Subscribe for 99¢
St. Louis Blues pre-season starts

The St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube gives instructions during the Blue's first pre-season practice of the 2019-2020 season in the team's new training facility at the Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. The Blues enter the 2019-20 season as defending Stanley Cup champions for the first time in franchise history. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

The story behind the most famous bathroom break in Blues history is that the story would have been flushed from the main character’s mind.

“If he didn’t say anything, I would have forgotten about it,” Carl Gunnarsson said. “For sure.”

It was the veteran defenseman who scored the game-winning overtime goal against the Bruins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It was Blues coach Craig Berube who shared with the team that Gunnarsson predicted his heroics during a conversation the coach and player shared during a bathroom break at the end of regulation.

“Quick story here,” Berube told the dressing room that night after the 3-2 win, and the legend of the urinal was launched.

Gunnarsson, who had bounced a shot off a post earlier in the game, found the perfect time to score the only postseason goal of his career.

His coach knows a few things about timing, too.

The Blues went wild when Berube shared the story. The video of the moment went viral. St. Louis had evened its series against Boston, in Boston. The Blues did not lose there again.

The defending Stanley Cup champions’ quest for a rare repeat hinges on so many factors, but it’s hard to find a bigger one than how Berube’s leadership ages in a league that recycles coaches like it resurfaces ice.

Berube’s ability to sense what his team needs, and when, is just one of the many reasons the Blues believe his era won’t be limited to one parade.

Berube, 53, pressed every right button after he made the transition from Mike Yeo assistant to Mike Yeo’s replacement. The Blues went from lost, to last team standing. Berube went from temp, to signing a three-year extension and receiving free meals for life — if he decides to take advantage of them, that is.

“I don’t go out,” Berube said the first week of training camp, in one of those moments where it’s hard to tell if he’s joking.

(His players aren’t the only ones he keeps guessing.)

Berube has proven to be the right blend of no-nonsense, non-negotiable expectations, along with the right amount of surprise. His style can be compared to how he runs his practices — fast-paced, intense and lacking in anything unnecessary. With the occasional twist.

All business all the time can become a grind. Berube, a former player, knows it. He’s more nuanced than he lets on. His wit arrives in one-liners. Sometimes, there is even a sense of whimsy to him.

How else do you explain captain Alex Pietrangelo sharing the story of players watching videos of Berube’s old hockey fights on YouTube, but only after they make sure the coach won’t walk in and catch them?

Another example: Berube entered the Blues’ dressing room after one of their playoff wins and told the team he had scheduled an early morning practice the following day. The room looked surprised, even a bit upset — until Berube said he was kidding. Cheers filled the room.

One player described recently how watching film with Berube can pivot between belly laughs sparked by the coach’s jokes, to a criticism that lands with the heft of a high stick.

Tyler Bozak credited Berube’s upbeat, optimistic and even humorous vibe before Game 7 as something the team used to combat nerves.

Given an entire day to come up with a story about one of the times Berube has made him laugh, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong returned and said he had nothing. Berube had never made him laugh? Armstrong clarified that he didn’t have a hard time coming up with an example. He had a hard time coming up with an example that could appear in the newspaper.

Wisecracking one moment, hollering the next, Berube can shift gears between warm and withering depending on what he feels each situation needs.

And while his players never quite know what to expect from him, they have made it clear they appreciate his demanding yet fair expectations. Berube’s boss feels the same way.

“You don’t have to push or prod to try to get stuff out of him,” Armstrong said. “He answers questions. He expects answers the same way.”

Berube made hard decisions last season, from demoting veteran Alexander Steen to the fourth line, to turning to goalie Jordan Binnington before it was obvious he was a star, to challenging Vladimir Tarasenko in San Jose, to knowing when to shuffle defensemen during the championship run. When he felt like the Blues were on the wrong side of the officials, he played politics. When he felt like his players were at risk of being distracted by officiating, he shut it down.

His players accepted his decisions and responded well to his moves because he based them off performance and explained them in a straightforward manner. In previous seasons under previous coaches, asking a Blues player why he wasn’t getting more ice time might result in an answer that included more politics than cable news, more drama than daytime soaps. Now? “Just have to play better,” has become a common refrain. In a league that scoffs at coaching sustainability, this could work.

When the Blues entered last season’s playoffs, Berube told those close to him that his team did not need to change in order to win the Cup. What the Blues needed, Berube said, was to stay true to the identity they had forged through hard work, teamwork and a relentlessness no opponent could match.

Mission accomplished.

Another begins.

On the eve of training camp, Berube gathered his champions at Enterprise Center to deliver a tone-setting message that continues to echo.

“We want to do it again,” Pietrangelo said.

“Turn the page,” Brayden Schenn said.

“Stay in the present,” Alexander Steen said. “What can we do today?”

“This is the message from him,” Vladimir Tarasenko said. “It’s on us, the older players, to tell the guys it’s not done yet. Just keep the guys hungry. Everybody understands this.”

Sound familiar?

“Move on from last year,” Berube said. “Lots of work to do.”

Follow the leader.

Keep up with the latest Cardinals coverage from our award-winning team of reporters and columnists.