ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Blues forward Zach Sanford was the man of the hour Friday morning.
Upon reaching his stall in the locker room Friday morning, the 24-year-old Massachusetts native was greeted by a horde of reporters, eager to chat with him ahead of his Stanley Cup Final debut. With teammate Oskar Sundqvist suspended one game for boarding Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, Sanford will likely get the nod for Game 3 on Saturday.
Blues coach Craig Berube said he hasn’t yet made a decision on Sundqvist’s replacement, but Sanford skated alongside fourth-line wingers Alex Steen and Ivan Barbashev during practice.
“This is every kid’s dream growing up,’’ Sanford said after the morning session. “It’s been a crazy road so far through the playoffs. It’s awesome to be here. I’m really excited for [Saturday].’’
Sanford grew up in Manchester, N.H., attended Pinkerton Academy and then Boston College. When fantasizing about the Stanley Cup as a kid, however, Sanford probably envisioned himself wearing a different uniform — namely one that’s black and gold. Sanford’s mother grew up in Lynn, Mass., while his late father grew up in Salem, Mass.
Yes, they were Bruins fans.
His family later moved to Manchester, N.H., but trips to TD Garden to watch the Bruins were certainly more than doable. One of Sanford’s most memorable purchases from the Pro Shop was a stick used by former Bruins center Brian Rolston.
Sanford said he tuned in for every Bruins game, even if he wasn’t in the stands at the Garden, usually with his dad. His favorite players to follow were naturally all forwards: Glen Murray, Sergei Samsonov, and Joe Thornton. When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, Sanford, then a high school student at Pinkerton, said he and his friends ran a victory lap around the neighborhood because they were so excited.
“Our family was big fans, but obviously not anymore,’’ he said. “As I’ve been talking to my mom — she was at the games in Boston — and she caught herself cheering for the Bruins here and there. Had to fix that. It’s pretty crazy how things work out like that.’’
Sanford said it’ll be a “little weird’’ playing against his hometown team, but he emphasized his focus is on the Blues. Although he hasn’t played since the team’s first-round series against the Winnipeg Jets, Sanford said he’s been doing his best to stay ready by logging extra skate time, hitting the gym, maintaining his conditioning, and eating healthy.
“The guys who haven’t been playing have been doing a good job of holding each other accountable,’’ he said. “Obviously, it’s a little different when you get into a game.’’
If he gets the chance to take the ice at Enterprise Center on Saturday night, Sanford said he’ll try to keep things simple as well as optimize his size and speed.
Sanford acknowledged he played with some hesitation in Game 1 against the Jets, due to nerves, so he’s hoping to shake any lingering jitters by registering some early hits and puck touches this time around.
Sanford played 60 regular-season games — including some alongside projected linemates Steen and Barbashev — and notched eight goals and 12 assists. He said Steen organized a brief conversation during Friday’s practice to discuss the line’s “identity and mentality.’’ The trio stressed the fundamentals: keeping the puck in the offensive zone, minimizing turnovers, and supporting one another.
“I think at this point it’s pretty clear to me how I need to play and what I need to do to help the team win,’’ Sanford said. “Play hard, play smart, [and] keep things simple. When we do that, it works for us. It’s pretty easy for me to understand what I need to do.’’
Next in line
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy did not have an update on Grzelcyk, who remains in Boston after entering concussion protocol.
“He’s not here. He’s not practicing. He’s doubtful for [Saturday], obviously,’’ Cassidy said.
Fellow defenseman (and BU Terrier) Charlie McAvoy said Grzelyck is in “good spirits.’’
Cassidy said John Moore will “probably’’ replace Grzelyck in the lineup for Game 3, but he will share the final decision after Saturday’s morning skate. Moore played in 61 regular-season games, in addition to five playoff games this postseason.
“Johnny’s been right there the whole way,’’ said forward Sean Kuraly. “We know he’s ready. He’s one of the best at being prepared. I don’t think he’ll miss a beat.’’
Also among the defensemen participating in practice was 20-year-old Urho Vaakanainen, one of the organizations’ Black Aces. Vaakanainen, who grew up in Finland, made his NHL debut in October and played in one other game before spending the rest of the season in Providence. Cassidy said the decision to have him skate Friday was rooted in “filling out practice’’ and offering him a taste of Stanley Cup hockey.
“It’s good for Vaak to get out this time of year and get involved,’’ Cassidy said. “He’s a part of our future — could be our immediate future if we get more injuries or down the road.’’
Black and Blues
Berube said center Robert Thomas, who missed Game 2, and defenseman Vince Dunn, who hasn’t skated since Game 3 of the conference finals, are both possibilities for Game 3. Being sidelined has been emotionally challenging for Dunn, while he recovers after taking a puck to his face on a shot by Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon.
“I’m really not happy about it,’’ he said. “It’s something you dream about your whole life, and then it’s just kind of taken away from something that you can’t really prevent. It’s not like I wasn’t playing well enough to be in the lineup, shooting myself in the foot.’’
Neither Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron nor Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko practiced due to maintenance days.
Both are expected to play Saturday, per their coaches.