49 Years Later, the St. Louis Blues Return to the Stanley Cup Final

St. Louis Blues

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 27: Jordan Binnington #50 of the St. Louis Blues reacts during a stoppage of play against the Boston Bruins during the third period in Game One of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 27, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Once upon a time, during one of those “where do you see yourself in twenty years” heart-to-heart discussions one rainy morning at the government office I slaved away at during my university days, Sharlene posed that question to me.

My answer…I want to be the general manager of the St. Louis Blues.

29 years later, Doug Armstrong has nothing to worry about.

But of all teams, why the Blues?

I can recall fuzzy, fleeting images of Glenn Hall in a Blues’ uniform, fighting valiantly to stem the tide of Les Canadiens in the Cup Final, but I was too young to fully appreciate the magnitude of that moment.

It all started with Gary Unger.  Rock Star.

For a kid in Grade One attending Currie Elementary in Calgary, the sight of an NHL player looking like a guitarist from one of those strange rock band albums that my best friend Paul Taylor’s brother Bobby had piled up in his room, this was irresistible stuff.

Growing up a military brat in the early 1970’s, pretty much every adult male sported the standard crew cut.  My Dad was a stickler for regulation hair, and would demand we visit the barber when it began to even whisper about brushing up against the top of the ear.

And this was almost a decade after the Beatles (and their hair) exploded on Ed Sullivan, and Woodstock (and all that hair) got down in the mud.

Mainstream life was a little behind in the cool development.  The Swingin’ 60’s showed up around late 1975 in my suburban world.

Which is why the sight of Gary Unger on an O-Pee-Chee hockey card was a revelation.  With the notable exception of Derek Sanderson, the ultimate hockey playboy, the Swingin’ 60’s also seemed to bypass the National Hockey League.

My dad would have frog marched Bobby Orr down to the local barber once Number Four’s hair began to creep over the top of his ears.  Juha Widing, and Gene Carr, of the Los Angeles Kings, also were card carrying hippies that wouldn’t have been welcome at 10 Mons Avenue.

All those hirsute players were exceptions, as most NHL players looked like Al Arbour.  Like a Marine drill sergeant.

The first hockey book I ever read, “Playing the Shots at Both Ends” (by Murray Dryden), spoke of the time a young Dave Dryden was summoned to his Dad’s office.  Dryden Sr. insisted that Dave get a haircut, because everybody knows you can’t play goal with Eric Clapton hair.  Dave reluctantly agreed.

Gary Unger was a middle finger to all that small-minded conservatism.  Heck, he dared to stand up to Ned “Darkness” Harkness, head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, when he refused to follow the coach’s order and shorn his locks.

After breaking in with the 1967-68 Toronto Maple Leafs, the crew cut sporting Unger found himself involved in a true blockbuster trade, when he was shipped to the Wings, along with Pete Stemkowski, superstar forward Frank Mahovlich, and the rights to defenceman Carl Brewer.  In return, the Leafs received Norm Ullman, Floyd Smith, Doug Barrie, and some guy named Paul Henderson.

Three years, and 84 goals later (including a career high 42 in 1969-70), Unger found his way to St. Louis, after another notable trade.

The Blues were one of the six new teams admitted to the NHL in time for the 1967-68 campaign.  Hockey legend Lynn Patrick was the GM, and head coach, but after 16 games, he moved up his plan to install Scotty Bowman as bench boss.  The future Hall-of-Fame coach led the Battlin’ Blues to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals, where they fought hard, but were swept each time.  But at least they were there, and hockey roots were planted deep in Missouri.

The Blues’ breakout star those first few years was a former Montreal farmhand.  Regina Pats’ standout forward Gordon “Red” Berenson found his NHL legs in St. Louis, including scoring six goals one November 1968 night in Philadelphia.

So there was understandable consternation when the team traded the Red Baron (and Tim Ecclestone) for Wayne Connelly and Gary Unger.

It didn’t take long for Blues’ fans to warm to Unger, who spent over eight seasons wearing the Blue Note.  He hit a high of 41 goals in 1972-73, and overall racked up eight straight 30-goal seasons, before ending up in Atlanta for the final year of the Flames in Dixie.

Back to the windswept Currie Elementary schoolyard.  Someone, probably Paul Taylor, was huddled up in the corner one recess, conducting Got ‘Em Need ‘Em with an enticing stack of hockey cardboard.  Suddenly Unger’s card flashed across the deck.  Had to have him!

And thus my St. Louis Blues’ fascination was born.

It didn’t hurt that the Blue Note was one of the few NHL emblems I could reasonably replicate, either on my school note books, or on the rubber sole of my running shoes.  My renditions of the Kings, Penguins, and especially Black Hawks’ logos were a complete travesty.

