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Blues Enjoy Practice at Yost Ice Arena

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

ANN ARBOR - Some of the best history lessons at the University of Michigan aren’t found in the classroom or in those expensive college textbooks.

No, some are available for the cost of a ticket to a Wolverines hockey game, where history is painted all over the walls of the 5,800-seat Yost Ice Arena.

Items of historical significance include nine NCAA championship banners, 24 Frozen Four appearances and plenty of wrapped columns showing Michigan players that have made it to the NHL, including Marty Turco, Brendan Morrison, Mike Cammalleri, Andrew Cogliano, Carl Hagelin, Jack Johnson and Max Pacioretty.

For the Blues, who have embarked on a four-day team-building trip to Ann Arbor, it was a sight to see.


A TOUR WITH RED

Former Blue Red Berenson gives Ken Hitchcock a tour of the University of Michigan's hockey facility. Berenson has worked as the Wolverines head coach for 31 years, winning two national championships.
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Photos: Practice at Yost Arena

“I never had a chance to play here in college, but you hear about the environment,” said Blues defenseman Chris Butler, who played three seasons of college hockey at the University of Denver. “You talk to [Kevin Shattenkirk] or some of the guys that have played here, it’s probably one of the best environments in college hockey. The student section is loud and they’re right on top of you.”

Although Friday’s practice lacked noise from the stands (practice was closed to the general public), it didn’t come without its sense of awe. Yost Ice Arena was built in 1923 and was named for Fielding Harris Yost, the legendary Michigan football coach who served from 1901 to 1924. The venue originally was a practice facility for the Michigan football and basketball programs, but was converted for hockey in 1973.

“It’s been a real adjustment for our players. We never get to see this,” said Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. “It’s refreshing and it’s a throwback to where guys played college or junior hockey. The ice was terrific, the facility and the (Wolverines) have been accommodating of anything we need.

"It’s a good set up for the players.”

The Blues will get a day off on Saturday but will practice at Yost again on Sunday and Monday before returning to St. Louis for the start of the regular season. Hitchcock believes getting away from home will give the team a better focus as it prepares for Opening Night on Oct. 8.

“You’ve got unlimited time to work on things in practice and you’ve got a lot of good camaraderie with the players,” Hitchcock said. “When you’ve got unlimited teaching time, there’s a lot of aspects on special teams and things we can work on, especially getting the details in so we can start fast.”

Away from practice, the Blues will get a chance to relax and catch up with teammates. Goalies Brian Elliott and Jake Allen plan to go fly-fishing on Saturday, while Shattenkirk will meet up his billet family from his days with the U.S. National Development team in Ann Arbor before attending Michigan's exhibition game on Sunday.

Blues coaches will also find time for a private tour of The Big House.

“We get to relax a little and get together before the season starts, do some things as a team,” said Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, whose university days were spent at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. “It’s a change of scenery and something new, so it’s fun."

Friday's practice also included a tour of the facility from former Blue Red Berenson, who has spent the last 31 years as the Head Coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Berenson has led Michigan to two national championships and 11 Frozen Four appearances.

"He meant a lot to the Blues organization," said Butler, a native St. Louisan. "A terrific player and you look at what he’s done here - not many coaches survive that long through the ups and downs, and it's mainly ups with his program. It's so storied. You look at the players they’ve produced and some of the names on the wall here, it’s a pretty special place."

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