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Hockey / Sports

Blues take a leap of participation in the Olympics

In the weeks since the Olympic men's hockey rosters were announced in January, and the Blues and Chicago tied for the most NHL players selected to represent their countries with 10, there has been unlimited discussion on what the distinction means.

A group photo of the Olympians can be turned into a snazzy photo, such as the one the Blues gave fans Tuesday at Scottrade Center, but it doesn't guarantee a similar photo with the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.

"The thing that's exciting as an organization, or for the manager of the hockey department, is that we've gotten all of those players different ways," said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who will assist Team Canada's management in Russia. "Not all have come through trades or all through drafting. It shows that our pro and amateur scouting staffs are doing their jobs.

"I think to have a solid organization, you have to be good in every area, and I think in the scouting area we do have guys that are evaluating the talent properly on trades and we have guys evaluating the talent properly for the entry draft."

Of the Blues' 10 players chosen by their countries for this year's Olympics, half were acquired via trades and the other half through the draft.

Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, Alexander Steen, Jaroslav Halak and Vladimir Sobotka were brought in from other organizations, while David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko each came up through the Blues' system.

Perhaps adding more credence to the work of the Blues' professional scouts and coaching staff is that of the five players who arrived in trades, only Halak and Bouwmeester had ever played in an Olympics, and Bouwmeester was an injury replacement in 2006.

Shattenkirk and Steen will be making their Olympic debuts and Sobotka would be, too, if not for a serious knee injury that will prevent him from playing. All three have played at least three seasons with the Blues and were groomed into Olympians with the organization.

"We're a homegrown group," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, an assistant coach for Team Canada. "A lot of the trades that we made are older trades. So a lot of the stuff that we've got, these are players that have been with the team for three or four or five years. So they've grown into their roles.

"This is kind of an earned thing for the players because they've improved. None of these guys were on the radar in 2010, except for Backes. So they've all improved enough to get invited by their various countries. They moved way up the lineup where they've become more than just role players."

Just four years ago, the Blues had only three players participate in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Backes and Erik Johnson played for Team USA and Roman Polak suited up for the Czech Republic.

Johnson, of course, was traded to Colorado in the deal that brought Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart to St. Louis. Johnson was left off the American roster this time around, and in fact, there are no Olympians this year among the list of players the Blues traded to acquire Shattenkirk, Bouwmeester, Steen, Halak and Sobotka.

Meanwhile, Polak was expected to be a member of the Czech club again but was omitted from the Olympic roster in what many observers viewed as a snub.

Still, the Blues' leap to 10 Olympians in 2014 from three in 2010 ranks highly among NHL clubs.

"It shows the caliber of player that we've got here in St. Louis now," Backes said. "It's not an end-all, be-all ... there are good teams that maybe don't have a ton of Olympians. But it's pretty remarkable and it shows how far we've come. Props to the guys drafting and developing."

Shattenkirk added: "I think most importantly, it just shows the fundamentals and kind of the core values that our team is built on. That's what a lot of teams and coaches look for around the league. We have a lot of guys on here who they're not going to be on the top of the point list every year but they're guys that you want on your team. They're guys that help build great teams and I think having 10 guys really shows that."

Excluding Sobotka, the Blues have nine Olympians who will be in uniform in Sochi. That may not guarantee the club any playoff success, but it does provide the players with an experience that they would not find elsewhere.

"Our players that haven't played deep into the playoffs -- and the majority of our players haven't played in the third or fourth round -- to have that experience that they can draw back on when we get there," Armstrong said. "It's going to give them the confidence and the understanding of 'You know what, I've been in this environment and I know how to react to it.' So I think there's nothing but positive that comes with playing on the biggest stage with the lights the brightest."

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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