(HockeySTL)-- The early-season team-bonding trip is becoming an annual occurrence for the Blues. One of the purposes of the trip is to allow the players a little bit of relaxation time following the consistent chaos of training camp and the first week of the season. But the main purpose of the trip is to weld together a better team not only on the ice, but also in the locker room and beyond.
This year, that opportunity will take place in Palm Springs, California. Players flew to the destination following their weekend win against Calgary and many voiced that they were excited to experience the team’s first road trip of the season.
While in Palm Springs, the team will hold morning practices but the rest of the day will be player-organized and is sure to include plenty of time for fun and relaxation. Head coach Ken Hitchcock says the team needs those two elements.
“We’ve got lots of time with each other,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got lots of practices planned. The players have a lot of stuff they can do. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy yourself. Quite frankly, we need to do that. We need to start having a little fun here so we can build a better bond than we’ve got right now.”
Last year, the Blues traveled to Charleston, South Carolina for a four-day excursion and found the break useful. There was some fishing, movie-watching, etc. involved. The fun aspect isn’t expected to change on this year’s trip. And even though the team will practice daily, the practices will be light-spirited, especially since the Blues are expecting visitors.
“I’m sure there will be some youth hockey kids that will come out like they did in Charleston last time,” Blues captain David Backes said. “It’s fun to connect with the community. They’re hosting us; they always treat us really well so we will give back a little bit and show what the game is all about and that it’s for everyone. Everyone can come out and play with the NHL team.”
Though he is devoted to making the team better on the ice, Hitchcock hopes the players become more united off the ice in the coming days. Right now, he says the club doesn’t have enough of a team-like feel to it.
“To be honest, we’ve had no time together as a team,” Hitchcock said. “We are not a team yet. We’ve had no social time together; we’ve had no fun together. It’s just been training camp, exhibition games, start of the season. There’s been no building and bonding that has gone on. Everybody goes home and there’s no quality time together. This is a terrific opportunity if we take advantage of it.
“We are an okay team right now, but we are not near as tight and cohesive as we need to be. Hopefully this can do it.”
Tagging along are four new faces, who will be experiencing their first long road trip with the Blues. One of those players, Paul Stastny, who joined the Blues this offseason, has been on many trips in his NHL career, but he’s really looking forward to bonding with some of his new teammates this week.
“When you go on the road, you get to hang out with the guys, get to know them a little bit better,” Stastny said. “That’s one of the fun things about playing hockey is doing those road trips. Going out west we get to go a few days early and do a little team bonding. It’s good.”
The Blues did travel three times in the preseason, making stops in Minnesota, Columbus and Kansas City. But the travel was brief, mostly done in the same day, and the roster was inconsistent. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was a part of last year’s trip and said it’s nice to finally sneak in a lengthy road trip as a new team.
“We have some new faces,” Shattenkirk said. “We’ve had time in the locker room together, but we haven’t really had time on the road. It’s going to be fun to get to know some of these guys and to feel more comfortable in this locker room with the team. It’s really just a great time to get out of St. Louis and get ready for the season.”
Goaltender Brian Elliott concurs with the defenseman.
“It’s a good chance to get together, get your stories, have dinner together,” Elliott said. “Those are always good for team morale.”
After a few days off, the Blues will travel to Los Angeles to face the Stanley Cup Champion Kings, to Arizona to meet the Coyotes and then to Anaheim to take on the Ducks. The team won’t return to St. Louis for another week.