Long roads for Regehr, Bouwmeester
April, 30, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
ST. LOUIS -- For Robyn Regehr, it’s felt like eternity.
For Jay Bouwmeester, well, it almost has been.
On Tuesday night, the former Calgary Flames teammates will skate on opposite sides and cherish the chance at playoff hockey when the St. Louis Blues host the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
"It feels like forever. It really does," Regehr, 33, said Monday after practice with his Kings.
"I'm really looking forward to it. You grind it out in the regular season and this is the reward. I really enjoy playoff hockey and looking forward to being part of it again."
Five years since his last playoff game may seem like forever to Regehr, but Tuesday night will be a first for Bouwmeester. After 764 regular-season games over 10 seasons, the 29-year-old blue-liner will get his first-ever taste of NHL playoff action.
Noah Graham/NHLI/Getty ImagesRobyn Regehr has stepped effortlessly into the Kings' top defensive pairing.
"Someone asked me if at one point I thought it would never happen; you never consider that as long as you’re still playing," Bouwmeester said Monday after practice with the Blues.
"I've come close a few times getting in and it just hasn't worked out. To finally get into the playoffs, it's a great opportunity. It;s not something you shy away from. This is what you want. You want to play this time of year. It’s exciting."
Bouwmeester and Regehr were teammates in Calgary from 2009-11. Little did they know they'd both be gone and facing off in a playoff series with new teams in 2013.
"We were pretty good friends for the time we spent there together," Bouwmeester said. "It's kind of funny how things work out."
There’s some symmetry to it all.
Both are high-profile, late-season additions who have been asked to skate in the top pairing on each team, Bouwmeester partnering up with Blues star Alex Pietrangelo and Regehr alongside Kings stud Drew Doughty.
"He’s had a very positive impact here," Regehr said of Bouwmeester, who has put up seven points (1-6) and a plus-5 in 14 games since coming to St. Louis from Calgary. "I've followed him throughout the year, he had a real good year, I thought he played better and put up better offensive numbers. I know that was something that was a bit of struggle the first couple of years he came to Calgary."
"He's built off a good start to the season and now to a different team fitting right in and playing on the top pair with Pietrangelo. He's a big guy who can skate extremely well and get up in the rush."
The Blues had been hoping for nearly a year to add a left-handed, top-pairing defenseman to play with either Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk, both right-handed stars. They got Bouwmeester less than a week after also acquiring veteran, left-handed blue-liner Jordan Leopold from Buffalo; the addition of a pair of top-four blue-liners has been a major factor in the Blues’ season turnaround.
Watching practice Monday, Blues executive and Hockey Hall of Fame blue-liner Al MacInnis said Bouwmeester has been a "great fit" with Pietrangelo.
"He's such a good skater, he seems like he never gets tired out there," said MacInnis. "He gets to so many loose pucks. He defends well with his feet, he defends well with his stick, he's not an overly physical guy but he's tenacious. He’s a guy that looks like he can play all night long. The longer the game goes on, the better he looks. It's been a great fit for us."
Pietrangelo said Monday he now has an even greater appreciation for Bouwmeester having played alongside him for a month.
"We always knew he was a great skater, but the way he uses that to his advantage is amazing, whether I make a mistake and he covers me or he makes a mistake a gets and he gets himself out of the problem," said Pietrangelo. "Just getting up and down the ice, he makes it look effortless. He understands the game extremely well."
Mark Buckner/NHLI/Getty ImagesSmooth-skating Jay Bouwmeester has solidified the St. Louis blue line.
"He makes the game look easy the way he plays," added Pietrangelo. "I don't think there's a better skater in the league, when you watch the way he uses it. It is fun to watch even if you're out there every day in practice. You see him every day, but you sit back and get a chance to see how smooth he is. It's why he's been so successful over the years."
Bouwmeester had never before been traded midseason, but if he had any qualms about the adjustment, they are gone now.
"You look at the team, how they played, the kind of players they have, it's been an easy transition," said Bouwmeester. "On the personal side of things, the guys have been real good. When the team has some success and you’re winning games and playing well, that makes it all easier to do."
But it has been a whirlwind in some regard.
"I think this is my second practice since I've been here," he chuckled Monday. "Just getting thrown into games, that's where you really learn and you figure things out as you go. There was no time to sit around and think about it too much."
While Bouwmeester adjusts to his new team, Regehr is doing the same with the Kings.
"It was just a lot of new things going on the first 2-3 weeks; new city, new team, new teammates, new equipment, new everything, there was lots happening," said Regehr. "But the way the team plays and the way the team is coached here with Darryl (Sutter), I was familiar with that and it made it a bit easier to transition."
Sutter coached Regehr on the 2004 Flames team that surprised many in reaching the Cup finals. The veteran Kings head coach knew what he was getting when GM Dean Lombardi delivered him Regehr, a smart shutdown defenseman.
"I know how he’s going to play at playoff time," Sutter said Monday.
It was a critical move, with Willie Mitchell -- such a big part of last year’s Cup championship team -- unable to play this season, his recovery from knee surgery not going according to plan.
"It was important, very simple," Sutter said of the Regehr acquisition. "Even though they’re different types of players, him and Willie, they play close to the same amount of minutes; and with that experience, also. It was important for us down the stretch to have another player like that."
Another similarity is that both Regehr and Bouwmeester controlled their trade situation to some degree with no-trade clauses.
"There was a number of teams that it could have possibly been, St. Louis was a place I thought highly of, I always did," said Bouwmeester. "Looking as an outsider, I thought it was a good, young team, I know it was a hard team to play against."
"So when it did all go down, I was pretty optimistic. I'm happy with the way things have gone so far."
Regehr carefully considered his trade options.
"You look at all kinds of different things," he said. "When I did the evaluation I looked at the team first of all, what kind of team are you going to? Not so much what they did in the past but where they are at that moment and where you think you can fit in and help out. You look at what kind of city it is, and if it's going to fit with the family and what their thought are. All kinds of stuff. But it's been a nice change, we've enjoyed it."
Bouwmeester? How can he complain. He's in the playoffs, finally.
"I knew coming here would be a pretty good opportunity," said Bouwmeester. "I'm pretty grateful for it. We knew the way things were in Calgary it was going in different direction. To be able to come to a place like this where there’s a good solid, young team, it's been a lot of fun. You just want to fit in and help out as much as you can. I really think we have a good group here."