Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
Finally, there we were, a wave of blue in a sea of red, as the puck dropped opening the 2009-10 NHL season for the St. Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings. 100 or so avid hockey fans from St. Louis, mostly clad in blue jerseys, sat in the lower bowl of Stockholm's magnificent Globe Arena, in which the back-walls, seats and railings were all painted red. Even the ushers wore red shirts. We were surrounded by 13,700 or so European fans, most of whom were wearing red jerseys in support for the Red Wings, eight of whom were Swedish. It was finally time to drop the puck and get it on!
In retrospect, the outcome of this opening night game was especially meaningful to Blues Nation as Detroit was considered the Blues' "litmus test" , the team they would have to start beating if they were to have a successful season and playoff run. In the previous four seasons after the lockout of 2004-05, the Red Wings owned the Blues, winning 20 of 30 games, outscoring the Note 98 to 60. As coach Andy Murray told Jeremy Rutherford of the Post Dispatch, "They (the Red Wings) were schooling us. That's what it's called." A healthy antagonism had long been established between these two divisional rivals, only equaled by the mutual acrimony and malice that developed between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, that same hostility and rancor existed between the Red Wings and Blackhawks. All three teams considered the other two arch-rivals! Blues rookie goaltender Ben Bishop, a St. Louis native, grew up disliking the Red Wings and thought this matchup against the Wings was perfect. As he told Rutherford, "Detroit or Chicago, two big rivals. I think Blues fans would agree, Detroit is probably the most hated team right now."
The anxiety level was high for the small contingent of Blues fans present for the game as St. Louis was a serious under-dog to the Stanley Cup runner-up Detroit squad, led by fan-favorites Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datysuk. And that anxiety level got even higher as the Red Wings stormed out in the first period, out shooting the Blues 16 to 7 and dominating play. Blues goaltender Chris Mason weathered that storm, however, and the Blues got on the board first with an improbable goal from checking-line center Jay McClement, neatly set up by tough-guy Brad Winchester. However, Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson tipped in a pass from center Kris Draper to tie the score five minutes later. Johan Franzen then took a tripping penalty to put the Blues on the power play, but Draper spoiled the Blues' plans when he scored an unassisted shorthanded goal to put the Red Wings ahead, 2-1. It looked pretty bad for the Blues when Barret Jackman and McClement took tripping and hooking penalties late in the period to give Detroit a 5 on 3 power play advamtage, yet the Blues successfully killed the penalties and avoided disaster as the Red Wings could only muster two shots on goal.
A four-minute high-sticking penalty to Alexander Steen early in the second period resulted in a power play goal for Detroit when Ville Leino put a snap-shot behind Mason. "Maybe we had the jitters," Blues forward T.J. Oshie later told Rutherford. "We've been waiting for this game for a long time now." The wait would soon be worth it. Franzen was called for high-sticking five minutes later and Paul Kariya, in his first game back since November of 2008, flicked a wrist shot from the top of the circle to pull the Blues within one. Andy McDonald and Keith Tkachuk assisted on the power play goal. Just two minutes later, after a shot by McClement, line-mate B.J. Crombeen put a rebound past Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood to tie the score. And then the hockey gods smiled on the Blues. After a Detroit turnover in the neutral zone sent Karyia and Oshie on an odd-man rush, Kariya notched his second goal of the game, punching a quick shot past Osgood to give the Blues a 4-3 lead.
The St. Louis fans went berserk. As Kariya told Rutherford after the game, "They were loud. They were right behind our bench, so I don't know if that made a difference, but they seemed pretty vocal. They were great." And that was the final score. The Red Wings had their opportunities in the third period, especially when Oshie was called for a delay of game penalty when he shot the puck through an open door on the Blues' bench.
Yet a stout defense and the excellent play of Chris Mason gave the Blues the victory, although out-shot 34 to 23. The Blues ended up killing four of five penalties, while going one for four on the power play. Although Kariya was chosen as the star of the game for scoring two goals, including the game-winner, a good case could be made for both net minder Mason and center Jay McClement, the Blues leading scorer in the game with three points. It would be the only time in his career when McClement led the NHL in scoring, too.
What a way to end a perfect day! History lessons at a Swedish Castle, a riverboat luncheon, excellent food, good company with new friends at a Swedish tavern pretending to be a Boston sports bar and a thrilling come-from-behind Blues' victory over the hated arch-rival Red Wings. These are the kind of days that provide a glimpse of what heaven might be like.