Support Local Journalism. Donate to Riverfront Times.

And Mullets for All: The St. Louis Blues in the Thrash Years 

Page 3 of 3

Brian Sutter gave his all on the ice every night, and still almost got shipped to Saskatoon. - COURTESY OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES
  • COURTESY OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES
  • Brian Sutter gave his all on the ice every night, and still almost got shipped to Saskatoon.

The Drafty Ballad of Saskatoon

In 1983, Blues owners Ralston Purina announced they wanted to sell the team. Nobody was interested, but Ralston Purina was the least interested of all. They worked out a deal to sell the whole shebang to investors in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but the NHL refused to approve the sale. The Blues fought back by officially skipping the NHL draft that year, and then told the league to "take the team or we'll sell the players, the equipment and the name to the highest bidder." Then the fight got nasty. The league refused to take the team, Ralston Purina terminated the majority of the staff, and the players were left hanging in the wind. The NHL eventually took control of the team and announced a search for new owners, but on a timeline. If no one bought the team, the league would dissolve the Blues and allow the other eleven teams to draft its players. Harry Ornest and a group of investors saved the team with just days to spare. Saskatoon got nothing, but it retains the immortal honor of being the boyhood home of hockey legend Gordie Howe; the birthplace of a pair of the NHL's greatest enforcers, Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard; and the only place on Earth where professional wrestler and actor Rowdy Roddy Piper could possibly be born. Current St. Louis Blues forward Brayden Schenn was also born there, which means a piece of the Paris of the Prairies is now in St. Louis.

Jacques Plante won his seventh Vezina Trophy with the Blues in 1968 as part of tandem with Glenn Hall. - COURTESY OF MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM
  • COURTESY OF MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM
  • Jacques Plante won his seventh Vezina Trophy with the Blues in 1968 as part of tandem with Glenn Hall.

Great Goalies I Have Known

The miraculous ascension of Jordan Binnington to rock-solid, number-one goalie is all the more miraculous in his second season. For years upon years, hardcore fans watched heralded and unheralded goalies get hot and carry the team to the postseason, only to have everything fall apart. Mike Liut had a phenomenal run in the '80s but was undone by a serious groin injury. In 1989, Curtis Joseph arrived and established himself as a steady netminder. By '92, Joseph had come into his own and became a force between the pipes, leading the Blues to an upset against the hated Blackhawks in the playoffs. By '95 he'd been traded away. Former Dallas Stars backup Roman Turek arrived in 1999 and racked up seven shut-outs on his way to the William M. Jennings trophy for fewest goals allowed. The San Jose Sharks ate him up in the postseason, and the next season saw a similar predilection for allowing soft goals in the playoffs. He was succeeded by Brent Johnson (great, then not) and then, in tandem, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott (same story, despite the fact that Brian Elliott still holds the team record for most shutouts in a season with eleven). Year after year, goalie after goalie — even Martin Brodeur showed up in the parade of almosts. Until Jordan Binnington, forever may he reign.

Tony Twist was the most feared enforcer in the NHL for a long stretch. - COURTESY OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES
  • COURTESY OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES
  • Tony Twist was the most feared enforcer in the NHL for a long stretch.

The Behemoths

What the Blues lacked in goaltending stability, they more than made up for with their ability to nurture tough guys. From Bob Gassoff to Ryan Reaves stretches a long and proud lineage of heart-and-soul players who stuck up for their teammates, protected the stars and fought all comers. Bob Gassoff was the early template, a burly defenseman who wasn't the biggest guy on the ice but usually the baddest. He bounced between the minors and the majors from 1973 to '75, but made an impact with his fists. Gassoff racked up 866 penalty minutes in just 245 games. His career was cut short in 1977 by a fatal motorcycle accident. The team retired his number.

Kelly Chase and Tony Twist overlapped for a few years in the mid-1990s, forming a potent combo on the ice. Chase was a heart-and-soul guy who wasn't the biggest bruiser on the ice, but that never stopped him from going toe to toe with anybody. As for Twist, at six-foot-one and 245 pounds, he was a true heavyweight. He rearranged Rob "Razor" Ray's face during one bout, and that was after he cracked Kirk Tomlinson's helmet with a punch while playing for the Nordiques. Even the toughest guys were reluctant to fight him after seeing the carnage he could wreak.

Ryan Reaves is another big body who fought more than a few times for the Blues (and for his current team, the Vegas Golden Knights), but fighting is on the wane in the NHL. Enforcers are loved by teammates and a segment of the fans, but the specter of head injuries is too big to ignore.

Maybe that's for the best. Chronologically between Gassoff and Twist came Todd Ewen, who was willing to go with anybody who wanted a fight. He famously knocked out NHL heavyweight enforcer Bob Probert in a fight, but he also wrote a children's book (A Frog Named Hop) and played four instruments. Perhaps no player better epitomizes the dichotomy between enforcers on and off the ice than Todd Ewen. On ice, they're a force to be reckoned with. Off the ice, they're mostly quiet guys who value friends and family, which includes the guys they fight. Ewen was no different. After his career ended, he coached youth teams at all levels out in Chesterfield. The toll the game took on his body was a time bomb: In 2015, after a long struggle with depression, Ewen died at the age of 49 by his own hand. Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University examined his brain and found stage-two CTE, a form of brain degeneration likely caused by repeated brain trauma. The brawlers are always fan favorites, but the price may be too much to pay.

Longtime referee Kerry "Hair Helmet" Fraser remembered Ewen online with a tiny pair of hockey pants made out of tape. Ewen made them during a game while he was a healthy scratch and gave them to Fraser after the game. It was a welcome reminder that there's more to life — and more to the men who devote their youth to the game — than hockey.

Riverfront Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.

Tags:

Read the Digital Print Issue

April 8, 2020

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2020 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation