The St. Louis Jr. Blues will open pool play on Friday at 6:00 p.m. when they hit the ice against the Hudson Crusaders from the Minnesota Jr. Hockey League. The Crusader finished their regular season in 6th place in the MJHL. However, Head Coach J.P. Beilsten doesn't take that lightly. "Every team up here will be a force to reckon with. It doesn't matter where they finished during the season, they had an outstanding playoff and they are playing extremely good hockey right now. If they weren't they would be at home watching the tournament on-line."
Game two will pit the Jr. Blues and the Seattle Totems of the NorPac Hockey League at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. The Totems finished the season with an amazing 46-4 record while racking up a amazing 329 goals while only allowing a league low 83 against. "Seattle could be one of the scariest teams in the tournament. They score a lot of goals and they have National tournament experience. Not only that, they ran away with their division in NorPac," says Beilsten.
The final game of the round robin play on Sunday, the Jr. Blues will face off against the Idaho Jr. Steelheads, the champions of the Western States Hockey League. Says Beilsten, "Watching this team on film is scary. They are a skilled team and they are an older seasoned team. Over half their team is a 91 or 90 birth year. There strength seems to be in goal. Their top goaltender only gave up 37 goals on the season."
Regardless of outcome, the Jr. Blues expect to compete. Beilsten continues, "“I don't think you go to a national tournament and think you can't compete. We think we can compete with every team in the tournament. That doesn't mean we will win, should win, or can win, but we feel like we have as good of a shot as any team in the tournament. Our expectation is that the kids go, compete hard for every shift they are on the ice, and see where we shake out in the end.
“We don't feel any pressure at all to repeat. To get there is hard enough, especially with the makeup of our league this year, but to repeat is a long shot under the best of circumstances. This is a different team than last year’s team, just like the four Junior B national championship teams were all very different from one another. We tell the kids that their success is not based on how they compared to the previous years teams. They are two very different teams that took very different paths to Nationals. We aren't playing the same teams, we are playing in a different city, and everything about it is different.
“So even though our expectations for the team are high, hopefully that doesn't translate to pressure on the players. That being said, we will certainly have a target on our backs because of our success last year. That will hopefully keep our players on their toes knowing they will get every team's ‘A’ game.”