ST. LOUIS — The couple who dealt blackjack at the Casino Queen had a son in St. Louis before moving to Sin City.
That boy, just 1 year old when his mom and dad relocated to ply their trade in the land of lights, slots and cards, grew up and fell in love with ice hockey. And since Las Vegas had no professional team to cheer for, Zach Pochiro stuck with his birthplace Blues.
He listened to his dad recount thrilling on-ice brawls. He followed Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull. When he was 10, he met Al MacInnis at an event. He cherishes that autographed jersey to this day.
That’s what has made this week pretty cool.
Eighteen years after he left this town, Zach Pochiro is back. Drafted 112th overall by the Blues, the right wing/center joined 13 or so prospects who reported to the team’s Hazelwood training headquarters for offseason initiation.
“They came in on Sunday, and they’re going to spend three days here,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Tuesday.
“What we’ve talked about is getting them familiar with the surroundings, so when they get here for training camp, they are ready to go,” he said. “We do a lot of fun things with them. We are taking them to a baseball game tonight, gonna get to go meet some of the Cardinals. Then we’re taking them to a concert [Dave Matthews Band] on Thursday. It will be a fun time.”
For Pochiro, it has been more. It’s been a chance to wear a team-issued Blue Note on his chest, and take a stroll around a facility where framed photos of Hull, Shanahan and MacInnis hang on the walls.
It has also been a reminder of how far he must go to be back in St. Louis for good. When he pulled his shirt off for a physical evaluation with the team’s trainers, they told him something he already knows.
“I need at least 25 pounds, as you can tell,” the 6-foot-1, 160-pounder said.
His path will be a daunting one. It will start in a junior league, without a guarantee of ever reaching the NHL. Fourth-round picks are long shots.
But the Blues obviously like him; they traded a seventh-round pick and a fourth-round selection in 2014 to Nashville to take Pochiro at No. 112.
After high school, Pochiro spent a season in Prince George, British Columbia, playing for the Prince George Cougars in the Western Hockey League. He had 15 goals and 24 assists in 65 games, and led his club in penalty minutes with 105. NHL.com ranked him the 173rd-best prospect among North American skaters.
Beyond his on-ice qualifications, the Blues like that he was already a fan of their team.
“My goal is to end up, in a couple of years, wearing that Blue Note,” Pochiro said. “Be able to go out on the ice and skate with my favorite players.”
Adam Cracknell (ninth round, 279th overall) made it. Ryan Reaves (fifth round, 156th overall) did, too. Pochiro seems to have the right mind-set.
“If you want me to go out there and fight, I’ll do it,” he said. “If you want me to go block a shot, score a goal, make a hit, get a guy off his game … I can do whatever you want me to do.”
His chance is slim, sure. But stranger things have happened. Like Pochiro getting drafted by the team he grew up cheering for from 1,600 miles away.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.