Like most of you who have been
tricked into parenthood blessed enough to have children, my own little skinbags of joy have all returned to school in the recent weeks. Which means they have also recently been assigned the teachers' copout assignment of writing an essay entitled, "How I Spent My Summer."
So, while I was reminding them of how much "fun" they had while I was grumpily doling out thousands of dollars for them to go to Disney World, vacation in Wisconsin on a lake and attend multiple sports camps that may (but probably did not) increase the odds that they will make plays in games this year that make other parents say, "Moderately decent play, kid," as opposed to the normal, "Jesus. Whose kid is that?"
But I digress.
As school starts for them, the hockey season starts for me. And with that, I shake off the rust and start to get the typin' fingers ready because we're back to publishing our world-famous (actually more like "read by people in other parts of the world") game day paper. At the same time, I usually find a way to start writing for this overly positive/overly negative little piece of the internet, too. So, I did a little self-analysis.
What the hell did I do all summer, after all?
Oh yeah, I remember now.
One. I participated in the Blues' Alumni Big Walt Fantasy Camp. And while many of you would probably look at my list of stories from that camp and pick out Scored A Bang-Bang Goal On An Unbelievable Assist From Patrick Berglund as my Number One experience from the three days, you would be wrong. Because those of you who know me the best would pick the bullet listed as Found Bobby Plager Hanging Out Alone In The Players Lounge as far and away the best moment of the weekend.
Look, I'm not much of a Fantasy Camp guy. The word Fantasy freaks me out a little, for starters, just because I feel like anytime I hear someone else say the word, we're only about four sentences away from a weird admission about inappropriate outfits, inappropriate touching or inappropriate murder schemes. That said, the pros and pro alumni at the camp could not have been cooler about the whole thing. I spent the entire first day of games afraid that I was going to run into one of the current players, tweak his knee and become St. Louis' Steve Bartman, causing me to have to move out of town.
But on the third night, when we wandered into the Players' Lounge and found the heart and soul of the St. Louis Blues' franchise; the man who has been a Blue longer than anyone; the man who has been a player, coach, minor league coach, scout, media guy, PR guy and is the oral historian of the club; the man who means more to the club and to whom the club means more than anything, watching TV and drinking by himself, I had no choice but to join him for an hour or two.
I've said it before a few times and I've always been shouted down, but I'm going to say it again, Bobby Plager should have his number honored by the Blues, and sooner rather than later. Personally, I'd like to see it retired and have Barret Jackman, a man who is as iron-hard and mean on the ice as Bobby Plager was, give up his No. 5 and pull on No. 55, but I realize that is a minority position.
Regardless, my time spent hearing his stories, looking at his pictures and laughing at his jokes was probably the best couple hours of my summer.
Fuck you, Disney World.
Two. Speaking of retiring or honoring numbers, the plane crash in Russia that abruptly ended so many hockey lives crushed me more than a story has in a long time. I'm a fairly jaded person when it comes to loss. But Pavol Demitra was the first player who I watched closely who has died tragically. I loved the Cycling Slovaks. Loved Kelly Chase's story about passing them on the highway on a snowy day with all three of them in one car going way too slowly. Loved that he scored clutch goals and made pretty passes and had a strange skating stride that was fast, but just odd enough that I always knew who he was. Loved his unmatched exuberance when he scored a goal. Loved that he always said he was so "hoppy" to be on the team.
And while, somehow, there is a discussion about what is an appropriate response by the Blues to honor him, to me it's a no-brainer: Pavol and Igor Korolev deserve to have a No. 38 patch on the Blues' jersey this year as well as a moment of silence at the home opener.
Some will say that he wasn't an NHLer when he died or that he played for other NHL teams after the Blues, but Demitra's career was made in St. Louis and his career in St. Louis made the Blues a better team.
I'm one of those "bottle it up and then try to drink it away" guys - I won't say that I think crying shows weakness, but none of my kids have ever seen me cry. Show me a video montage of Demitra at the home opener and all of you just might get to see it happen.
If the Blues don't do it, they've screwed up: The print version of Game Time will have a circular black patch with a white 38 in it in every issue this year.
Three. Reveling in the Blues doing the right thing. Signing Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner to add depth and leadership to a team that had neither last year? Naming David Backes captain of the team?
Holy shit, boys, are you going to take every bullet out of my gun?
Langenbrunner and Arnott have both won Cups and both have been captains of teams. Both know they aren't going to see top line minutes and aren't going to be on the power play. Both also know that if they want to keep getting paid NHL dollars and not have to go get semi-real jobs, this year is a showcase season as the Blues signed both for just 2011-12.
I like the moves. Of course, I liked the Mike Keane signing, and that one turned out terribly. But, I also liked the Bill Guerin signing, and that one worked out pretty well for both the team and the player. let's hope this one goes more Guerin than Keane.
But the Backes move? That one is genius. Backes now has the leadership backing of veterans like Langenbrunner and Arnott and Jackman and McDonald behind him. He is always an on-ice leader and I expect a breakout year for him. I don't think he'll crack under the pressure of leadership - I think he'll blossom. With the exception of Chris Gift's jersey, everyone wanted Backes to be named captain; not because he was the most popular (T.J. Oshie) or the longest tenured (Jackman), but because he was the right choice.
Thank the hockey gods that the team didn't do something crazy and make a new captain every month or something cockamamie. David Backes was born to join the ranks of the hardest Blues' captains: Al Arbour, Bob Plager, Barclay Plager, Brian Sutter, Scott Stevens, Dallas Drake.
Four. The hockey season is almost back, bitches. My rec league team is coming out of hibernation, my kid's hockey team is getting pep talks about commitment from their new Fall hockey coach, my fantasy (there's that word again) hockey team is looking as disappointing as ever and the got-damn St. Louis Blues are in training camp with the fewest spots up for grabs and the best talent on paper that we have seen since before the lockout.
It's a good day to start forgetting how I spent my summer and to start spending every waking moment thinking about hockey again.