Looking back over the years, when I think of the Blues, the goalie names come tumbling out.  Ed Stanowski, John Davidson (from my beloved Calgary Centennials), Yves Belanger, Jacques Caron, and Wayne Stephenson, in particular.

I followed the Blues through every losing playoff year, which was every year.  I followed them when they made the post-season 25 straight years, yet accomplished nothing.  I followed them when they almost relocated to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1983, telling anybody who would listen that the Blues were meant to remain in St. Louis.

I followed them during the great Monday Night Miracle of 1986 (Doug Wickenheiser!!!), when I was hoping that the Blues would meet up with rookie Patrick Roy and his Montreal Canadiens.  The Calgary Flames ruined that opportunity in Game 7.

I followed them during the Mike Liut years, the Mike Zuke years, the Mike Crombeen years, and the Mike Yeo years.

I followed them when they stupidly got rid of the Human Assist Machine, Adam Oates.

The history of the St. Louis Blues’ book was checked out of the Cairine Wilson Secondary School library by one person…me.  Over and over again, as I memorized their history.

1991-92 season, Maple Leaf Gardens.  I was a year away from breaking into the sports broadcasting business.  Bought a ticket in the upper greys, and arrived at the Carleton Street Cashbox early in order to watch Blues’ GM Ron Caron do a live interview on CJCL AM.     Had a poster of Brian Sutter on my wall back in the late 1970’s, right next to Cheryl Ladd.

Vigorously defended silky smooth forward Bernie Federko being admitted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Called KMOX during the off-season when they opened the phones with head coach Mike Keenan in the studio.  Asked Iron Mike if he planned to keep goaltender Curtis Joseph on the team.  He assured me yes. Turns out he didn’t.

Hated the Black Label beer label looking uniform design during the mid-90’s.  Was open to the Wayne Gretzky experiment.    Still hate Nick Kypreos for falling over Grant Fuhr, and effectively robbing the Blues of the 1996 Stanley Cup.

Went to the January 6th, 1986 game at the much missed Montreal Forum.  Wore a Blues jersey under my Canadiens sweater.  Cheered for both teams.  It ended 9-2 for the home team.  I celebrated all 11 goals.

I learned my love for the Habs from my crewcut loving Dad.  It happens.  And the 1970’s were good to me.

But that was too easy.  It was like inherited money.  Nice to have, but I didn’t earn it.  Cheering for the St. Louis Blues was harder.  It was earned.  Because they seemed to trip on every obstacle, hit every speed bump, lose every coin flip.

The ending to the 2019 NHL Playoffs is yet to be written, but at least this time around, the Blues are part of the narrative.

A quick examination of the rosters of the Bruins, and Blues, suggests a close Final.  No sweep, like back in 1970.  Or in 1969.  Or in 1968.  Man, the Vegas Golden Knights won a game in the Stanley Cup Final before the Blues did!

But that’s last year.

This year it’s the Blues and Bruins.  My head says Bruins, but my heart says Blues.

St. Louis in 7.

 

Mick Kern

 

Follow all the action on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio…

NATIONAL CALL – Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti, Brian Boucher, Steve Goldstein

BRUINS CALL – Judd Sirott, Bob Beers

BLUES CALL – Chris Kerber, Joe Vitale

 

Monday May 27

St. Louis v Boston Game 1  8pm ET

National Call – NHL Network Radio, SiriusXM 91

Boston Call– Sirius 108 XM 219

St. Louis Call– Sirius 119 XM 220

 

Wednesday May 29

St. Louis v Boston Game 2   8pm ET

National Call- NHL Network Radio, SiriusXM 91

Boston Call– Sirius 108 XM 219

St. Louis Call– Sirius 119 XM 220

 

SATURDAY JUNE 01

Boston v ST. Louis Game 3 8pm ET

National Call- NHL Network Radio, SiriusXM 91

Boston Call– Sirius 108 XM 219

St. Louis Call– Sirius 119 XM 220

 

MONDAY June 03

Boston v St. Louis Game 4  8pm ET

National Call- NHL Network Radio, SiriusXM 91

Boston Call– Sirius 108 XM 219

St. Louis– Sirius 119 XM 220

 

Thursday June 06

St. Louis v Boston Game 5 8pm ET

National Call- NHL Network Radio, SiriusXM 91

Boston Call– Sirius 108 XM 219

St. Louis– Sirius 119 XM 220

 

 

Sunday June 09

Boston v St. Louis Game 6  8pm ET

National Call- NHL Network Radio, SiriusXM 91

Boston Call– Sirius 108 XM 219

St. Louis– Sirius 119 XM 220

 

Wednesday June 12

St. Louis v Boston Game 7  8pm ET

National Call- NHL Network Radio, SiriusXM 91

Boston Call– Sirius 108 XM 219

St. Louis– Sirius 119 XM 220

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