Welcome back! It's been nothing but good news for the St. Louis Blues since their horrifying series loss to the arch-rival Blackhawks last April. The Blues loaded up at the amateur draft in June, adding slick center Robbie Fabbri and winger Ivan Barbashev (although both were returned to their junior teams after impressing in training camp). Then during the summer, GM Doug Armstrong signed centers Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera, as well as veteran Swedish winger Joakim Lindstrom and finally Jaden Schwartz, all under the salary cap. Armstrong also added defenseman Carl Gunnarsson from Toronto for Roman Polak. The Blues are well stocked and ready to rock and roll through the regular season and into the playoffs. This edition of the Note is arguably the most complete, deep and best team in St. Louis hockey history (something I also wrote in the first edition of St. Louis Game Time at this time last year), able to realistically challenge for the division and conference championship titles, as well as the Stanley Cup.
If you are reading this article, then chances are pretty good that you are more than just a casual hockey fan or just simply killing time until the next Cardinals, Rams or Mizzou game is played. It is far more likely that you are a seasoned hockey veteran with a well- above average knowledge of the game and the NHL club in St. Louis. After all, you knew enough to either purchase our fine magazine at the rink and/or find us online in order to get more information and opinions about the Blues and hockey in general. Chances are also pretty good that you will attend more than ten games during the regular season and as many during the playoffs as you can afford. Some take being a hockey fan further, though, especially those still able to play the game, whether it be in a pick-up street-hockey game with the guys or in an established amateur league in the St. Louis metropolitan area. And there are others who write about their favorite sport, especially online in various blogs, message boards and hockey forums. Serious fans also enjoy immersing themselves in fantasy leagues, in which they play General Manager and choose actual players that earn them points based on superior performances in real NHL games.
And then there are those hockey fan(atic)s who collect memorabilia.
It usually starts innocently enough with a souvenir from that first professional game, either a program or a pennant or even a puck. Then as favorite players are recognized, hockey cards are available at a relatively nominal cost, eventually followed by getting the souvenir signed by a favorite player. And that quickly leads to getting more items autographed, including the purchase of a jersey when the person finally self-identifies as a real fan of the sport or home team. That first jersey is usually a replica, most likely without a player's name and number, although sometimes popular (high-scoring) players' names such as Oshie or Tarasenko are chosen even if a little more costly. For the fanatics, though, that starter replica jersey is just the beginning.
The number of game worn hockey jerseys available for sale or trade is staggering, as is the cost for the most popular ones. For example, a well-worn Brett Hull Blues jersey starts at auction at $1,000 and can easily bring in as much as $4,000, or more. There is something extra-special about owning a jersey actually worn in a game, and that soon includes the desire to own and/or display game used sticks and even pucks, skates and other equipment. Those obsessed with goaltenders can and do spend thousands of dollars on game used helmets, blockers, gloves and pads. Yet there is something truly noteworthy and extraordinary about jerseys that endear them to the true collector, some of whom keep them in pristine condition, refusing to "spoil" them with an autograph from the player or even wear them in public or to a game, risking (Horrors!) spilled food or beer.
I am not that particular about my collection of hockey jerseys, now numbering 250, including 117 game worn or team issued jerseys. 145 of them are signed (61 gamers) and I have no problem wearing any of them in public or to games. As it turns out, my most valuable game worn jersey was the very first one I ever obtained, directly from the hands of Emile Francis at the Blues' garage sale in 1982 when the club was in dire need of cash and on the brink of moving to Saskatoon. I was able to purchase a #9 white (home) jersey at a (now nominal) cost of $30 (cash only) that was later identified and authenticated by Frank St. Marseille himself as a jersey he wore during the 1968-69 season. I was also fortunate to pick up a signed game used St. Marseille stick at a later date, although the $200 price was a bit steep. In the long run, though, money issues all even out.
As the season progresses, I will continue to share my memorabilia collection with you and relate stories about interactions with players both past and present. For those willing to put the time and money into collecting hockey memorabilia and autographs, it is tremendously rewarding and fulfilling as hockey-related treasures and memories help one appreciate the rich history of the greatest game on earth.