Adam Henrique

NHL rivalries live on in the AHL

One thing the lockout has helped do is cool off a few long-standing NHL rivalries as well as some budding ones as well. If there’s something NHL fans can take solace in, it’s that some of those wars rage on in the AHL with future league stars.

Rivalries between the Oilers-Flames, Devils-Flyers, Rangers-Islanders, and others all live on between the exiled young NHLers with those teams. For them, it provides a chance to improve themselves against equal competition.

For New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique (Albany Devils) playing against guys on the Flyers like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, it doesn’t get old.

“That’s one of those rivalries that picks up over the course of the season. We play them, what, 12 or 13 times here so teams get really familiar with each other.”

“We’re familiar with each other. We know what they’re going to bring to the table each night. We know what we’re gonna bring. More often than not it’s going to be a hard-fought battle to the end of the game.”

The rivalry between the Devils and Flyers is tight in the NHL, but it’s the same way in the AHL with the two teams being separated by a relatively short drive for the minor leagues. Brayden Schenn says that just helps add to the flavor.

“We play ’em lots, we see ’em lots. We know what they’re all about and since they’re so close as well, about a 30-minute drive, it’s almost like you’re playing a home game.”

For a guy like Travis Hamonic, playing with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers, matching up against forward talent like that presents him with his own set of challenges.

“I like it, I really enjoy it,” Hamonic says of facing other NHL guys there. “Those are good young players that are in the same situation I’m in. It seems like every team’s got a few of those guys so for me I enjoy it. Those are guys I play against on a regular basis so it’s nice to be able to compete against them.”

Whenever the NHL does return, it’ll be good to see this kind of heat carry over for fans to relish in again.

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.”