Ice hockey

Dream come true for St. Louis — Blues reign as Stanley Cup champions

The scene was surreal, almost beyond comprehension. Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo hoisted the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night in Boston. It happened. It really happened. The star-crossed franchise won the Cup. That this thrilling title run came when it was least expected — after the Blues sank to the NHL cellar midway into this season — was so appropriate. The Blues did not win it all with Brett Hull and Adam Oates working their magic. They did not win it after hiring Mike Keenan and trading for Wayne Gretzky. They did not win the Cup after winning the Presidents’ Trophy with Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger dominating the blue line. They did not win with Ken Hitchcock cracking his whip on his hard-hitting, veteran-driven team. They won when their interim coach rallied the troops and their No. 4 goaltender became a local sports legend. They won on the road 4-1 in Game 7 against an excellent Bruins team in Boston. Perfect! This unlikeliest of runs triggered so many memories. I came to the Post-Dispatch in 1986, just missing the “Monday Night Miracle” season and catching the tail end of the ever-colorful Harry Ornest Era. I quickly learned this franchise had really bad luck but incredible heart. I learned that from Barclay Plager, who was battling on as an assistant coach while fighting brain tumors. In layman’s terms, doctors inserted wires into his tumors and fried them. The tumors kept coming back and the doctors kept frying them. This took a heavy toll on his body but not his spirit. When he was able, Barclay assisted new Blues coach Jacques Martin, who came from junior hockey, and assistant coach Doug MacLean, who came from the Canadian university scene. Barclay pushed and pushed and pushed forward until his stamina finally gave out. He took a scary fall at the Buffalo airport while he was still traveling with the team. He refused to concede to his illness. Even by hockey player standards, that was insane, I sat with Bob Plager at the Affton Ice Rink during Barclay’s final days, discussing their life story, their early runs at the Cup, their pride in wearing the Blue Note and the old-school values they passed on to the next generation. For these men, playing for the Blues and their fans was a privilege. That’s their legacy and Bob remained around the organization to remind us of that. So many heart-and-soul players followed the Plagers, guys like Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter, Kelly Chase, David Backes and Barret Jackman. So much happened to this franchise before my time, such as Bob Gassoff’s fatal motorcycle accident, the near-move to Saskatoon and the franchise shutting down when the NHL blocked that sale. So many things happened during my time, such as losing broadcaster Dan Kelly to cancer and losing nice guy Doug Wickenheiser to his prolonged cancer battle. Two No. 38s who played here, Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev, died in a Russian plane crash. More recently there was Todd Ewen’s suicide, a tragic reminder of the high price hockey’s tough guys paid for the barbaric (Chuck) Norris Division days. There was the craziness of Mike Shahanan and Jack Quinn taking on the league as outlaw operators. There was Quinn and Keenan taking the insanity to the next level. There was Bill and Nancy Laurie throwing crazy money at the Blues while also trying to land a NBA team. There were the various work stoppages, a strike and lockouts, half-seasons and a lost season. There was the Laurie Fire Sale (Pronger for Eric Brewer!) and more questions about the franchise’s future. There was the phone call that came out of the blue. Broadcaster John Davidson tracked me down on the road in rural Ohio during my eldest daughter’s visit to a prospective college. Could the NHL still succeed in St. Louis? Davidson played for the Blues back in the day and felt the love of the fans, but he wanted a market update. He was calling around to get opinions on the state of the team. He heard the same things again and again: The Blues have an unfailingly loyal fan base. It wasn’t huge, but it was resilient. Make an effort and those Bluesiers will turn out to back the team. Dave Checketts and Co. banked on that support and saved the franchise. Davidson left his successful broadcasting career for the bigger challenge of rebuilding the Blues and rewarding fans for their patience. Davidson started the Blues down the road to overdue glory. Tom Stillman’s ownership group took over and finished the job. And so here we are. St. Louis is going crazy. This long-overdue party will carry well into Thursday which will be a low-productivity day in this region. There will be a parade, too, and more partying. Some folks who hung high above the goal in the cheap seats at The Arena will be there. So will fans who lined up before dawn to gain admission into Brentwood Ice Rink for training camp. Sadly, so many great Bluesiers have passed on, superfans like my friend John Mohan. He lived for Blues hockey to the moment he died. This Cup is for all of John Mohans who kept the franchise going through the lean years. This Cup is for all those diehards who never quit believing that this day could come. It did. Believe it or not, it did. Party on St. Louis, party on.

