On an average winter day in Whistler, the best-known Blues in town are ski runs.
That wasn't the case last week, as the NHL's St. Louis Blues spent three days in the resort during a break in their road trip through Western Canada.
The team spent two of those days on the ice practicing at Meadow Park Sports Centre before departing on Friday afternoon (March 22). With the schedule very compacted during this year's lockout-shortened season, Blues players said they were happy for the chance to get a few days away.
"We've had a really good time," said veteran defenceman Wade Redden after Friday's morning skate. "We had a chance to go out the other night as a team and spent a day touring the Village and stuff, it was a lot of fun.
"To come away like this as a team - it's been such a busy year that it's great to have a little down time, relax and get recharged. Looking at the last month and a bit, it's going to be playoff-type hockey, so we've gotta be ready to roll."
The Blues were in Vancouver to face the Canucks last Tuesday (March 19) at Rogers Arena and had their first of two Whistler practices on March 20. With local kids on their spring break, dozens came out to watch the Central Division squad while hoping to grab autographs, mementos or photos with the players.
"With an NHL team coming into (town), for me that would have been a huge thrill as a kid, so I'm sure they're having fun with it, getting a chance to see these guys up close," said Redden.
Many Blues players used their day off Thursday (March 21) to take in some of what Whistler has to offer, some making a visit to Scandinave Spa, while others were said to have gone dog sledding.
For forward T.J. Oshie, last week's trip was the latest of many he's made to Whistler over the years. While growing up in Everett, Wash., Oshie came up to the resort multiple times to play in the summer's annual Whistler International All-Star Hockey Tournament.
"We were up here at least four or five summers in a row," he said. "It's a great spot."
Oshie said the trip was an excellent opportunity for the Blues to develop some chemistry away from the rink.
"It brings everyone closer together and I think that - whether it's in the back of guys' minds or not - makes you work a little bit harder for your teammates," said the 26-year-old, who had been battling a rib injury, but benefitted from the time off and returned to the lineup after the Blues left Whistler.
Redden said it was also a neat experience to practise at a small, community rink, bringing players back to their roots.
"It's awesome to be in little arenas that are a little colder, it takes you back to your minor hockey days, for sure" said Redden. "Especially this rink - it's pretty cool to have the big windows there. It's a cute little arena and it's fun to just get away from it all - a different city and a small town, kind of out of the NHL lights a bit."
Head coach Ken Hitchcock said spending some down time in Whistler beforehand shouldn't take his players out of the mindset they would need to continue battling for a playoff berth. That seemed to be the case when they continued their road trip Saturday (March 23), soundly defeating the Edmonton Oilers 3-0.
"This isn't a vacation, this is three days off. This is a regular occurrence in the National Hockey League that you go through every day," said Hitchcock, the reigning Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL's coach of the year. "The guys really worked hard in practice. I think it got us healed, the bumps and bruises are gone, the guys competed hard against each other."