Memorabilia Memoirs, with Rick Ackerman
No, the pictured sweater (for all you traditional purists) is not a Jonathan Toews Blackhawks jersey. Take a closer look at the shoulder patches and you will realize this beauty (even in black-and-white in the published edition) is actually a replica St. Louis Braves jersey circa 1964. And the number 19 is actually a tribute to one of the best minor league goal-scorers in hockey history, Alain "Boom-Boom" Caron. It completes my collection of professional hockey teams in St. Louis history, joining a (wool) Eagles circa 1935, a replica St. Louis Flyers circa 1948 and all 57 of my Blues jerseys from 1968 to the present. The Braves, a farm team for the Blackhawks, were my hockey team as I grew up in the early and mid 1960s in St. Louis.
Of course I was raised as a Cardinal fan, following games on KMOX radio as Harry Carey and Jack Buck set a high standard announcing or taking the Redbird Express from Crossroads/Stix, Baer & Fuller in Clayton downtown to Sportsman Park and the first Busch stadium. My best remembered Cardinals game was in 1964 when Bob Gibson out-dueled Mel Stottlemyre and Kenny Boyer hit two home runs to win the World Series at the expense of Mickey Mantle and the Yankees. I paid a price for that thrill, though. I snuck out of the house the night before and spend the night at Sportsman's Park with friends in line for tickets for game seven, cutting school the next day, too. My punishment from my parents was much worse than the week of detentions handed out by the high school. Sadly, there was no mercy shown from anyone even though the game was the day after my birthday that year. Happy Birthday, Rick...
I attended my first game in 1963 after the Braves were relocated from Syracuse, New York. Coached by ex-Rangers defenseman Gus Kyle, the Central Professional Hockey League (CPHL) St. Louis Braves featured high-scoring center Phil Esposito, veteran winger Duke Harris, slick center Ray Cullen and a relatively unknown right-winger from Quebec named Alain Caron. I was entranced by Caron's ability to score from anywhere on the ice at any angle, and he proved it by potting 77 goals (and 125 points) in only 71 games that season. He was dubbed "Boom-Boom" because of the boom he made when he shot the puck and the boom that resulted when he missed the goal and hit the back-boards. He obviously didn't miss that much that season, though, eh? The Boomer went on to score 46 goals the following season, yet was transferred to the Blackhawks' farm team in Buffalo, the AHL Bisons in 1965. Eventually Caron played in 60 NHL games (for the Oakland Seals and Montreal Canadiens), scoring nine goals and 22 points. He also played for Quebec and Michigan/Baltimore of the WHA, scoring 82 goals in 195 games. At age 38, the Boomer suffered a massive heart attack and survived, only to suffer another ten years later in 1988 that proved to be fatal. And, yes, I was able to meet Mr. Caron and get his autograph in my Braves' scrapbook, which I proudly include in my memorabilia collection.
Other Braves players who went on to glorious careers in the NHL included Freddy Stanfield, brother Jack Stanfield, Dennis Hull, Lou Angotti, Gerry Melnyk, Wayne Maki,
defenseman John Miszuk and goaltenders Jack McCartan, Denis DeJordy, Roy Edwards and Dave Dryden. Seasoned veterans like Art Stratton, Camille Henry, Pierre Pilote, Pat Stapleton, Wayne Hillman and Johnny "Pie" McKenzie also played for St. Louis. Astute Blues' fans will recognize several names of players who also donned the Note after the Blues were birthed in 1967.
The Braves barely made the playoffs that first season in 1964 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the St.Paul Rangers, who had two memorable players in winger Gary Sabourin and tough-guy defenseman Bob Plager, who we loved to hate. St. Louis finished dead last the following season and missed the playoffs. The most memorable CPHL team for me personally was the Omaha Knights, led by the likes of Bill McCreary, Andre Boudrias, Claude Larose, Barclay Plager, Jimmy Roberts, Noel Picard, and goaltenders Ernie Wakely and Cesare Maniago. In 1966, the Braves once again barely made the playoffs and were bounced in the first round by the Oklahoma City Blazers, who were loaded with scoring talent including Jean-Paul Parise, Ted Irvine, Terry Crisp, Glen Sather, Billy Goldsworthy and a young, brash center named Derek Sanderson. The defense featured Dallas Smith, Harry Sinden, Joe Watson and John Arbour, while Gerry Cheevers, Doug Favell and Bernie Parent manned the nets. What a team! Alas, the last year the Braves operated in St. Louis, they missed the playoffs and then relocated to Texas in 1967 as the Dallas Blackhawks.
Despite never finishing first or winning a Jack Adams Cup championship in four seasons, the Braves were a lot of fun and introduced many young St. Louis hockey enthusiasts to the wonderful world of minor-league hockey, setting the stage for the arrival of the Blues, many of whom had played in the CPHL. My most memorable game was the night Braves' defenseman Gary Kilpatrick shot the puck through the chicken-wire (no glass in those days) and hit me in the shoulder. I bled like the proverbial stuck-pig! The worst part was that I was unable to recover that puck.