Story of the Week
THE BIRTH OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES
The St. Louis Blues were one of the six NHL expansion teams in 1967. I was living in St. Louis, my home town, at the time. I wasn’t a hockey fan then, so I declined the various invitations that were extended me to see the Blues. Not that those tickets were hard to come by; the reported attendance for Blues games was much higher than the actual paid attendance during that first expansion year’s regular season.
I was totally disinterested------until I finally acquiesced and saw my very first Blues game, a post-season game against Philadelphia in the Spring of 1968. I was hooked! The next day, the very next day, I purchased two choice season tickets to the St. Louis Blues games at the landmark St. Louis Arena, and became an avid Blues hockey fan, and I do mean avid.
The NHL had awarded the St. Louis franchise to Sid Salomon, Jr. and his investors. Salomon was the head of a highly successful insurance empire. At first, he really didn’t want to get involved with the venture, but his son, Sid Salomon III, talked his dad into it. It was rumored that Jr. went along with it on the basis that he could use the franchise as a tax write-off if it failed. It didn’t fail; following that first regular season, the Blues became a giant success.
Lynn Patrick was the Salomons’ choice as coach and general manager. He brought 27 years of NHL experience with him, and there was instant credibility. Patrick named a 34-year-old enthusiast to be his assistant. That young man’s playing career had been cut short by a head injury at 18. By the time he was 21, he was coaching in the Montreal farm system, and he became chief scout for the Canadiens. After Patrick named him to become the Blues head coach two months into the ‘67-’68 season, he would become the most successful coach in NHL history. His name is Scotty Bowman.
The NHL gave the playoffs an interesting twist that first season. In order to give the six new teams exposure in post-season, the NHL put them in their own division, with the winner meeting the winner of the veteran division for the Stanley Cup. The Blues disposed of the Philadelphia Flyers and then the Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) en route to a Stanley Cup date with the powerful Montreal Canadiens in the Spring of 1968.
Yes, the Blues’ veteran goalies, Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall, had a great year. Yes, their leader and star, Red Berenson, the Plager brothers, Noel Picard, Al Arbour and Jim Roberts had a great year. And there was a further mix of veterans and youngsters on that team who, under Scotty Bowman’s expert handling, produced a super first season. But now they had to face hockey’s heralded Canadiens, and absolutely no one gave the Blues the slightest chance to win the Cup.
No, the Blues didn’t win the Cup. They lost four consecutive games to Montreal, as expected. But get this! All four games were won by one goal, and two of those games were decided in overtime. I had purchased my season tickets right before the Blues became the sensation of St. Louis.
The Blues ownership has changed, fortunately for St. Louis (Sid Salomon III was personally responsible for Scotty wanting to leave the Blues, but only after Scotty told III to put a puck in it). The franchise has been one of hockey’s most successful down through these many years. However, the Blues are still looking for their first Stanley Cup.
It’s now a sad time to be writing about hockey. The NHL owners and players are at totally opposite ends of the ice regarding a new collective bargaining agreement. It appears that the only ice I’ll be enjoying for quite some time will be in my Manhattan glasses. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
Last Week’s Trivia
On 4-23-99, the Cardinals’ Fernando Tatis drilled two grand slam homers off the Dodgers’ Chan Ho Park in the third inning. It’s amazing enough that Tatis hit a record two grand slams in one inning. It’s even more amazing that Park was still in the game to serve up the second one.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who is the first female to appear on the cover of a Wheaties box? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.