Friday, July 24, 2020

As practices remain intense, players' energy level is impressively high

Blues training camp comes to close Saturday before team departs for 
Edmonton Sunday; Sundqvist hurt; Dunn will accompany team to hub city

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- If it's been written here before, it'll be written here gain: practice for the Blues on Friday was done at a feverish pace.

The intensity was high, the energy level -- again -- was up there, and most importantly, guys were laughing and having fun doing things.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (top) said the Blues have been working
on things long enough that their brains "are back into it."

The Blues can see the light at the end of the training camp tunnel, and for two weeks, coach Craig Berube has had players focus on working themselves into that playoff mindset before departing for the Western Conference hub city of Edmonton on Sunday.

"I think everybody's excited to get going here," Berube said. "We'll have one more day tomorrow and head out for Edmonton on Sunday. I really liked practice today. I thought it was our most competitive practice that we've had. Pace was really good. That's good to see. Hopefully we can keep ramping it up here.

"... I haven't seen energy drop, to be honest with you. Obviously there's certain players that have days where they're not as sharp or maybe not as much energy day to day, but overall, the team, it looks good. Their energy's good, their spirit's good and they're getting anxious to play some real games."

What's been as equally impressive is the energy level hasn't fallen off on any given day. The longer a hard training camp goes, it's only natural for some levels to fluctuate, but it doesn't seem like it with the Blues.

There really haven't been any low-level practices since Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan began on July 13, but the fact that the Blues have maintained a high level of energy throughout is impressive.

"You have to," center Brayden Schenn said. "We've been off for four months, guys have been looking forward to playing again. Obviously we knew once the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) was agreed upon, we knew we had a chance to try and win another Stanley Cup.

"I think towards the end of camp here, you realize it's close to playing real hockey games again, even exhibition games against other teams, you're ready to just start playing some games. I think you can feel the energy level come up here."

Berube and the coaches have done a good job of mixing things up, getting players to focus on other areas and not hammering away at the same concept day after day. 

"I think the last couple days when you scrimmage, you do power play, you're just trying to find ways to change up things too, you do a little 3-on-3, maybe a little competition just to change things up, but when you have two weeks of practice, there's only so many drills you can do, there's only so much skating you can do," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's trying to keep each other interested too and try to change things up and work on different scenarios. I think we've been practicing long enough that the brain's kind of back into it, and now it's just kind of tweaking things and working on small systems stuff when we get into that first exhibition game, it feels as normal as possible."

After the Blues depart for Edmonton, they will be able to begin skating again on Monday and Tuesday before facing the Chicago Blackhawks in an exhibition game Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Then the Western Conference Round-Robin kicks off a week from Sunday, Aug. 2, against the Colorado Avalanche at 5:30 p.m.

"As we get closer, I think every day, you feel like you're ramping up practice and kind of mentally too," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "It's going to be a little bit fun getting things going again. I think right now, we're so close, we're just waiting for the next step here. We're kind of anxious to get going."

* NOTES -- Center Oskar Sundqvist became the first injury casualty during this training camp when he crashed into the boards roughly midway through Friday's practice.

The Blues were in a heated drill when Sundqvist appeared to perhaps collide with a teammate, Ivan Barbashev, and slam backside into the corner boards. He stayed on a knee before needing help to the bench from assistant coach Mike Van Ryn. 

Sundqvist stayed on the bench before head athletic trainer Ray Barile seemingly had Sundqvist behind the bench on the floor, perhaps stretching something out. Sundqvist would take a twirl on the ice, headed off and to the dressing room.

Per league policy, Berube had no update on Sundqvist's status.

Berube did say that defenseman Vince Dunn, who hasn't skated since July 14 and was absent for an eighth straight day in on-ice activities, will travel with the team to Edmonton Sunday.

Forward Alexander Steen missed his third straight practice, with what Berube called "rehab stuff" and called the veteran "day-to-day" on Wednesday.

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