Over the years, a countless number of kids have taken to the ice between periods at Blues games, entertaining a Scottrade Center crowd, fantasizing about taking the same ice as an NHL player some day. One of those kids realized that dream Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh forward Joe Vitale made his first NHL appearance on Scottrade ice Tuesday, as the Blues played host to the Penguins. For the Sunset Hills native and CBC grad, it was almost surreal.
"I have some good memories here as a kid, playing between periods of Blues games and then in high school playoffs and championships, so to come back and play the Blues is pretty crazy," Vitale said. "It'll probably sink in sometime later this week when I'm on the (All-Star) break."
Vitale grew up playing in the Affton hockey program and later with the Junior Blues. He also played in the Missouri Mid-States Championship for CBC when it defeated DeSmet in overtime to win the Challenge Cup in 2004.
People are also reading…
Vitale, 26, was selected by the Penguins in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL entry draft. He went on to play college hockey at Northeastern University. He worked hard in the minors and finally got a shot with the parent team last year, playing in nine games.
This season, he made the club out of training camp and has been in 41 games, scoring two goals and seven assists.
He acknowledged plenty of ticket requests for the game with the Blues. "I lost count," Vitale said, smiling. "They've got about three boxes and I'm just going to let them have at it with that. People keep asking me for tickets and I finally had to shut my phone off. It's game day and I have to focus on the game."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was not as much concerned with the Blues playing their second game in as many nights — after a physical 3-1 loss at Detroit on Monday — as he was with the team playing its fourth game in six nights. The Blues now will have nine days off, the longest of any NHL team, before they resume play after the All-Star break.
The Detroit game "took a toll on both teams," Hitchcock. "It was like a single-elimination playoff game. So, we'll see where our energy level is. This was our fourth in six nights, so I'm more concerned with that than back to back."
ELLIOTT'S NEW MASK
Goalie Brian Elliott has a new mask for the All-Star game but did not wear it Tuesday against the Penguins. He plans to take the new mask to Ottawa and have it autographed by his teammates. The mask has stars on it, the NHL All-Star logo and says "Ells" across the chin area.
The Penguins are still without 2009 NHL MVP Sidney Crosby. Coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby is in California visiting with Dr. Robert S. Bray, a neurological specialist. Crosby has continued to suffer from concussion symptoms and has missed 22 consecutive games. He returned to action for eight games before his most recent situation.
"There's not a timetable because it's possible he could stay there for a little bit of a break as well,'' Bylsma said.
Hitchcock said he had no problem with Chris Stewart's first-period actions in Detroit. The Blues forward confronted Detroit's Brad Stuart after his heavy hit on Alex Pietrangelo. Stewart became engaged in a fight with Stuart and wound up getting an extra penalty for instigating. The penalty carried over to the second period and the Red Wings took advantage with a power-play goal.
"I have no issue with that," Hitchcock said. "He's sticking up for a teammate."