MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. – Hundreds have gathered at Centene Ice Community Center to enjoy the first two days of St. Louis Blues training camp. The new season begins in nearly three weeks, and the Blues are motivated to bounce back from last year’s tough luck.
The Blues missed playoffs for just the second time in 12 seasons last year and only the 10th time in 56 seasons. Behind new captain Brayden Schenn, the Blues hope to prove last year’s misfortunes were a fluke.
“We’re going to put it in the rear-view mirror and focus on this year,” said Schenn. “If you look at our locker room right now, guys are showing that we are not happu with last year. That’s step one. We have a lot of work to do.”
Physicality has been a big focus in the early stages of preseason, with several drills emphasizing the importance of conditioning, forechecking and puck battles.
By promoting Schenn as captain, plus reuniting with Sammy Blais and Oskar Sundqvist, the Blues have quite a few catalysts that can pack a punch and provide a spark in scoring.
“We’ve always been a heavy team, a big team,” said fifth-year Blues head coach Craig Berube. “We don’t want to lose that in the early going.”
Sundqvist reunites on a one-year deal after departing at the 2022 trade deadline. He’s battled some injuries, but feels he is in the best shape of his career this season.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Sundqvist. “Coming back to a place where I’m familiar with and knowing what’s going on. I’m super happy for the opportunity. I know it’s up to me to prove I can play as best as I can, hopefully get an extension for this city and this team. I’m excited for the season to start.”
Jordan Kyrou and Jakub Vrana both scored in a Friday morning scrimmage, featuring two teams with both NHL-ready talents and Blues prospects. Vadim Zherenko stole the show in net with several challenging pad and glove saves. Jordan Binnington played about 10 minutes of the scrimmage and kept opponents scoreless.
When asked about Kyrou and Robert Thomas, both who begin the season in the first year of their new franchise-record contracts, Berube says they are two players who will be tasked to set a strong example for the team during adversity.
“It’s just about finding that second and third effort. That’s really important because the NHL is a second- and third-effort league,” said Berube. “We need that from everybody.”
Kevin Hayes is one of the team’s few newcomers, though the Blues are also trying out Nick Ritchie and a few others with NHL experience this camp.
Sundqvist, now in his second go-around with the Blues, is also motivated by St. Louis CITY SC and the success they have enjoyed in their first season.
“The turnout has been unbelievable,” said Sundqvist on CITY SC. “For them to also clinch a playoff spot, it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m sure the city of is going to be behind them and rocking that stadium. … Going to the games is a lot of fun. We’ll see if I can sneak a few more in before the end of preseason.”
The Blues open their preseason game schedule with a pair of split-squad matches against the Arizona Coyotes. Fans can also attend preseason practices for free on Saturday and Sunday at the Centene Community Ice Center.
The Blues are also hosting a fan-appreciation season kickoff event Friday evening called Blues & Brews at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Several players, coaches, alumni and Blues gameday staff will appear at the event.
Watch for highlights and interviews in the video above this story.