Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman Part 1 (of 2)...
I wonder how many Blues games I have actually been to over the 47 years of the club's history. My first game was at the Arena in 1967, sometime in December when I came home to St. Louis from college for the holidays. I don't remember who the Blues played or what the score was. The last game I attended was the 4-1 victory over Washington ten days ago. In between, I have managed to see hundreds of games, at least a couple every single year, including those as a season ticket holder since 2005 when I returned to St. Louis for good. So, what was the best game I have ever been privileged to see, and what was the worst game I have ever been cursed to see?
There are many, many choices in each category, of course.
One of the Blues' most horrible games was played the night of Brett Hull's jersey retirement ceremony on December 5, 2006. The hated, arch-rival Red Wings were the visitors and they outplayed and outscored the Blues 5-1 in front of a SRO crowd (19, 646) there to honor Hull. Backed by goaltender Dominik Hasek, Detroit coasted to a 5-0 lead before Eric Brewer finally tallied for the Note (assisted by Christian Backman and Martin Rucinsky) late in the third period. Manny Legace was chased from the game after two periods (3 goals against on 12 shots); Jason Bacashihua allowed two goals on 20 shots in the third period. That edition of the Blues won only seven of the first 30 games, looking to surpass the futility of the season before that, in which they finished as the worst team in the NHL with only 21 wins and 57 points. However, they turned things around after this clunker with the Red Wings and over the next 20 games went 13-3-4, finishing third in the Central Division, eight points ahead of the hapless Columbus Blue Jackets and ten points more than the even more hapless Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues did not qualify for the playoffs in 2007, 15 points behind the eighth-seeded Calgary Flames.
Another truly disappointing game was during the first round of the playoffs in April, 2000. The Blues finished the season with the best record in the NHL, winning the Presidents' Trophy, six points ahead of the Red Wings and 36 points more than the woeful Blackhawks. The Blues were loaded up front with the likes of Pavol Demitra, Pierre Turgeon, Michal Handzus and Jimmy Campbell and featured a strong defense, headed by Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, Marc Bergevin and goaltender Roman Turek, who had a sensational season, winning 42 of 67 games with a sparkling 1.95 goals against average. St. Louis faced the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks, who finished the season 27 points behind the Blues. The Sharks played well, splitting the first two games in St. Louis and then winning the next two in San Jose, each by a single goal. The Blues roared back, winning the next two games, 5-3 in St. Louis and 6-2 in San Jose. Game seven in St. Louis would decide the series. The Blues took a first period lead on a goal by Scotty Young, but with ten seconds left in the period, Owen Nolan fired a shot from center ice that somehow bounced off Turek's glove and into the net. Jeff Friesen and Ronnie Stern later scored to seal a 3-1 Sharks victory. The suddenly impotent Blues' offense only managed 22 shots in the game (MacInnis had six of them) and all of a sudden the powerful Blues were out of the playoffs, disappointing a SRO crowd of well over 20,000. Ouch!
As disappointing as those two games were, neither compares to the hopelessness and futility that was experienced on May 7, 1968. The Blues had emerged as the class of the new Western Division, led by scorers Red Berenson, Frank St. Marseille, Larry Keenan, Gary Sabourin, and Dickie Moore. A staunch defense featured Bob and Barclay Plager, captain Al Arbour, Noel Picard and J.G. Talbot. Glenn Hall (all 18 playoff games) and Seth Martin (R.I.P. 2014) manned the net for St. Louis. The Blues edged both Philadelphia and Minnesota in the first two rounds in seven games and faced the powerful Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. Montreal won three of four regular season games against St. Louis (the fourth game was a tie), outscoring the Note 12-6. The Blues forced the Canadiens to overtime in game one in St. Louis, playing very well, although losing 3-2. Hopes were high for game two, played on May 7; I thank David (now the beat-writer for the San Jose Mercury News) Pollak's father for getting the tickets and taking us. It turned out to be a goaltending duel between Rogie Vachon and Glenn Hall, and Montreal won 1-0 on a goal by defenseman Serge Savard in the second period. What made it worse for me personally was that I was in the bathroom with a really bad case of indigestion (I wonder what was in the hot dogs I consumed just before the game started) and missed the only goal of the match. How distressing! Of course, the Canadiens went on to sweep the Blues, winning both games in Montreal by scores of 4-3 (in overtime) and 3-2.
Please return for part two in Thursday's edition of St. Louis Game Time when I recall the best Blues games I have ever attended. Be there or be square...