As I’ve admitted on my podcast (The Freak Show podcast on Podbean), these days I’m more of a casual St Louis Blues fan. I’m not going to be a phony and say that I’ve been living and dying with each game of the Blues since my first game experience back in 1980.
For those of you who are mildly curious, my first Blues memory/experience was live and in person as an 8 year old boy. My dad took me to the opening game of the 1980 season against the Hartford Whalers at the good old Checkerdome. The date was October 9th (a Thursday night if my Google abilities serve correctly). I forget why I got to go with my dad instead of my mom but nevertheless I was there in the building. Walking into the Checkerdome was an overwhelming experience. I was there people watching and trying to listen to unintelligible announcements over the PA system (for each goal and other public messages of advertisement). The game itself was back and forth. Most of what I remember was from the last couple minutes of the contest. The Blues were clinging to a one goal lead and right off of a face-off, a Blues player flung the puck the entire length of the ice…well almost the entire length of the ice. Given the game situation, the goalie for the Whalers was off the ice for an extra attacker/offensive player. The aforementioned flung puck slid home into the goal opening for a two-goal advantage with less than a minute of play remaining in the third period.
That was nearly forty years ago and I still remember the crowd erupting. The shot went from my right to my left down the ice. My dad was on my right side clapping. He punctuated his delight with a right-handed fist pump. I was 8 years old and just slightly shorter than I am today so I had to sway back and forth so see between the jubilant fans as the referee retrieved the puck from the goal. The on-ice Blues players congregated and celebrated their impending victory near mid ice. In that moment, up high where our seats were, I vividly remember that the Checkerdome smelled of cigarette smoke, stale beer and old building.
From that day until the ill-conceived ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan era, I was an invested Blues fan. As a kid, I would practice my flat-footed slap shot in the basement of our house out in Dittmer. Using some second-hand hockey sticks my dad had previously acquired at a yard sale or flea market, I would mentally set up game scenarios where the ‘coach’ would put me into the game needing a tying or game-winning goal. I would spend hours down in the basement weaving around defenders (support beams), trying to net a goal against the toughest goalies in the league (a box, a trash bag of beer cans or anything that hadn’t been destroyed by a puck already). Sometimes I would clean up different areas of the basement to move to a different venue (away games). But like I said…that was until the coach/GM Mike Keenan regime bled out my Blues enthusiasm (1994-1996). He (as the team’s General Manager) traded away Brendan Shanahan (my favorite player at the time) and tried to mold the Blues into his ‘winning’ style. As far as hockey goes, it was boring and the guy looked like a Hitler-wannabe. Very off-putting all around.
After that point, I was still paying attention but casually and from afar so as not to get attached to another player(s) only to have them go bye-bye. Then, amidst player-owner financial tensions, the 2004-2005 season was wiped out by the player’s strike. Once that fiasco was settled, the Blues came out on the other side with very poor results for several seasons. Again I was paying attention but not with any sort of rapt focus.
The coach that started to reinvigorate my interest in the team was Ken Hitchcock. After his arrival, the team responded positively and returned to being a playoff contender. Player turnover was kept at a minimum and the team returned to relative stability. Enter the front office botch job: hiring Mike Yeo as the Coach in Waiting (i.e. Hitchcock’s replacement) to sit on the staff so as to transition to coach when Hitchcock’s contract was done.
In my opinion, this was a huge mistake and Ken Hitchcock deserved an apology from the team for this idiotic decision. Every team, no matter how great or mediocre, is going to experience a lull or period of bad play for whatever reason (team chemistry, injury, sun spots, etc.). So naturally when Hitchcock’s Blues hit the struggle swamp, the front office jumped at the chance to fire him and install Mike Yeo as the Head Coach. This move yielded short term results but ultimately Yeo couldn’t steer the ship competently enough (like his previous job with another organization should have suggested) and he was dismissed.
Which brings us to the present day. I wish my former podcast partner on the Sports Stalkers podcast hadn’t pulled the plug on our program and all the files we recorded with it. I believe in November/December of 2018 I stated that this (Blues) team would never be a cup contender with Jake Allen in goal. No offense to the man, I’m sure he’s a nice guy and has good moral fiber but he has shown that he cannot sustain a high enough level of play and focus to save the team when the super stressful situations arise (see Stanley Cup Finals games).
Everyone knows the story line behind this season (I’m not using the word narrative as I’m sick to death of hearing it). The Blues sucked, got their coach fired, installed an ‘interim coach’, learned their new team concept, switched goalies, rattled off a huge winning streak, made the playoffs, overcame their early round playoff history inabilities, prevailed, prevailed, prevailed and inevitability won it all.
Honestly I enjoyed the team’s transformation and embraced their steady ascension to champions. I’m not rushing out to get a tattoo or do anything crazy but I am acknowledging that I have had my enjoyment of watching the team play restored. As a bonus, my current favorite player (Brayden Schenn) smashed in a goal in the final game to essentially break what was left of the Boston Bruins’ spirit. It has been fantastic and a bit surreal to see the Blues finish with a win in the last game of the sport’s season…in June! For those keeping track, there are only three more months until the hockey preseason kicks off and only four more months until the regular season churns up again! Crazy, just crazy.
So I sit before you as a casual St Louis Blues fan who found this season and its conclusion to be very satisfying. And for those of you who follow my personal podcast, you know that I predicted the Blues to win the cup! In the episodes prior to each round of the NHL playoffs, I gave my prediction of the Blues results against each opponent:
Vs Jets – Blues in 6 (check)
Vs Stars – Blues in 6 (almost, Blues in 7)
Vs Sharks – Blues in 6 (check)
Vs Bruins – Blues in 7 (check)
If you don’t believe me, go back and listen to my podcast!
Everyone have a champions day! Cheers!