Jaroslav Halak

Halak on Montreal return: “It’s going to be emotional”


For the first time since guiding the Canadiens to an improbable Eastern Conference finals appearance, Jaroslav Halak is going back to Montreal.

On Tuesday, the St. Louis netminder will face his former club at the Bell Center for the first time since being traded in June of 2010, and will likely receive a hero’s welcome upon hitting the ice. To give you an idea of Halak’s popularity in Montreal, consider this, from NHL.com:

 Not too long after Halak was shipped to the Blues for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, he decided to honor a charity appearance to which he had already committed. Just a few hundred people were supposed to get one last glimpse of the hero who played a major role in upsets of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in that unforgettable postseason run..

However, in Montreal, few things are as simple as they seem when it comes to hockey.

Halak showed up for the session to benefit Ste. Justine Children’s Hospital at La Capsule Sportive store inside Fairview Mall in Pointe-Claire, Quebec expecting maybe 500 or so fans to attend and fork over $20 for a quick hello and an interview.

Estimates were a bit low, it seems. Organizer got their 500 fans — times 10.

That’s right, 5,000 fans lined up five-plus hours before the session began, forming a line stretched for a mile and doubled by the day’s conclusion. Halak stayed 90 minutes past his departure to meet the demand, yet security guards needed to eventually shut it down because of the closure of the mall. By day’s end, Halak helped raise $22,000.

Halak acknowledged Tuesday’s game will be an emotional affair.

“It was a great time [in Montreal],” he said. “I got traded and we didn’t have to go there last year. They came here [to St. Louis] and I think that was perfect. It’s going to be emotional, but at the same time, probably less than it would have been last season.

“I still have a few friends [in Montreal], but when we play against them, there’s no friends on the ice. I’m looking forward to seeing some friends off the ice. We’ll see how it goes. I can’t wait to go back in the building.”

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, Ken Hitchcock is astutely aware of the situation at hand. The St. Louis head coach has been splitting goaltending duties between Halak and Brian Elliott, but made no bones about Tuesday being Halak’s start — even though Elliott is coming off a shutout.

“This is once in a lifetime,” Hitchcock said. “Ideal situation, you want to support the shutout…I mean, come on, first time going back. I think in fairness to Jaroslav he had a heck of a time there. I think it would be dismissive of me to not recognize that.”

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”