It’ll be a very different St. Louis Jr. Blues team fans will see when they first take the ice this Sunday against Milwaukee, and not just because they adopted new uniforms. Out of the 25 men on their opening-day protected list, just five of them wore a Jr. Note last season, which presented a unique set of challenges to head coach and general manager Chris Flaugher.
“Obviously last year was an incredible one for us in terms of advancement, with nine college commitments and moving three guys up to higher-level junior hockey,” he said. “But the flip side of that equation is that every one of those guys leaving means that there’s another spot you have to fill with a new player, more recruiting you have to do.”
Luckily for Flaugher, the success of the Jr. Blues program makes this task easier than most, and he was able to build a potent squad for the new campaign. “I’m really a big fan of the mix of guys we were able to bring in this year. We’ve got a few bigger, power-type players, which is always something nice to have, we’ve got a lot of skill and speed, and our returning guys have really gotten stronger and more mentally fit during the off-season.”
With so many new faces on the team, training camp takes on a heightened importance in building a cohesive unit, and the coaching staff have been impressed by what they’ve seen. “Most everyone’s been quick to cotton on to our systems and expectations,” noted Flaugher. “Greg Anderson (in charge of defense) and Mark Staub (goaltending coach) have been working really hard with their groups and like what they’ve seen, but what I’ve been most impressed by is the little things our players are doing that not a lot of people might notice. Filling water bottles, doing laundry, and folding up clothes in the dressing room without being asked is a great sign of a team coming together and really buying in.”
The Jr. Blues completed a short exhibition schedule over the Labor Day weekend, beating Maryville University’s ACHA Division II team 7-0 before heading up to Springfield, Illinois and taking the NAHL Jr. Blues to the wire in a hard-fought 3-2 loss. “Both of these games really gave us some good takeaways about our club: the Maryville game allowed us to see how these guys look in a game environment and reacted to certain challenges, while the Springfield game let this team know that they can hang with anyone put up against them.”
As the 2019-20 campaign draws nearer, Flaugher is confident that this team will continue the Jr. Blues’ tradition of excellence. “This is a hard-working, smart, fun group to watch. I know the people of St. Louis will be proud of the effort these guys put in on and off the ice.”