(Photo: FSN Midwest)
The late Judy Garland once said, “There’s No Place Like Home”, when she played Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. For Blues fans, that saying never gets old when hockey season rolls around. For many St. Louisians, it’s no longer just Baseball Heaven, it’s Hockey Heaven and the fans clearly shown it.
During the 113-day lockout, I’ve been going to local rinks, getting my hockey fix wherever I can. The number of people that came out (even to high school hockey games) has been at an all time high. Everywhere I go now, I see sweaters, hoodies, hats, car decorations and every possible thing that St. Louisians have shown their love for this team and even when in tough times, they know and love hockey and to that, it brought tears to my eyes and I’ve never felt so proud of my city. The most amazing thing happened on the final day before training camp, Sunday January 3, when Blues fans gave a standing ovation to the team at Scottrade Center. The team responded with a stick salute. Just experiencing that moment brought chills throughout my spine and goosebumps all over my arm (just when the temperature at the rink wasn’t doing it enough). To fans, hockey is just not a game, it’s a way of life. It gives their life purpose, meaning and direction. And because of that, that’s why we live, breathe and die hockey.
With the arrival of Vladimir Tarasenko (FINALLY), Blues fans have faith that this team is just inches away from hoisting Lord Stanley. However, it’s just not Tarasenko that has the fans excited. Prospects like Jaden Schwartz, Ty Rattie, Jordan Schmaltz, Jordan Binnington and so on. Fans are now following the draft, major juniors, college hockey, world juniors and even the KHL, trying to keep up with their favorite prospects, hoping to see them tear it up. All credit goes to Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong and his staff. They have carefully paid close attention to these kids and made the right moves in determining what’s best of this franchise.
The Notes kick off the 48-game season Saturday night hosting Detroit (I mean, hell, what better way to start the season with a good ol’ fashioned rivalry, am I right?). Detroit had taken a few bumps this offseason as longtime Red Wing legend Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement. The Wings have HUGE shoes to fill and are expected to be in full force this season with some call-ups from their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
While we’re on the discussion of the AHL, let’s talk about Peoria (bare with me, please). In 37 games this season, the Rivermen are 16-17-2 and are currently ranked 13th (out of 15th) in the Western Conference. For the fans who do follow Peoria, this isn’t much of a surprise as first year head coach Dave Allison had no idea what he was walking into. Nonetheless, the Rivs actually do have a lot of solid fowards and defensemen that have great potential of wearing the Note this year. The most deserving candidates are T.J. Hensick and Derek Nesbitt. These two have been such underrated forwards in the past few and just have not had the opportunity to be called up. Hensick currently has 9G and 31A and Nesbitt with 12G and 12A. Fellow teammates Phil McRae, Evengy Grachev, Cade Fairchild, Taylor Chorney (no longer with the Rivs) and Jake Allen have all made appearances last season as Blue Notes but have been bounced around back and forth from St. Louis Peoria.
So who who will have the biggest impact this year? Well…we’ll have to wait and see. There’s no question Blues captain David Backes will be one of them. Last season, Backes racked up 24G and 34A in all 82 games and finished with a plus/minus of +15. We can also expect big things from fellow forwards T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen, Chris Stewart and Vladimir Sobotka. There has also been a big help regarding defensemen with Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Roman Polak and Kris Russell. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott return for another year after a tremendous year by both averaging just under a 2.00 Goals Allowed Averaged (GAA) and a combined Save Average (SA) of 0.933.
There is much excited in the air and the best way to describe Blues fans through this travesty called a lockout is like holding a beach ball under water. With pressure, the ball naturally wants to float to the top but it can’t. However, once whatever is holding it under is removed, it EXPLODES out of the water with such force. I will say that I can’t give how many wins and losses I expect the Blues will put up this year but let’s just say they will finish on a “positive” note. After today’s final informal skate, Blues fans have shown their pride, passion and appreciation for this team. Hopefully, they take use that as motivation for this season.
LONG LIVE THE BLUE NOTE