What a game!  What a series!  As someone originally from St. Louis, boy I wish I was back home.  On a personal note to that story above..  John Mohan was the older brother of my older brother’s friend.  St. Louis is a big city, with a small-town feel.  Thanks to local St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports write Jeff Gordon for giving us that feel.  For videos and such from the local media regarding this historic victory for the Blues, and it’s loyal fans, click on the text above.  GO BLUES!!!     🙂

NHL awards expansion franchise to Las Vegas

The National Hockey League’s 31st franchise will play in Las Vegas beginning in 2017, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Wednesday. On a 109-degree day in the Mojave Desert’s gambling mecca, the NHL’s Board of Governors awarded the team to billionaire businessman Bill Foley, who is expected to pay $500 million to the NHL’s other owners as an expansion fee. The new team will play in T-Mobile Arena, the $375 million building that opened just off the Las Vegas Strip in April. “We think this is a tremendously exciting opportunity, not just for Las Vegas, but for the league as well,” Bettman said, calling Las Vegas “a vibrant, growing, global destination city.” Bettman also announced that an expansion bid from Quebec City was “deferred” indefinitely, allowing Las Vegas to enter the league alone in the Pacific Division. The league’s alignment and playoff format won’t change. The NHL is expanding for the first time since 2000, when Minnesota and Columbus each paid $80 million to join the league. With nearly 2.2 million people in the last census, Las Vegas is the largest population center in the U.S. without a team in the major professional sports. Vegas was an economic boomtown in the previous decade, and the NHL is betting that its slowed growth hasn’t curbed the city’s appetite for sports and spectacles. “We want everyone to be a fan,” said Foley, who fell in love with pond hockey while growing up in Canada. “We’re dedicated to it. We’ll leave no stone unturned in our dedication, in our pursuit of hockey for Las Vegas, not just for our team, but for the community.” Bettman said the league made the move largely due to the persistence and strength of the ownership group led by Foley, a financial services tycoon, who has been working on the idea for three years. Foley is joined by minority partners Joe and Gavin Maloof, the former owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Foley’s also bid had the enormous advantage of an NHL-ready arena built with private funding and eager for a flagship tenant. Foley has already accepted more than 14,000 season ticket deposits and sold out all 44 suites in the 17,500-seat rink built by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Los Angeles Kings. “We won’t sell out every game with season-ticket holders, but I believe it’s going to be 85 percent, 90 percent (filled by season ticket holders),” Foley said. Along with a top-six pick in next year’s draft, the Vegas franchise will be stocked by a June 2017 expansion draft that will be more favorable than previous drafts, theoretically allowing Foley’s team to become competitive more quickly. Las Vegas will have four nearby rivals — at least by West Coast standards: the league’s three California teams and the Arizona Coyotes. Although ice doesn’t last long in the desert, Las Vegas has had an appetite for hockey since the Kings and New York Rangers played a memorable outdoor exhibition game here in 1991. The IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder sometimes drew more fans than UNLV’s beloved basketball team at the Thomas and Mack Arena in the 1990s, and the Minnesota Wild’s Jason Zucker leads a handful of locals who went on to hockey careers. The endurance of that appetite will depend on Foley’s ability to keep fans excited about the newest show in town, but the NHL seems confident it’s getting in early to a growing market. Foley announced plans to devote considerable resources to building community interest in youth hockey, including a two-rink team training complex that will be “open to all.” Sports leagues once rejected the city outright due to concerns about corruption from Vegas’ massive sports betting economy, but the NHL and the NFL no longer share those worries, with Bettman calling his sport “less susceptible” to gambling interests due to the small volume of bets placed on hockey. Foley realizes his team might not be alone in Vegas for long. Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is interested in partnering with Vegas interests to build an enormous domed football stadium for his team. “I think the NFL would be great here,” Foley said. “They have a different fan base than we do. I don’t think it will affect us.” Foley hasn’t decided on a nickname or logo for his team, but an announcement could be made in the next few weeks. He has strongly considered the Black Knights, a name that has special meaning to Foley, a West Point graduate. “I love Black Knights,” Foley said. “I’m an Army guy, but maybe that’s not the right name for the team at this time. We’re going to work through the league.”

NHL Playoffs: St. Louis Blues draw first blood against Sharks in Western Conference final

