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Opening Night More Than Just A Game

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
Some will call it a new beginning.

Others see it as an opportunity, a chance to turn the page on one chapter and write a new one.

For the rest, it’s a chance to see what an entire summer of hard work can produce.

It’s Opening Night. Hockey’s version of New Year’s Day.

 Opening Night Pep Rally
Help celebrate the return of hockey season at the Blues Home Opener Rally, presented by Fox Sports Midwest and Bud Light, from 5 to 7 p.m. outside Scottrade Center on Friday.

Join us for live music, prizes and appearances by Dave Checketts, John Davidson, John Kelly and Bernie Federko. ...more
And although it means something different to everyone you’ll ask, one common theme applies: after more than two weeks of exhibition games, this one finally counts.

It counts for the players, who worked tirelessly over the summer by getting their bodies into better shape: stronger, faster, more agile. It counts for members of the Blues staff who have worked long hours preparing for a new season, from selling tickets and building a marketing strategy to creating attractive season ticket packages and preparing fresh in-game entertainment. And it counts for the fans, who have long anticipated the days when the foghorn would rock Scottrade Center again.

On Friday night, it counts for everybody. The wait is over.


Blues forward Lee Stempniak looks at Friday's game vs. Nashville as an opportunity for a fresh start. (Getty Images).
Blues forward Lee Stempniak looks at Opening Night as a chance to start fresh and leave last season behind.

A native of West Senaca, NY, Stempniak showed great potential with 27 goals during the 2006-07 season but took a step back last year, scoring just 13 times in 80 games.

“Right when that last game ended last year, I put it behind me and moved on,” Stempniak said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve moved past last year and I can’t wait for this season. I think it’s going to be very successful for our team.”

On Friday, Stempniak will enter his fourth year as a pro and is more focused than ever to live up to the promise he showed two seasons ago. Consider this: in five preseason games this year, Stempniak tallied 12 points (five goals, seven assists). By comparison, it took 23 games in 2007-08 for him to reach that same number.

“I think everyone’s just champing at the bit to get out there on Friday and start playing for real,” Stempniak said. “(Opening Night) is an unbelievable feeling. All the lights are out, packed house, Blues jerseys everywhere. It’s a lot of fun. It’s times like that where you come out and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Credit some of Stempniak’s resurgence to the success of preseason linemates Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes, but they’ll be the first to admit it’s a two-way street: Stempniak has contributed to their success, too.

“He’s got a lot of ability, he’s proven it before,” said McDonald. “We talk about how good of a shooter he is, he’s strong on the puck, he’s gritty. He complements our line pretty well.”

Boyes and goaltender Manny Legace lead a group of players who can envision Opening Night as a chance to build on last season’s success and permanently throw their names among the league’s elite. Boyes scored a career-high 43 goals last season, becoming the first Blues player to reach the 40-goal plateau since Scott Young did during the 2000-01 season, while Legace recorded a winning record (27-25-8) on a team that finished 14th in the Western Conference last year. He also made his first All-Star appearance and set a career-high in games played with 66.

David Perron can be a leader among the team’s youth while McDonald can mark Oct. 10 as the first day of his first full year with the club. Paul Kariya, who led the Blues in assists last season, can use Opening Night to return to the goal-scoring ways that have made him famous.

The rookies will say Opening Night is an event they’ve looked forward to their entire lives. T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo each shared childhood dreams of playing in the NHL and on Friday, those dreams become reality. Sure, there will be plenty of butterflies, but the highly-regarded prospects know Friday’s game vs. Nashville provides a chance to prove to the world that they are deserving of wearing an NHL sweater.

“I rarely ever get nervous, but I think for this, I will,” said Oshie. “I know I was nervous the first time I put on my high school jersey and the first time I was in college, so this will be a big night for me.”

“I think (Opening Night) is the only thing that’s been in my mind all long,” said Pietrangelo, who will start the season with the team after being drafted just three months earlier. “It’s finally here and I’m extremely excited. I have tons (of butterflies), even in practice. I can only imagine on Friday what it’s going to be like.”


While the scorching heat of summer bears down and the sports fans in St. Louis relax at a baseball stadium just a few blocks east of the rink, Chris Frome is hard at work.

As the team’s Event Presentation Director, Frome collaborates with Mark Tamar, the Vice President of Entertainment and Event Marketing, to create an in-game experience that keeps fans entertained when the action on the ice comes to a stop.

Frome works with a team of video producers and editors to film skits to entertain fans throughout intermissions while also shooting player headshots and the opening video seen before every Blues home game.

Chris Frome (left) talks with Jay McClement about the opening video that will play before Blues home games this season.
“Our video production staff starts planning the next season’s entertainment the day after the last season ends and we dedicate many long hours throughout the summer in preparation for Opening Night,” Frome said. “In the period leading up to the big day, it’s not unusual to put in 90 hours each week.”

This year, more than 1,000 Blues fans will be part of the opening video, which was shot after FANfest. The fans will be shown joining the team on a march into Scottrade Center.

“Every year, we try to raise the bar on our game presentation. The fans of St. Louis deserve the best and that’s what drives us to put together the most enjoyable show we can,” Frome said.

Elsewhere in the arena, the sales staff was putting in overtime in an effort to ensure the Scottrade Center is filled in time for Friday’s season opener. Members of the sales staff often worked overtime to meet clients, assist fans in finding seats while also volunteering their weekends to help make FANfest a success.

“This past offseason has been one of our most demanding as we strive to exceed the expectations of the organization’s overall success last season,” said Todd Lambert, the team’s Senior Vice President of Sales. “There is never really an offseason for our staff, and their commitment is evident every day of the year…especially on Opening Night.”

But hard work and tremendous effort isn’t just reserved for In-Game Entertainment and Sales teams. The Public Relations and Team Services department works around the clock making travel arrangements for every player invited to training camp, while the graphic design staff prepares ads promoting the new season of Blues hockey. Meanwhile, Building Operations is making the ice surface, painting and preparing the zamboni for another 44 games worth of clean up.

From top to bottom, preparing for an NHL season is a strenuous process.

But for the Blues staff, it’s all worth it on Opening Night.


No one is more excited for the upcoming season than Blues fans, who will get a chance to see T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund in regular season action for the first time.
For most, summer felt like an eternity.

But when regular season hockey returns to Scottrade Center on Friday, perhaps no one will be more excited than the Blues fans, who have anxiously awaited the arrival of forwards Oshie and Berglund.

The thing is, Oshie and Berglund have been just as anxious to play in front of them.

“They give us a lot of jump, especially right away,” Oshie said. “It makes us even more excited for the season. You always want to impress the fans and do good for them, so when they’re out and supporting you with a full crowd, you want to play your best.”

The Blues are turning the corner. The rebuilding process has tested the fans’ patience over the last three seasons, but the influx of talented youth that Blues President John Davidson has talked about has finally begun to arrive.

After Oshie, Berglund and Pietrangelo, there are a few more still waiting in the wings.

For the players, staff and fans, Opening Night is so much more than just a game, and proof of that will be visible everywhere you look on Friday.

Welcome to another season of Blues hockey.

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