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Pietrangelo Realizes His Dream

Thursday, 10.16.2008 / 12:52 PM / St Louis Blues - Features
By Dan Rosen  -
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Pietrangelo Realizes His Dream
Surprisingly, the Blues rookie defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is Realizing the Dream right away.
Alex Pietrangelo will try to outlast his 9-game tryout with the Blues (Getty Images).
His skates were on the ice and he was gliding around, but for a moment Alex Pietrangelo felt that gravity had eluded him.

During his first NHL shift last Friday night, Pietrangelo felt like he was floating.

"It's almost an unreal feeling," Pietrangelo, the St. Louis Blues' 18-year-old defenseman, told "It's tough to put into words."

The dream came true for Pietrangelo in front of 19,150 fans at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Blues coach Andy Murray penciled Pietrangelo and Barret Jackman in the starting lineup for the season-opener against the Nashville Predators. Their shift lasted all of 45 seconds, but Pietrangelo will never forget each one of them.

"You grow up playing and dreaming of that first shift," he said, "and when it happens, you take it all in at once and try to enjoy the moment."

That it happened for Pietrangelo at all this season, let alone in the first minute of the first game of the regular season, is amazing itself.

Pietrangelo entered training camp thinking he could make the Blues' opening night roster, but in reality he was probably eighth or ninth on the depth chart, meaning a return to the OHL and a chance to play for Canada's National Junior Team at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa was in his immediate future.

Then, dominos started falling all around him.

Erik Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury. Andy Wozniewski was assigned to Peoria of the AHL. Jeff Woywitka went on injured reserve with a broken right foot.

All the while, Pietrangelo stayed steady. He was moving the puck. He was playing with speed. He was jumping into the offense. He was playing with poise. Basically, Pietrangelo was doing all the things that made him worthy of the fourth pick this past June.

"I look at him now," Blues President John Davidson told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch late last month, "he looks like he's 23 instead of 18."

Davidson, though, couched his enthusiasm by saying the only way Pietrangelo would make the big club for opening night is if he showed the physical and mental maturity to be rewarded with significant playing time.

"Where would he get the biggest gain?" Davidson rhetorically asked Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch. "Would it be playing with us for some of the games? Or would it be going back to junior, and playing a lot of hockey?"

Pietrangelo has apparently made that an easy decision for the Blues.

The Blues took defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with their first pick (4th overall) at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (Getty Images).
Three games into the season, he's averaging 22 shifts and roughly 16:30 of ice time per game. He's a minus-2 with three shots on goal, but he's learning on the fly and he's been one of the early bright spots on a team filled with them.

The Blues, off to a 2-1 start before Thursday's game against Dallas, had four players among the League's top 20 in scoring, including leading goal scorer Keith Tkachuk (4), prior to Wednesday night's NHL action.

"My goal going into training camp was to make the team and that's what the coaching staff and everyone was saying should be my goal," Pietrangelo said. "I have accomplished it so far. Now my goal is to play is to play the whole season in St. Louis."

Pietrangelo hasn't settled into his new city just yet - he still lives in a hotel - because the Blues have the option of sending him back to the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL before he plays in his 10th game.

"One step at a time," he said when asked if he's looking for a place to live.

Even though he's on the 9-game tryout Canadian Hockey League players are afforded in the NHL before their contracts count against the salary cap, Pietrangelo said he's focusing on each game with the idea that he'll be around for all 82 of them.

"I think I'm going to play all year, that's the only way I can go about things here," he said. "It is a 9-game tryout. That's the reality of the situation. You can't think about it that way, though. You have to play like you're on the team."

Being lumped in with a group of youngsters, including three other rookies (Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and Roman Polak) who are 22 or younger, has eased Pietrangelo's transition to the NHL.

Second-year forward David Perron is 20, as are injured defensemen Johnson and Jonas Junland, who is also a rookie.

"It's unbelievable to see the young guys that are here and the bond we created with each other," Pietrangelo said. "(Tuesday) night, six of us went out to dinner together and we we're all under the age of 23. To share that is special."

The Blues believe Pietrangelo is special and that he belongs in St. Louis, but just in case they helped him find his mentor. It's not just a coincidence that Murray paired Pietrangelo with Jackman and the two sit side-by-side in the Blues' dressing room.

Pietrangelo said Jackman, who won the Calder Trophy for 2002-03, has talked to him about carrying himself as an NHL player on a day-to-day basis.

"It's simple things, really," Pietrangelo said. "He's been through it before. He tells me stuff about how to live as an NHL player and how to deal with it."

Pietrangelo, though, doesn't worry that the job will change him. He's on such a high right now that the challenges of being an NHL player haven't hit him yet.

"No, I'm still myself," he said. "I still see myself as a kid, an 18-year-old. I'm just getting paid to do what I love now. Once I have to start paying for a house and my bills it will start to kick in more, but it's the best job in the world and I would trade it for anything."




1 ANA 48 32 10 6 143 124 70
2 NSH 46 31 10 5 141 107 67
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 48 30 16 2 151 112 62
5 WPG 49 26 15 8 138 122 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 46 26 17 3 124 118 55
8 CGY 48 26 19 3 140 126 55
9 LAK 48 21 15 12 133 129 54
10 COL 49 20 18 11 128 141 51
11 DAL 47 21 19 7 146 154 49
12 MIN 47 21 20 6 130 138 48
13 ARI 47 16 25 6 108 160 38
14 EDM 48 12 27 9 110 160 33


V. Tarasenko 46 24 23 23 47
A. Steen 44 15 25 8 40
K. Shattenkirk 46 8 31 17 39
J. Schwartz 39 16 21 15 37
D. Backes 45 16 17 5 33
J. Lehtera 45 9 21 16 30
T. Oshie 38 13 15 11 28
A. Pietrangelo 46 4 23 0 27
P. Stastny 38 9 16 5 25
P. Berglund 45 6 9 -1 15
B. Elliott 13 5 2 .930 1.86
J. Allen 13 5 2 .900 2.65

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