Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
Bruce Affleck corrals the puck behind his own net and flips it over to his defense partner, Rob Ramage. Ramage powers his way up-ice, crosses the center red line and dumps the puck into the offensive zone all the way around the boards. D.J. King digs it out of the left corner and quickly throws a shot towards the goal, through the blue paint, and it deflects perfectly off the stick of the right winger into the net! And that's how I scored a game-winning goal at the Blues Fantasy Camp of 2010.
My "Black Team" (teams were identified by the color of the jersey they were assigned) that year also featured Patrik Berglund, Terry Yake, Yan Stastny, Blues owner Tom Stillman and defensemen Jonas Junland and Marc Bergevin, currently the GM of the Montreal Canadiens. So, as a winger, I either had Berglund, Yake or Stastny as my center, which meant a lot more scoring opportunities, even if I had to pay a price for those chances. That price was extracted by none other than rough, tough Kelly Chase. After I had scored that goal, I lined up across from Chase for the ensuing face-off and before I knew what happened, he high-sticked me and shouldered me down, telling me, "Welcome to the NHL, kid" as he skated off, laughing all the way. Since I wear a cage covering my face, I wasn't in any danger of being hurt, as Chase full well knew at the time. It was just his way of making fantasy camp more fun and exciting. And the following year, 2011, I completed the "knocked-down" trifecta when Keith Tkachuk cross checked me in front of the net, joining Bob Plager and Chase for that rather dubious distinction.
The Blues players and alumni went out of their way to make this experience as rewarding as possible, with a lot of give-and-take both on the ice and on the bench. A most memorable exchange occurred on the bench when Bergevin, a well-known jokester, gave me some grief about a pass he made to me, which I muffed. He said, "Ya know, Rick, I can put the puck on your tape in the middle of the blade if that will make it easier for you." I replied, "Bergy, I'm sure you could do that, but it would help me more if you could teach me how NOT to throw the puck into my own net, like you did in that Stanley Cup playoff game (in 2000 against the Sharks)." The entire bench exploded with laughter and Ramage about lost it as he guffawed at a red-faced Bergevin. I also had fun taunting Patrik Berglund, telling him what a great passer D.J. King was while reminding the big Swede he couldn't set me up as well no matter how he tried. At one point, Berglund repaid me in kind by telling me I skated too slowly as he came up behind me and pushed me forward, doubling my speed on a rush. It was also a thrill to actually steal the puck from Barret Jackman and skate past him for a shot on goal, and then get to remind him about that play later at dinner. Gentleman that he is, Jackman just said, "Hey, you made a good play and beat me clean."
I was unable to play in 2012 due to a serious rotator cuff injury I suffered earlier that year at an alumni game in Peoria. The Rivermen Alumni Association made two spots open to amateurs for a charity game, and I eagerly signed up for a chance to play at Carver Arena, home of the Blues' top farm team. And what a thrill it was to play with (and against) guys like Nels Emerson, Dave Thomlinson, Doug Evans, Jean-guy Trudel, Denis Cyr and Tyler Renette. I got hurt at the beginning of the game when defenseman Darwin McPherson clocked me in front of the net just as I was about to score, and I fell hard on my shoulder. Trudel managed to poke the puck into the net, so at least I was awarded an assist on the play. I managed to finish the game and, after being slashed by Kelly Chase (again!), took a penalty shot, although I could barely lift my arm. No, I didn't score; rather I rattled a weak shot off the post. A friend of mine in the stands, Billy Dann, said I was so slow skating in on goal that he read War and Peace before I shot the puck.
I did get to play in 2013 and had the pleasure of skating with Reed Low, who set me up for a goal. That camp was especially memorable due to the presence of Wayne Gretzky, who made a surprise appearance. We had a nice chat in the alumni locker room about his first professional game, an exhibition in Indianapolis between the WHA Racers and the Blues. I still have the program from that game. Brett Hull sponsored the Blues Alumni Fantasy Camp this year and I continued my scoring streak, set up this time by Steve Ott, who dazzled everybody with his speed and passing ability. And it was really fun to play against guys like Vladdy Tarasenko and Paul Stastny, both of whom stole the puck from me and then laughed as I tried to catch them (in vain, of course).
I am deeply appreciative and thankful to the hockey gods for these splendid memories that I share with you, celebrating my respect and love for hockey.