ST. LOUIS -- Kevin Shattenkirk’s focus can float from the daily grind of playing in the NHL to what might be.
It’s hard to blame him. If he remains on his current trajectory and all goes well between now and the end of the season, he could be known as both an Olympic and Stanley Cup champion.
“Once you’re in the NHL, the Olympics are more of a reality and you can focus on that and try to put yourself in a position to make it,” he said after St. Louis’ opening-game victory against Nashville. “[But] my opportunity there won’t come unless we have success here.”
The St. Louis Blues’ defenseman has enjoyed a near perfect start to his fourth season in the league. He signed a four-year extension in June worth a reported $17 million that takes his contract through the 2016-17 season. He ended his summer with an invitation to the USA Hockey Men’s National Team Orientation Camp.
That experience included little skating, leaning more heavily toward expectations. It proved invaluable for Shattenkirk, who grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y.
“Just kind of learning the hunger and pride that they have coming into this year, you want to emulate those guys,” he said of his first trip to the national team camp. “It’s just important to play well here at the beginning of this season, try to put yourself in the position to make the team.”
If you catch the familiar refrain about playing well now to set up the future, it’s because it’s the message the 24-year-old tries to keep in mind. He understands all of his past success can get derailed if he falters between now and when the U.S. Olympic Team for the 2014 Games is announced Jan. 1.
He’s experienced the pitfalls of focusing too much on the future.
It happened his freshman year at Boston University. Shattenkirk’s attempt to juggle the transition into college, playing a new system with the Terriers and continuing to climb the U.S. junior ranks ended when he got cut from the Under-20 team. He knew at the time that he didn’t handle the situation well, concerned more about making the national team than playing well in college.
A year ago, he went through the same experience with the Blues. St. Louis entered 2012-13 considered by many as one of the top contenders to win the Stanley Cup. The Blues didn’t get past the first round of the playoffs, losing to the Los Angeles Kings for the second consecutive postseason.
“I don’t think we reacted to it well,” he said of the lofty expectations. “Now, I think we’re more mature for it. Individually, I’m more mature for it and more experienced. It’s good to have that in the back of your mind and carry yourself with a little bit of a swagger, but at the same time you have to use it in the right way.”
The Blues, again favored to contend for the title, have started the season with four consecutive victories. Shattenkirk provided an assist on opening night in a 4-2 victory over Nashville and is at plus-3 with three assists through the first four games.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said the young defenseman has shown the promise of becoming a premier player in the league. He has a unique ability to play with a “recklessness” and throw himself into situations most others would avoid out of fear of making a mistake, Hitchcock said.
It’s a confidence the longtime coach enjoys watching. Hitchcock said he believes Shattenkirk can continue to excel both in the NHL and the international stage.
“I don’t care where he plays. I don’t care if it’s big surface, small surface,” Hitchcock said. “He just keeps getting better and better. If he keeps improving at this level he’s going to be an awful good player in our league.”
Shattenkirk knows this won’t be his last opportunity to make the U.S. Olympic Team. This year was his first invitation to the national team camp, a somewhat natural progression for a player who served on the U-17, U-18 and World Junior teams.
Still, making the Olympic team on his first attempt with a chance to bring home a gold medal would satisfy a longtime goal. So would winning the Stanley Cup.
Which would mean more?
“I think they both go hand in hand,” he said. “To bring the first Stanley Cup back to St. Louis would be tremendous. I know this city takes a lot of pride in that. The Olympics, to go, like I said, you don’t get too many opportunities to get there. But to go and get a gold medal would be fantastic.
“I’ve had a lot of kicks at the can at the gold medal and I’ve yet to win one, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.