VAIL, Colo. — There is snow on the tallest peaks here in the Rocky Mountains. Not nearly enough for skiing at this noted resort town.
Not that coach Craig Berube and general manager Doug Armstrong want their Blues hurtling down slopes anyway. Even so, the Blues will receive a chilling reminder during their stay here that winter isn’t all that far off.
That’s because, starting Tuesday, the high temperature over the team’s four-day bonding trip is forecast at 42 degrees. On Friday, when the Blues head out for Denver and their season-opener Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche, the overnight low is forecast at 16.
Wait. There’s more. Snow showers are forecast Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Brrrrr! Remember, it was 90 degrees just a few days ago in St. Louis.
So those plans for golf, hiking, fishing during free time might be put on hold, or at least limited.
“Usually, I like to golf when I can,” captain Ryan O’Reilly said. “We’ll see how that goes. I did pack some warm clothes. So yeah, if the opportunity’s there. If not, I’m sure we’ll find something else to do and have some fun.
“I can’t see myself going fishing. It’s too cold for that.”
They can always head out for team dinners.
Perhaps maybe sit around a campfire for some S’mores and, uh, hot cocoa.
OK, even if the Blues are sitting around a fire, which seems highly unlikely, they’ll probably be drinking something stronger than cocoa. This is, after all, a team bonding trip.
“We got a lot of good guys in that (locker) room, and I think getting a chance to take in a bit more of each personality and have some beers together, and get ready to rock and roll here,” veteran defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said.
When reminded that drinking at high altitudes can be problematical, Bortuzzo feigned innocence.
“Yeah, that’s good advice,” he deadpanned. “I’ve never, you know, had a drink up there. So thanks for clearing that up.”
The idea of all this is to have some fun. But not too much fun.
“Absolutely,” O’Reilly said. “We want to be able to do fun things and have a good laugh. But still it’s very important that we’re preparing for Colorado. It’s obviously a very, very good team.
“It’s gonna be a fun trip. It’s still a business trip, but there are some times where we can have some fun and come closer.”
Getting a few skates in at altitude this week will help when the Blues take on the Avalanche in the Mile High City. The elevation of Vail is 8,150 feet, or nearly 3,000 feet higher than Denver.
This will be the first team bonding trip for the Blues since just before the 2018-19 season. After finishing their preseason with a game in Washington against the Capitals on a Sunday, the Blues took a tour of the United States Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis, Md., on Monday, then practiced at the Navy ice rink that Tuesday before heading out for St. Louis.
The superintendent of the Naval Academy, Admiral Wallace E. “Ted” Carter, presented the Blues with a personal coin — a military tradition that is a gesture of respect and recognition of excellence. The Blues put the coin on a plaque in the locker room, and placed pucks beneath it for every victory all the way up to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Did that bonding trip help the Blues on the road to the Cup?
“I don’t know, maybe it does help,” Berube said. “Nobody knows. But there’s nothing wrong with doing it. Annapolis is a great place and we got to go to the Naval Academy and do some things there with the cadets and things like that.
“It’s always a good idea to get your team together if you can at some point to do certain things like that.”
According to O’Reilly, the idea of the Vail trip was initiated by Armstrong.
“I think it kind of started with ‘Army’ wanting us to get away,” O’Reilly said. “Obviously, I think everyone’s on board for it. At home, especially a lot of us with kids and stuff, we don’t have enough time to get together. So this is an important thing where we can kind of leave and really get to know each other better. Especially with the new faces we have. To get everyone together on the same page and just get to know each other.
“It’s a long year and we need to start good.”
The Blues have had numerous such trips pre-dating Annapolis. Included over the years were treks to Palm Springs, Calif., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Whistler, British Columbia. Way back in 1995, then-coach Mike Keenan took the Blues to Vail, so this isn’t a first for the organization.
And it’s a custom not unique to the Blues.
“Actually, ‘Army’ did it with us in my first year in Dallas,” forward James Neal said. “We went to Colorado Springs. I’ve done different trips. We were in Kelowna (B.C.) last year with Edmonton. We were in Austin when I was in Dallas. We’ve done different trips with different teams, so it’s a good way to get the guys together and start the season off on the right foot.”
Vail is less than two hours west of Denver, so the Blues are bonding not far from where they’ll open the ’21-22 campaign. And even if they’re chilly in Vail, the whole idea is to start the season hot in Denver and beyond.
As season begins, the St. Louis Blues are looking to find their old form with many new players.