The 2021-22 NHL season may officially begin on Tuesday, but the St. Louis Blues won't drop the puck on their first regular-season game until Saturday night when they visit the Colorado Avalanche at 8 p.m. CT (BSMW, 101 ESPN) at Ball Arena.
With plenty of time to spare, Blues players and coaches will board a flight Monday for a team bonding trip to Vail, Colorado.
"It's a good way to get the guys together and start the season off on the right foot," said Blues forward James Neal, who signed a one-year contract Saturday after joining the team in training camp as a professional tryout. "I'm looking forward to it."
While in Vail, the team will practice at the 35,000 square-foot Dobson Ice Arena. According to its website, Dobson Ice Arena is the largest multi-purpose ice facility on Colorado's western slopes. After practice, the players will have plenty of time for golf, fishing and team dinners.
Team bonding trips are nothing new for the Blues. In past seasons, the team has traveled to Palm Springs, Whistler, Charleston, Ann Arbor and even visited the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. COVID-19 protocols prevented team bonding trips last year, but with a bit more normalcy expected this season, the team is excited to get back to the tradition.
"We're going to spend some time as a team away from the rink, get to know some guys," said Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. "We didn't have a chance to do that last year. There are some new faces. There are a lot of guys in that room, so we'll get a chance to take in a little more of each personality, have some beers together and get ready to rock and roll here."
The team has endured a lot of change in the past two seasons. Players who joined the team during the pandemic and haven't yet had a team bonding trip as Blues include Torey Krug, Pavel Buchnevich, Brandon Saad, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Kyrou, Jake Walman and Ville Husso.
"These are all experiences that are good for the group and build some chemistry," said Blues defenseman Justin Faulk. "You want the guys to be comfortable with each other, and there are always new guys that need (the bonding trip). It will be a good experience and I think guys will enjoy it. It will loosen them up, obviously not too much, before the season and just take our mind off of (hockey).
"When the time comes Saturday, we'll all be ready to go."