By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
Given the fact that your Game Time Prospect Department has made it his business to focus on the youngsters and minor-league players in the Blues' organ-I-zation, you might well expect that his "How I Became A Blues Fan" story would have something to do with the minors, and with Blues' draft picks.
You'd be right.
The year was 1970, and your GTPD was just a little Game Time Prospect (with no Department yet) growing up in Historic Macoupin County. Prospect Dad was working for KV Pharmaceutical in St. Louis, and several of the guys he worked with had moved to Denver a few years earlier to work for a pharmaceutical company out there.
Now, little GTP had, of course, heard of the Blues, thanks to the late, lamented St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and several nights spent listening to the dulcet tones of the late, great Dan Kelly calling the action as Hall and Plante made spectacular saves and the Plager brothers wreaked havoc. Little GTP wasn't exactly a fan yet, however, being a little more into the Cardinals and baseball like every other kid in Historic Macoupin County.
Anyway, Prospect Dad came home one evening and informed little GTP and his brothers that we were moving to Denver that summer so Prospect Dad could go to work with his buddies out there. The six of us stuffed ourselves into a new Ford Maverick, and westward went we.
Prospect Dad's new employers just happened to have season tickets for the Denver Spurs (who just happened to be a farm club of the Blues at the time) of the old Western League, and they would raffle the tickets off to the employees for every home game. Prospect Dad won the tickets one November evening, and as the oldest Prospect in the house, little GTP got to go with Prospect Dad to their first-ever live hockey game.
Fast forward three years to the 1973-74 season, when the Blues were sending more of their prospects down to the Spurs. One such player was a 20-year-old draftee from Quesnel, BC who had made his mark kicking ass and taking names in the world's best junior league, what was then known as the Western Canada Hockey League.
The Spurs became the WHL's answer to the Broad Street Bullies in 1973-74, with fights and bench-clearing brawls marking nearly every one of the Spurs' games that year. The 20-year-old rookie from Quesnel, Bob Gassoff, was right in the thick of things for the Battlin' Spurs that year, getting in his first pro fight in his second pro game, and pummeling Portland's Doug Volmar in the main event of a bench-clearing brawl at the end of the second period in the Spurs' home opener.
Your 12-year-old GTP had never seen anything like this before, and Gassoff soon became his favorite player. Other Blues' draftees and prospects -- Yves Belanger, Bob Collyard, Gordie Brooks, Jim Watt, Bob Stumpf, Glenn Patrick, Butch Williams and Jean Hamel -- also captured my imagination (though not as much as the flamboyant and likeable Gassoff), and I began to take a more serious interest in the team from that big city 35 miles southwest of Historic Macoupin County, and in the young guys that would be playing for it.
Gassoff's eventual full-time promotion to the Blues finally convinced me that there really were opportunities for the guys on the Spurs to make it to the NHL and be big stars, and that's how and when I began to really start paying attention to the guys that the Blues drafted, and the players they had in their minor-league system.
The Spurs were soon gone, replaced by the Colorado Rockies, and I finally had the chance to see the Blues play live. Players I had watched with the Spurs -- Gassoff, Belanger, Curt Bennett, Ken Richardson, Brian Ogilvie and Floyd Thomson -- were now back in Denver, playing against the Rockies in the National Hockey League.
Over the years, I've had lots of opportunities to see guys play at junior, college and minor-pro levels, and eventually make it to the NHL. But Bob Gassoff was the first one to really stick in my memory and capture my imagination, and it's really because of Gassoff and the Denver Spurs that I became a Blues fan.
"If we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there wll be nothing left but that of the anvil."
-- Otto von Bismarck, 1851