Once again, Brian Elliott was the star of the show. His latest performance gave his St. Louis Blues teammates plenty of comfort knowing he had their back. “When your goalie is your best player, it gives you a great chance of winning, and that was the case,” captain David Backes said after the Blues opened their first Western Conference final in 15 years with a tense 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night. “It was that way for the first two rounds,” Backes added, “and nothing’s changed in Game 1 of the third round.” Backes opened the scoring and Jori Lehtera had the go-ahead goal in the second period on a spinning shot that Martin Jones could not handle. “I just got the puck and closed my eyes and shot it, that’s about it,” Lehtera said. “Just keep it simple.” Said Jones: “Not much to it, just found a hole. I’ll make that save next time.” Tomas Hertl scored on a first-period deflection for the Sharks, who outshot St. Louis 32-23 but couldn’t quite solve Elliott. Among those he frustrated was captain Joe Pavelski, who had seven shots and had perhaps the best chance in the third period on a one-timer near the midway mark. Pavelski and Elliott were roommates at Wisconsin. “I’m going to blame that one on the stick,” Pavelski said. “No, I have to find a way to put that in regardless of what goes on. I thought it was going in.” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock thought his team was fortunate to survive the last 2:29 after the Sharks pulled Jones. “I thought we did a great job. We kept it in the zone,” Hitchcock said sarcastically. “Are you kidding me? We couldn’t get it out.” The Sharks were the best road team in the NHL in the regular season at 28-10-3, but have dropped four in a row on the road in these playoffs, including all three in the second round against Nashville. They had seven goals in three road losses to the Predators and were 0 for 3 on the power play, which had been a major plus. San Jose had been converting on 33 percent of its power plays in the postseason. “They were hot in the last series,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We stepped up to the challenge.'” The Blues made good on their first chance with home-ice advantage in the playoffs, although they’re just 4-4 at the Scottrade Center heading into Game 2 on Tuesday night. Elliott was at his best — and got some luck — in the second period when the Blues were outshot 16-5, but got the lone goal when Lehtera scored unassisted. The goalie benefited from a quick whistle with 1:14 left when he unsuccessfully tried to smother the puck on a long dump-in by Melker Karlsson, and it slowly slid between his pads and off his stick into the net, just after play had been ruled dead. “The puck was spinning a lot and it probably just spun out,” Elliott said. “I haven’t really seen it yet, so I don’t know.” Backes opened the scoring with a deflection and is tied with sharpshooter Vladimir Tarasenko for the team lead with seven goals in the playoffs, mostly because he’s fearless in front of the net waiting to pounce on rebounds. The team captain had 21 goals in the regular season. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk started the play from the point and thought this goal was particularly impressive because it had been deflected before it got to Backes. “One thing I never have to worry about is him being in front of the net when I shoot it,” Shattenkirk said. “There’s where he’s so valuable.”

Indeed!!  Goalie Brian Elliott continues to be a rock star for St. Louis!  Game 2 is tomorrow night (5/17).  So, check your local listings.   GO BLUES!!!      🙂

St. Louis Blues advance to Western finals with 6-1 rout over Stars

The captain and the kid are going to the Western Conference finals with the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis did more than survive Game 7 this time. The Blues routed the top-seeded Dallas Stars 6-1 on Wednesday night to advance to their first Western Conference finals since 2001. Robby Fabbri, their 20-year-old rookie center, became the youngest player in NHL history to score three points in a Game 7, with a goal and two assists, and captain David Backes added a goal and an assist. “The way we feel here, we know we’ve got a good team and we know every time we’re challenged we’ve kind of risen up to it,” Paul Stastny said. Blues linemates Fabbri, Stastny and Troy Brouwer each had a goal and two assists. “Nice short plays, and we buried our opportunities,” Brouwer said. “We talked before the game that we wanted to be the difference in this game tonight, and I feel like we made a good impact.” The Blues, in the playoffs for the 40th time and still in search of their first Stanley Cup, will have home-ice advantage in the Western Conference finals against Nashville or San Jose — and for the Stanley Cup as well if they advance. The Predators and Sharks play their deciding Game 7 on Thursday night. Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko also had goals to help the Blues win..

Yeah!!!  To read the rest of last night’s recap, click on the text above.  GO BLUES!!!!    🙂

Goalie Brian Elliot’s Saves Lead St. Louis Blues to 4-1 Victory over Dallas in Game 5 of Playoffs

It’s not just making saves that’s setting St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott apart. “He’s not just stopping pucks. He’s reading plays,” Blues goalie coach Jim Corsi said after the Blues 4-1 win in Game 5 gave them a 3-2 series lead over the Dallas Stars. “All the great goalies do that. That’s what he’s doing.” Elliott has been a rock for the Blues this postseason. He’s provided the kind of goaltending this franchise hasn’t had at this time of year in the recent past. And his performance in a Saturday matinee game against a Stars team that was going all-out offensively was one of his best yet. Elliott finished the game with 27 saves, and the way he’s providing his teammates with confidence has moved the Blues within one win of the Western Conference finals. According to Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Elliott will let his teammates know before the game that he’s got a couple big stops in him, the kind of saves that can change an entire game or the complexion of an entire series. “He told us, ‘I’m going to make those big saves,'” Shattenkirk said. “He’s been doing it for these entire playoffs and it’s been amazing.” The save in this game that would qualify as the biggest was Elliott’s point-blank stop on Cody Eakin early in the third period. The Blues were up two goals and it was another in a series of passes from Patrick Sharp to Eakin in Game 5 that Eakin couldn’t finish with a goal. In this case, Elliott wouldn’t let him. With Eakin camped out on the top of the crease and slowly drifting back to Elliott’s left, the pass came across the slot for a one-timer from Eakin, the guy who scored the winner in overtime of Game 4. There was no hesitation from Elliott, who pushed off and absolutely stoned the Stars forward. “You try to get over, get big, seal the ice and take care of any garbage left out in the front,” Elliott said in recalling the save after the game. “It was kind of a bang-bang play, didn’t have much room. Just tried to be big.” Boy, was he ever. According to war-on-ice.com, the Stars had 35 even-strength scoring chances in this game compared to 18 for the Blues. They had nearly twice as many high-danger scoring chances as the Blues, outpacing them in that category 15-8. Of those, just one ended up with the puck behind Elliott.

Yeah!!!  Go Elliott!  And, GO BLUES!!!!     🙂

St. Louis Blues rout Stars 6-1

This time, the St. Louis Blues knew what to do with a two-goal lead. Go for more, more, more. Alexander Steen and David Backes had two goals apiece and the defense put the clamps on the Dallas Stars in a 6-1 victory that put them up 2-1 in the second-round series Tuesday night. Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and two assists, Troy Brouwer had a goal and assist and Brian Elliott was strong when he needed to be for the Blues in their first lopsided triumph of the postseason. Their other five wins were decided by one goal, including 4-3 in overtime in Game 3 after the Stars came from two goals down. “Last game in the third period, we had a little bit of a letdown, sitting back on our heels, and we made it more of a game than we wanted to be,” Brouwer said. “Tonight, we kept pushing, we kept attacking.” The Blues finished two points behind Western Conference champion Dallas in the regular season and have control of the series heading into Game 4 Thursday night in St. Louis. Despite a late start — more than 1 1/2 hours past the usual puck drop — the vast majority of a standing-room crowd of 19,323 stuck around to the finish. “Credit everybody in the room that they bought in,” Backes said. “We had probably our most complete effort of the postseason, and a good time to have it.” St. Louis scored six unanswered goals after Colton Sceviour gave Dallas the early advantage, three coming in a breakaway second period. Steen capped the big second period with a power-play goal, matching his postseason career high for goals in a game. “He’s one of the most complete players in the league,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I think if he would have been healthy, he would have had a real shot at the Selke (Trophy).” Antti Niemi was the lone major lineup change for Game 3, replacing Kari Lehtonen in the Stars’ net after playing effectively the last two periods plus overtime in Game 2. That switch didn’t last long, and it didn’t matter. Lehtonen was back early in the second after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

What a great game that was!!  To read the rest of the recap, click on the text above.  Game four tomorrow night.   GO BLUES!!    🙂

Tony X. celebrated by St. Louis Blues at Game 3

Viral sensation Tony X. received a hero’s welcome at Scottrade Center on Tuesday. He mugged for photos, was videoed by the St. Louis Blues, shown on the jumbotron, and tweeted out a few observations from the contest. It was reportedly the first live NHL game for Anthony Holmes (aka Tony X. or @soloucity on Twitter) who became a social media hero during Game 7 of the Blues’ first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Holmes became such a big deal that he was interviewed on Good Morning America. There, Blues vice president Brett Hull offered Holmes tickets to Tuesday night’s Game 3 between St. Louis and the Dallas Stars. The Blues paid tribute to Holmes at the first TV timeout, showing him on the jumbotron, which included one of his signature tweets from Game 7. Holmes also tweeted a photo from his seat before the start of the game. Also, it appeared that Holmes listened to the pleas of sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, asking him to wear Tarasenko’s No. 91. Following the game, a 6-1 win by the Blues, Holmes was thrilled with the outcome. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed Holmes at the game. “It’s been amazing, it’s kind of surreal,” Tony X said after the second period, with “his” Blues leading, 5-1. “I still can’t believe it’s happening, even though it’s happening right now. … I’ve taken more pictures tonight than I probably have in the last five years. … It’s 10 times even more than what I thought it would be — you’re right here and you can feel the vibrations when they hit against the glass.” Holmes did tweet out a question asking about power play rules. He also was entertained by enforcer Ryan Reaves, who blew a kiss at the Stars bench after a fight near the end of the game. St. Louis may need to bring Holmes back for Game 4 considering how well Game 3 went with him in the building.

Agreed!!  I was wondering who the heck this guy was, as the cameras kept panning to him during the game.  And to think.. St. Blues legend, and now vice president, Brett Hull gave him tickets!   The power of social media..  To see videos and photos of Tony X, click on the text above.   🙂