SUNRISE, Fla. - In late October, shortly after undergoing surgery on a serious ankle injury he sustained in practice, Jaden Schwartz was told by surgeons that he wouldn’t be able to walk or put weight on his repaired left ankle for about six weeks.
So, like any dad would do, Rick Schwartz and his wife, Carol, made the 1,200-mile trek from their home in Regina, Saskatchewan to help Jaden recover and cope with the injury.
“We came down in November. We spent some time with him and helped him get around, made sure he was eating properly,” Rick said. “It was a tough time for him cause he couldn’t get around all that much. It’s one of your worst nightmares. Your kid works so hard to get there when the season gets going, and you have a setback like that. Three months is a long time. For me and my wife, we were watching games, but it’s not the same when your kid’s not there.”
Now, about 15 weeks, 49 missed games and some strenuous rehab work later, Jaden is ready to return to the lineup. And just like he was there for support when Jaden couldn’t walk, Rick is in Florida tonight to support his son from the stands at BB&T Center.
It’s what dads do.
“You don’t know what all goes into that rehab and how much work it takes to get back here,” Rick said. “I’m sure he’s happy to be back with the guys again. In my heart, it’s a special thing for him coming back. It’s a wish come true.”
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said the Blues would ease Jaden back into the lineup, starting with just 5-on-5 play.
“All he’s got to do is keep up 5-on-5. That’s what we’re looking for,” Hitchcock said. “Can he keep up to that pace? If he can, that’s going to help us. He works through anything. He’s not affected by his own linemates' performance, he’s not affected by the score. That’s what makes him such a valuable player. He plays a consistent, relentless game when he’s on top of it, and that’s what draws other people into the battle.”
“It’s another weapon in the arsenal,” Blues captain David Backes said. “He’s a guy that brings us tons of energy, is relentless on the forecheck, hounds the puck and creates a lot of o-zone time for us. That’s what we’re looking for to re-establish our game in the offensive zone, score a lot more goals. He’ll be a contributing factor in that along with everyone else picking their game up.”
Having 20 dads on the trip for the team’s second annual Father’s Trip is likely to add more motivation tonight for the players, but it’s Rick Schwartz that will likely be the most moved by tonight’s game.
“It’s special that he’s coming back to play and I’m here for that game,” he said. “It means a lot to me.”
NOT THE SAME OL’ PANTHERS
The Blues have won six of their last seven games against Florida, allowing the Panthers more than two goals just one time in that span. Plus, the Blues’ penalty kill hasn’t allowed a power-play goal to the Panthers since Feb. 8, 2011.
But…these aren’t same old Panthers.
This team is led by Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen and Jonathan Huberdeau offensively with 38 points each. All-Star defenseman Aaron Ekblad leads the defense, and Roberto Luongo has been stellar between the pipes.
The Panthers currently lead the Atlantic Division with 70 points (32-16-6) and has won 11 of the last 12 games at home.
In the first meeting between the clubs this season, Florida earned a 3-1 win at Scottrade Center (Dec. 1).
Today’s morning skate in Florida was optional. Hitchcock said days ago that Schwartz would play on a line with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko, re-uniting last season’s successful STL Line.
Here are tonight’s projected lines:
Patrik Berglund - Alexander Steen - David Backes
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo
Elliott, who will make his 13th consecutive start for the Blues, is 4-0-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average, .955 save-percentage and one shutout in his last five appearances against the Panthers.
Twenty Blues dads are traveling with the team on the current two-game road trip for the second annual Dads’ Trip. Last night, the dads joined their sons for dinner near the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Today, they attended the morning skate at BB&T Center and sat in on the team’s pre-skate meeting. The dads will watch tonight’s game from a suite before traveling to Tampa Bay.
Jagr, who scored his 739th goal in Tuesday’s 7-4 Panthers’ win in Buffalo, is just two goals behind former Blue Brett Hull (741) on the all-time scoring list.