to make sure we looked at it from all angles. We didn't rush it. 

"At this point, is everything going to be fair? Probably not, but at the same point, what is fair and how do you even put fair on the table? There's a good chance for teams to obviously play in and get into the playoffs and then it's going to be regular playoffs from there. It's what you have to do, it's different circumstances and that's just the way it is. ... It seems logical for what the outline was, having 24 teams because there's still teams that had the chance to make the playoffs. I don't really like the word 'fair.' I know I used it earlier and I probably shouldn't be using it. It just seems the most logical (proposal) to make sense for everybody. Hopefully it all works out."

Parayko said the Blues finishing in any of 1-4 seeds isn't a concern. He pointed to last season as proof. He likes that they'll get the chance to play meaningful games before the actual playoffs begin.

"It's good that we have that bye in the beginning, which is nice for us where we've earned that by playing well this season," Parayko said of the Blues' 42-19-10 record, including 10-2-0 the final 12. "Those games to reseed will be intense and get us ready for it moving forward. It'll be a good opportunity for us to just get back to normal pace. After that tournament, we want to be hitting our best games. Maybe if we don't necessarily seed first or whatever, I think it's going to be a good chance for us to just build our game and be ready. Last year we weren't the first seed. We're a good road team too."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (middle) is congratulated by teammates
after scoring against the Florida Panthers on March 9.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all this was, as Parayko said, nobody expected when the Blues stepped off the plane upon returning from Anaheim, it would be several months before another potential game would be played.

"Initially you don't really know what to expect," Parayko said. 'It was new for everybody. I personally didn't think it was going to be something that lasted this long. Obviously at that point we didn't understand just how serious everything was going to get and how it was going to go with everything. Just revolving the health and safety of everybody and obviously that's the biggest factor of it all and the No. 1 thing that you want to make sure everybody is healthy. Obviously it was something you don't really see happening and right then and there, you get on the plane and hope you get things going again soon, but obviously it's totally undertandable that it's taken this long. We all understand. We all saw what happened in the world. It wasn't ideal to finish the season where it was at, but that's life and I think there are a lot of different things we need to worry about in terms of just our country and the world from a health and safety standpoint that it just made sense. That's the way it is and we're all on the same boat. Not just hockey, it's all the sports. There's no way you can dawn on it or look at it as a negative. It's just the way it is."