ST. LOUIS — The day he stepped off a plane following a cross country ride from California on March 12, Alex Pietrangelo and the rest of his Blues teammates had no idea they would lace up the blades for the last time in some time.
A few weeks, perhaps? Yeah, they could see that, but months? Not a chance.
COVID-19 has put a halt on all major sports in the United States and around the world for the better of the past three months, with some sports leagues in Europe and Korea returning to action already.
Not yet for the NHL, which is in the Phase 2 process of limited workouts for teams in groups of six or less.
"I think most of us were probably thinking this could be maybe a 2-3 week break," Pietrangelo said. "No one really kind of knew the extreme circumstances that we were in. It hadn't really picked up in the United States, so we weren't really sure, but obviously the more news that came out, the more information that came out, it was obviously the right decision to continue doing what we were doing and kind of wait. Certainly a different circumstance for all of us. Maybe the hardest part I'd say for the most of us feel right now has been the waiting game of whether we're going to play or not. You try and treat it like maybe a normal offseason and use a couple months to take a break and plan your workouts, but most of us have kind of felt we were going to start sooner than we are right now.
"It's been a waiting game. It's easy for us to be confused and frustrated, whatever the word is, but we all know it's for the better of society and better health for all of us. The league and the PA aren't going to do anything that's going to put the players in harm. I like the fact that we're taking our time making sure we're doing it the right way."
But here we are, more than three months since the father of triplets has put his skates on, and who can blame him?
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Since entering the NHL as the fourth pick in the 2008 draft, Pietrangelo has logged 18,668 regular-season minutes, or an average of 24:38 per game, and 22,915 shifts, and another 2,262 playoff minutes, or 27:15 per game. His 30.2 shifts per game rank No. 1 overall since he entered the league, so forgive the Blues captain if an extended break was in the making for the 30-year-old.
Playing 758 regular-season games and 83 more in the playoffs has taken a toll on the body.
"This is probably the longest I've gone without skating," Pietrangelo said. 'To be honest with you, after going through what we went through last year, playing a lot of hockey this year, it's maybe not necessarily a bad thing of really taking an opportunity to take a break mentally and physically off the ice. I've gone into my off-season program. I think I took a week off and then sat down with (Blues strength and conditioning coach) Eric (Renaghan) and came up with a program and said this could be two, three months, so lets do this one month at time. He's put together a pretty good program. I've got everything I need here at home to work out. I get my two, two and a half hours a day when the kids are napping or they go do something with my wife in the morning, she lets me work out. It's just a nice bit of a break for me to kind of keep focused.
"I've always thought we were going to play, it's just a matter of when. That's what's kind of kept me motivated to keep doing what I'm doing because if we do play and we go into the later months of the fall, the offseason's going to be a lot shorter and I'm not going to really have the time I have right now to do what I want to do."
So what's an expectant father, wife Jayne is due in September with the couple's fourth child, been doing to pass the time? He's spent most of it here in St. Louis, aside from a family vacation in Florida. There's so much one can do with three vibrant, full of life kids that seem to each have never-ending motors running.
"I guess with three kids, the hardest part for us is just trying to find stuff for them to do," Pietrangelo said with a laugh. "I think we got the playset and pool in the back yard but eventually even that gets boring for the kids. It's a matter of trying to figure out stuff for them to do but we're managing just fine."
Pietrangelo was having one of his best statistical seasons of his 12-year career when the Western Conference-leading Blues (42-19-10) had their season cut short with 11 games left. His 16 goals in 70 games were a career-high, and 52 points were two off matching his career-best set in 78 games in 2017-18. He's has been the Blues' minutes leader in each of the past nine seasons, so the down time allows the unrestricted free agent to-be to recharge the batteries like never before considering the Blues have reached the playoffs in each season he's been in the league except one (2017-18).
"You know me, I'm always moving, I'm always bouncing around," Pietrangelo said. "I feel I always have to do something. I don't try an take too much of a break, but I've really had an opportunity to kind of work on things that maybe prevent injury, take an opportunity to kind of work on things that have been deficiencies for me physically. This has been a great opportunity because I don't get many opportunities to take two, three months off the ice and kind of refresh the batteries, especially after going as long as we did last year. I try to be smart about it, I kind of try and take my time to do this the right way because this offseason could really be short if we even get one."
Now comes the next steps for Pietrangelo and the Blues, and it includes small-group workouts beginning Monday (the Blues chose to wait), and then Phase 3, which includes the opening of training camps on July 10 in the Return to Play Plan that includes 24 teams.
"There's not really a right way to do this because we've never been through this," Pietrangelo said. "We've come up with countless proposals. To me, they all look good and there's parts of them I didn't like. You can nitpick whatever you want, what's the right answer, what's not, but I think the way we've done it, most everyone's agreed on it that it's a fair way to get everybody involved, it's a fair way to keep the fans entertained, keep us excited and gives us an opportunity to play. There's always going to be people criticizing the format, but we took our time and we came up with as many possibilities as we could, we presented all the possibilities and this one gained the most traction within the players and the league and off we went with it."
The Blues will be part of the West's round-robin format that includes three games, one each, against Colorado, Vegas and Dallas to see who winds up as the Nos. 1-4 seeds. Right now, the Blues go in as the No. 1 seed, but will they stay there is to be determined.
"The group's been the same group as last year for the most part after winning so we know how we've got to play, we know our identity," Pietrangelo said. "I think every team's on a level playing field right now. I think you look at teams that had guys that were injured and even us, we didn't have guys that were out for an extended period other than Vladi (Tarasenko), but all of us playing as much hockey as we have, we've got bumps and bruises and this is a good opportunity to rest. It's going to be fun to see everybody playing healthy because if you know what we went through last year when you're playing 108 games, 106 games, whatever we played, you're playing through stuff that's not very comfortable. This is the first time we're going into the end of the season completely healthy."
Pietrangelo said what will be weird will be the thought of playing games without fans.
"It's a little bit different, I will say," he said. "I haven't really given it that much thought. It'll be difficult at first, but I think maybe those first couple games, first couple shifts when you get bumped a few times and realize that it's still competitive, I think that'll kind of pass through. It'll be a little bit different if one of the teams scores because there won't be a lot of noise unless they do fake noise. I'm not really sure what they're going to do. I think you might hear a few too many inappropriate words maybe coming when some of us make mistakes too. It'll be a little different on TV with the audio up."
When it's all said and done, Pietrangelo said the players have been in constant communication and they all come to one conclusion: there's the belief they can repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
"A lot of people thought there would be a hangover or whatever they want to call it, but if you look at our group, experienced, professional, whatever you want to call it, I don't think there's any worry in our locker room that this thing wasn't going to turn out the way we wanted to, especially at the start of the year," Pietrangelo said. "We felt like we had a group that really kind of flipped that switch to get ready for the start of the season. That's the reason why we've been able to carry it as far as we have and why we'll have success moving forward into the end of the playoffs."
As for his impending UFA status, Pietrangelo said he has nothing new to say about it and wants to keep his focus on the here and now, something he's maintained throughout the season, and will deal with that decision when the time arises.