Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Blues Gear Up before Hitting Vail Trail

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Blues Gear Up before Hitting Vail Trail

Article excerpt

Although Kiel Center has been open for three months, it wasn't until Friday afternoon that the Blues' dressing room finally came to life.

Doctors, nurses, physical therapists and trainers buzzed through the massive locker room and training facility, supervising preseason medicals and physical drills. Players moved - some swiftly, some sluggishly - from station to station, repeating the various tests first conducted before training camp more than three months ago.

General manager and coach Mike Keenan occasionally ventured through, casting his steely eyes on the proceedings before moving on.

The physicals were the players' first official act as members of the Blues in 105 days, since the National Hockey League locked them out and postponed the season. They returned to work after the NHL Players' Association ratified a new collective bargaining agreement Friday morning.

"It's a peaceful day, because obviously, there was no peace," said former GM Ron Caron, who greeted players as they entered the training room. "Finally, this becomes a home. It was an empty building."

Kiel Center was built for hockey, but the Blues' Peoria farm team has played the only game there since the building opened in October. Blues hockey will make its debut Jan. 26, 3 1/2 months after the original opener against Chicago was scrapped.

The regular season opens Friday, with the Blues in San Jose, Calif. They'll play the next night in Vancouver, then head to Calgary for a game against the Flames on Jan. 24.

But first things first. The Blues will get Mike Keenan's "We're here to win the Stanley Cup" speech at 8:30 this morning, then take off for Vail, Colo., for Training Camp II.

"It's a little bit hurried, but the players expected it to be that way," said Brendan Shanahan, who won't be accompanying the team immediately because he failed his precamp physical. "It's nice to come back and see everybody here. We're ready to start acting like a team. It's a good feeling."

Training camp won't feel good, however. Although the choice of Vail, a winter playground of the rich and famous, raised some eyebrows, the Blues won't be there to party.

"We're not going to ski," assistant coach Bob Berry said. "We're going to work."

Training at high altitude serves a purpose. It'll be taxing in the short term and beneficial in the long run.

"I've skated up there, and it's no fun," said Blues winger Kevin Miller, who trained in Vail with the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. "We were in good shape, too. It'll feel good when we come down, but that altitude is tough."

Captain Brett Hull was having a tough enough time Friday at 600 feet above sea level. After a grueling back-to-back session on an exercise bike, he was huffing and puffing in the hallway outside the locker room.

"I'm dying," he said. "I'm beat."

Later, he said, "This day (stinks). …

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