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All-Star Game

Berube of Blues expects his first NHL All-Star Game to be 'pretty cool'

Appreciates getting to coach Central Division after 17-season career as role player

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

ST. LOUIS -- Craig Berube never made the NHL All-Star Game as a player. He played 1,054 regular-season games in 17 seasons as a forward but ranks seventh in penalty minutes (3,149), not points.

"Never an all-star," he said with a laugh. "I wasn't that kind of player."

He's that kind of coach, though.

Berube will coach the Central Division at the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS) because his St. Louis Blues had the best point percentage in the Central through Jan. 2, the cutoff point.


[RELATED: 2020 NHL All-Star Game coverage]


The Blues lead the division and are tied with the Boston Bruins for second in the League, three points behind the Washington Capitals, showing no hangover after winning the Stanley Cup for the first time last season.

For years, Berube would take a trip during the All-Star break and catch some of the game on television. Now, at 54, he will get to experience it for the first time in the NHL.

"I just didn't have the ability to do that," he said. "For me, I was just trying to survive every year and grind out another year. That's the way I looked at it. Year to year, you know?

"You always want to be, I guess, put in a situation maybe where you want to be a better player. But in reality, it's hard. You're not that good. This is what you are. I think understanding that and accepting it was the reason I played 1,000 games."

It might be a reason for this too.

The Blues have star players. Four will appear in this game in front of their home fans: goalie Jordan Binnington, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forwards Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron.

If not for Binnington, who came up from the minors and made his first NHL start Jan. 7, 2019, St. Louis would not have gone from last place in the League as of Jan. 3, 2019, to the Stanley Cup. Binnington was runner-up to Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson in voting for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the rookie of the year.

But Berube, who replaced Mike Yeo on Nov. 19, 2018, got the Blues to play together and realize their potential. He was a finalist in voting for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the coach of the year.

"I think last year once we got to the point where the team was more important than anything else, it started to really turn," Berube said. "The goaltending, obviously, that's a big thing. You need it. But our guys are bought-in to the team-first mindset and mentality, and to me, that's everything. It really is."

Berube showed what former NHL goalie Darren Pang, the Blues TV color analyst, called "people smarts" or "personality smarts."

"When he took over the team, he didn't say much technically," Pang said. "He said, 'We're a good team.' When someone would say, 'Well, you're playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They've got this, this and that,' he'd stop everyone and say, 'We're a good team. We're a good team.' It's like if you're a bad putter but you tell everybody you're the best putter in the world, eventually you're going to make a couple putts, and he kind of did that. He made them believe."

Berube, the former tough guy, held everyone accountable and let everyone know where he stood by being open, honest and direct. Berube, the former role player, made sure everyone knew his role, accepted his role and understood how his role fit into the bigger picture while playing to the Blues' strength, their depth.

"He makes everyone feel like they're important to the team, which everyone is," said center Brayden Schenn, who also played for the Philadelphia Flyers while Berube was an assistant (2011-13) and the coach (2013-15). "You see that in how he plays guys. He rolls four lines. He rolls six [defensemen], plays two goalies.

"I think when you really do that and don't overuse players as much sometimes, I think guys find a role, find buy-in and feel important and a big piece of the wins and a big piece of the season. I think that goes a long way."

It has kept St. Louis rolling and relatively fresh after a short offseason, even without two of its most important players. Forward Vladimir Tarasenko hasn't played since Oct. 24 and defenseman Colton Parayko since Jan. 2 because of injuries.

"I think everybody needs to be involved," Berube said. "I think everybody needs to feel like they've got a big role on the team. That's important, and I think it makes you stronger. I do roll four lines. I like to use everybody. I like to use people in key situations. I have players that I call 'dependables,' and I put them in certain situations all the time. And they come through."

As a result, Berube is headed to the NHL All-Star Game for the first time. He's looking forward to being in the company of players like Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon and Edmonton Oilers forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

"I don't even know how to coach an All-Star Game, to be honest with you," Berube said. "I'm just going to let them coach it. They can go out and do whatever and play. It's fun. It's going to be great to be around some of these players that I've never met, you know? And to just be around them, it's pretty cool."

It'll be pretty cool for them too.

"He's fun," Schenn said. "He's good to be around. He's serious at times, but he likes to have some laughs and joke around. Yeah, he certainly wasn't going to get there for his skill back in the day, but as a coach, it's definitely well-deserved. He's been unbelievable for us."

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