Friday, September 15, 2006

Ice Time

-While a high percentage of St. Louis sports fanatics may be fretting over who the third starter will be for the Cardinals in the playoffs... or whether the Rams will ever score a touchdown this season...some of us hockey die-hards were getting our first look at the Checketts-era Blues at The Mills. The Ice Zone there was packed Friday morning with the curious, the hopeful, and the uncurably, hockey-infected portion of our sports community. The atmosphere was upbeat both on, and off, the ice.

As you see by the playoff program pictured above, the Blues are featuring a new marketing slogan for the beginning of the Dave Checketts regime. Join the Blue Revolution. Frankly, I'm not wild about it, but I suppose it's a fair indicator of the mind-set of the new ownership. From everything that I've seen, or heard, from those inside the front office and around the team, the new ownership is attempting to project to the community that--the Laurie's are out...there's a new bunch in town... and it's time to forget about the past. Maybe--The Quest Starts Now or Let's Paint the Cup Blue would have been a better indicator of the ultimate prize being the pot at the end of the "Checkered Rainbow", so to speak. But, the bottom line will be measured on the ice...not with a marketing slogan.

As far as that product is concerned, it's hard to judge just what you have on the first day of full-squad practice. Friday morning, for instance, head coach Mike Kitchen, new assitant Brad Shaw and assistant/goalie coach Rick Wamsley were putting the players through various stick-handling and shooting drills. Difficult to gauge speed, strength, and heart from that. The real evidence will start to present itself Saturday with intra-squad scrimmages.

It was interesting to me that the goalies who will compete for the starting job were on the ice at the same time Friday. Curtis Sanford (pictured with yours truly...Obviously, the goalie was ready for the shot taken by Blues staffer Randy Walker, and I wasn't. But then, that's why Curtis is a goalie) and Manny Legace figure to battle it out for the number-one job. If Sanford is back to 100-percent after his knee injury of last season, he should be able to nail down the #1 job. Legace will likely give him a dogfight for it though. And Jason Bacashihua, also no slouch, will likely get a lot of playing time in Peoria...and be ready for a call-up to the big club.. if needed.

One other thing worth noting from today's action. I got there at the tail-end of the first practice session, just as the players were coming off the ice. Everyone I talked to said that Keith Tkachuk was bouncing around like a little kid at recess. He's supposed to be in the best physical condition of his career, weighing in at a lean 227 for training camp. Conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte has whipped Walt and several other of the veteran Blues into tip-top shape for the grueling season ahead. One can only be excited about the potential of a lean, mean and ready-to-go Tkachuk. When healthy, he was dominant in the "new" NHL last year... when the crackdown on clutching and grabbing allowed him to maneuver easier around the goal. If he's a lot stronger...and a step or two faster...look out. He might start a Blue Revolution of his own.

Pre-season game one is Tuesday @ Chicago. First pre-season home game-- Sunday the 24th--5pm--vs. Atlanta. First regular-season game--Thursday, October 5th @ San Jose. First regular-season home game--Thursday, October 12th vs. Boston.

See you at the rink! Go Blues! Let's Make Some Noise!

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