Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman (Part 2)
If you have been around as long as I have watching the St. Louis Blues play hockey (47 years), there have been hundreds of games from which you could choose to remember those that thrilled you the most, as well as those that disappointed you the most. There have been many highs and lows over the years, yet, ultimately, a sense of futility and despair is at the back of Blues Nation's collective consciousness since the Stanley Cup has not (yet) been raised by the captain of the Blues or paraded down Market Street. Some of the lowlights I personally have watched over the years have already been recounted, so now it is time to celebrate some of the best games I have ever seen.
And, no, overall there have been a far more good games than bad.
Who could forget the first two games of last year's opening round of the playoffs against Chicago? Game one went to triple overtime before Alexander Steen scored (with Steve Ott assisting) in front of a deliriously happy crowd of 19, 423 at the TradeStocks Center. The Blues out shot the Blackhawks in regulation 28-21, yet it took a Jaden Schwartz goal late in the third period to send the game to overtime. Corey Crawford was brilliant in overtime for Chicago, stopping 23 Blues' shots before Steen finally scored. Ryan Miller was equally sharp, making 21 saves in overtime for the victory. Two nights later, 19, 639 saw history repeat itself as the Blues again won in overtime by the same 4-3 score. Vlad Tarasenko scored his second goal in as many games to tie the score with only seven seconds left in regulation. The unlikely hero at 5:50 of the first overtime was Barret Jackman, who sent the over-capacity crowd into a frenzy with his first goal. Assists on the winning goal went to The Departed Roman Polak and Vlad Sobotka. That peculiar electricity generated by an exhilarated, totally drained crowd spilled into the parking lots as people exited the game, thrilled as could be with a 2-0 series lead over the hated Blackhawks. Honk! Honk!! Honk!!!
And no, I will not discuss what happened in the series after those two games.
Another extremely memorable playoff game occurred on Sunday, April 25, 1993. Attending this game caused me a considerable personal problem as I was forced to take a "personal day" from teaching school on Friday, April 23, in order to drive to St. Louis for the game that night, the third of the opening-round series with Chicago. Curtis Joseph shutout the Blackhawks 3-0 (with 34 saves) behind goals by Brett Hull, Nels Emerson and Craig Janney. However, to stay for Sunday's match meant driving back to Ohio (then a six hour trip) after the game. I would only get around three hours of sleep if I was to make it to school on time Monday morning by 7:30 a.m. I couldn't very well call in a "sick day", either. However, I was young then (a mere lad of 45), so I went to the game, and man, was I glad I did. Through regulation the score was tied at three, thanks to two goals from Hull and one from Brendan Shanahan. Brent Sutter, Jeremy Roenick and Jocelyn Lemieux scored for Chicago. And then in overtime, there was some major magic on ice. Hull dumped the puck into the Chicago defensive zone and as a Hawks' defenseman played the puck, Dave Lowry hit him and the puck squirted behind the net. As goaltender Ed Belfour tried to play the puck, he was jostled by a hustling Hull. Meanwhile, the puck was sent up the boards by the Blackhawks's Jocelyn Lemieux, where the Blues' Janney was waiting. He one-timed the puck straight into the net as Belfour attempted to get back and the Blues won the game and swept the series. An irate Belfour rushed to protest the goal, claiming goaltender interference by Hull. When told by the referee that it was a good goal, "the Eagle" smashed his stick on the net and went on a rampage in the locker room, breaking everything he could get his hands on, including a hot tub, coffee-maker, and television, causing thousands of dollars in damage. I was so pumped and wired after the game that I had no trouble driving back to Ohio, managing to grab a couple of hours of sleep and then getting to work on time.
And, no, I didn't fall asleep in afternoon study hall I monitored.
The best game I ever attended was on November 23, 1968, the night before I left for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Ironically, the 1-0 score was the same as the most disappointing game I ever saw, a 1-0 Stanley Cup Final loss to Montreal that previous May. This time the Blues defeated the powerful Chicago Blackhawks at the Arena behind the 44 save effort of goaltender Jacques Plante, still my favorite Blues player of all time. Winger Bill "Senator" McCreary scored the only goal of the game. The final minute of the match saw a flurry of shots from the likes of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Ken Wharram and Jim Pappin, yet Plante was spectacular as a frenzied SRO crowd cheered and cheered the Blues on to an improbable victory. In another peculiar bit of irony, the day I finished this very article was Sunday, November 23, exactly 46 years later to the day.
And, no, unfortunately I was not present at the Monday Night Miracle.