Memorabilia Memories with Rick Ackerman
On the buses on the way to game two of the 2009 NHL Premiere event in Sweden, the group of 100 or so Blues' fans from St. Louis was delighted to see the Globe Arena now awash in a brilliant blue light, designating the Blues as the home team for this second game in Stockholm. Having won 4-3 the night before when Detroit was the home team and the Globe was illuminated in red, the Blues could do no worse than split the two-game series with the Red Wings. However, that was never a consideration for this loyal band of Blues brothers and sisters who anticipated, and got, another come-from-behind victory over the despised squad from the Motor City.
Ty Conklin, now the goalie coach for the Blues AHL farm team in Chicago, manned the nets for his first game as a member of the Blues, and rookie Jimmy Howard tended goal for the Red Wings. As expected, Detroit came storming out in the penalty-filled first period, out shooting St. Louis 15 to 9, scoring two goals to the Blues' one. The Red Wings scored first when Tomas Holmstrom tipped in a shot by defenseman Brian Rafalski and took a 2-0 lead when Dan Cleary deflected a Henrik Zetterberg pass into the net just two minutes and eight seconds into the game. So, as the night before, the Blues had to play catch-up with Detroit, out shot 11-1 at one point. However, the Blues managed to hang in there and battle back. They could only muster one shot on goal during a five-on-three power play, yet Keith Tkachuk scored on a pass from Andy McDonald five seconds after the first penalty expired. Paul Kariya also assisted on Big Walt's first goal of the series.
It was the Blues turn to dominate during the second period. After McDonald and Detroit's Niklas Kronwall traded power play goals, the Blues took over. Brad Boyes and Patrik Berglund each scored their first goal, both even-strength goals. Boyes' wicked wrist shot somehow trickled through Howard's pads five-hole, while Berglund's booming slap shot was in the net before Howard could even move. That spectacular goal was really the result of a nifty pass from defenseman Erik Johnson. The Blues worked hard to get the 4-3 lead, out shooting the Red Wings 13 to 7 in the second period.
The third period was evenly played as Detroit had 11 shots on goal and St. Louis 10. The only real difference came when Tkachuk scored his second power play goal of the game with around eight minutes left, assisted by Kariya and Johnson, for each their second of the night. That goal prompted those of us sitting behind the Blues' bench to begin chanting, "We've got ta-cos!", a reference to a free-taco promotion when the team scores five goals in St. Louis.
How Swede it was to see the Blues hold on and earn yet another come-from-behind victory, 5-3!
Instead of taking us back to our hotel, we talked our bus driver into taking us to the Blues' hotel instead, where we formed two lines in the lobby of the Sheraton to welcome our victorious warriors. As the team entered the hotel, the raucous and boisterous crowd began chanting the names of the players, coaches and management. As Erik Johnson told the Post Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford, "It was awesome. Obviously we won two big games, but it seemed like we won something a lot more with the fans doing something like that." Entering the lobby to the chant of "J-D! J-D!", Blues' President John Davidson told Rutherford he was overwhelmed. "It was like being part of the Olympics. It was an emotional experience for us. That was totally unexpected." The celebration continued as the players mingled with the fans, fist-bumping and shaking hands, exhilarated and overjoyed to be there, basking in the adoration and excitement of the moment.
Yes, after year after year of heartache and disappointment after games with Detroit, it was the Blues' turn to claim bragging rights after completing the two game sweep in Stockholm. For a team trying to earn more respect around the NHL, St. Louis received a huge payoff on what Davidson called a big gamble playing the Red Wings twice to open the season. As he told Rutherford after the game, "It was a big stage and our players got big-stage experience, which is hard to come by. If you come home 0-2, it certainly wouldn't have been enthusiastic for us. But sometimes that's what sports are. If you want to move up in your master plan, you've got to do these things...so we did it." Andy McDonald echoed these sentiments, telling Rutherford, "It's exciting going forward. Obviously Detroit is one of the better teams in the league. We knew it was going to be a challenge, and it was a good indication of where we are as a team."
We partied into the night at the Sheraton, outlasting the Blues' players and coaches who retired due to their early flight out the next morning. It was a joyous and happy bunch of American Blues' fans who for the most part walked back to our hotel, singing and laughing in the streets of Stockholm well past the midnight hour. And so it was a happy flight indeed back to the States later that afternoon, capping off an excellent Swedish adventure that everyone who went will remember for the rest of their lives. Thank you good people of Stockholm and thank you Blues!
Don't miss part six, the last of the series, in the next edition of St. Louis Game Time.