Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
The passengers on two jets leaving the Stockholm Arlanda Airport on October 4, 2009, had high hopes and great expectations for the St. Louis Blues' chances for success for the rest of the 2009-10 NHL schedule. One plane carried a contingent of 100 or so avid hockey fans from St. Louis, and the other transported the Blues' players, coaching staff and management. There was plenty of room for excitement and anticipation for all these international travelers as the Blues won both games of the Premiere event in Sweden and looked primed to end years of frustration by finally joining those teams in the NHL considered to be elite, or at the least, having a good chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Two games does not a season make, yet at the time it was more than encouraging that the Blues came from behind twice to defeat their long-time nemesis and arch-rival. Detroit had won 20 of 30 previous games since the lockout of 2004 and embarrassed the Blues several times over that span, including a 5-1 shellacking on home ice on Brett Hull's jersey retirement night in 2006. Joining this edition of the Note was heralded rookie defenseman Alex Pietrangelo from juniors, as well as the return of defenseman Erik Johnson and forwards Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald from severe injuries. Promising youngsters such as T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Lars Eller and Patrik Berglund were developing nicely and joined veterans Keith Tkachuk, Brad Boyes, Alexander Steen and David Backes to give the Blues a potent offense. A checking line of "Silent" Jay McClement, B.J. Crombeen and D.J. King, along with St. Louis native Cam Janssen, looked good to shut down other teams' top scoring lines. Barret Jackman, Roman Polak, Eric Brewer and Mike Weaver added toughness and grit to the defense, while veterans Chris Mason and Ty Conklin were more than capable in goal, backed up by rookie Ben Bishop. Things were indeed looking good for the Blues and their fans as they headed home after an exhilarating adventure in Stockholm.
The team had four days to rest and recover from jet-lag before opening at home in the TradeStocks Center against the Atlanta Thrashers. Adding to the hoopla of a home-opener in St. Louis was the celebration of the unveiling of the Al MacInnis statue before the game. A sell out crowd awaited a repeat of the Blues' performance in Sweden, yet the Thrasher's Ilya Kovalchuk scored two goals to pace an Atlanta victory. The Thrashers scored on two of their first three shots on goal against Mason (who would leave the Blues to sign a free-agent contract with Atlanta during the summer of 2010), and for the third time in three games, the Blues were forced to play catch-up. Unlike the games overseas, however, they just couldn't come back to win. Two nights later, the Blues yet again fell behind the Kings and suffered another loss at home, 2-1. Fans were willing to blame fatigue and jet lag for the poor performances by the Note, yet it would turn out to be a harbinger of things to come.
The Blues were thankful to leave town after these two disasters at home, yet did not show it on the ice, losing two of three games on the ensuing road trip. Back at the TradeStocks Center, they split two games, defeating Minnesota, but losing to Dallas. A quick trip to the east coast resulted in a nice victory over Carolina, however the next three home games were all losses against supposedly weak teams Phoenix, Florida and Calgary, and it was clear there was trouble a brewin' in River City. By New Year's Day, the Blues had only won six of 22 games in St. Louis, although they did manage to win 11 of 18 on the road. Sitting in 12th place in the Conference with a 17-17-6 record, quite below expectations, Andy Murray was relieved of his coaching duties on January 2, especially when the Blues blew leads after two periods in several games and played especially poorly in December. Davis Payne was recalled from Peoria of the AHL to become the Blues' interim head coach, and he led the troops to 23 victories and four ties in the remaining 42 games of the season. Alas, 90 points was not enough to qualify for the playoffs as the Blues finished fourth in the division (only ahead of the hapless Columbus Blue Jackets) and ninth in the conference, five points behind the Colorado Avalanche.
Yes, much to our chagrin, the Blues went from the penthouse on October 4, 2009 after sweeping Detroit in the NHL Premiere series to the outhouse on April 6, 2010, when they were eliminated from post-season play after the Avalanche achieved 93 points and locked up the eighth and final playoff spot. It wasn't the first hockey season in which high expectations for a Blues' team ended up with let-down feelings of disappointment and regret, nor will it be the last. It has become an integral part of being a Blues' fan, something we can all hope has become a thing of the past after this current season.
As we did five years ago, Blues' fans started this season with great expectations and high hopes. However, just after the half-way point of this regular season, the Blues are still one of the elite NHL clubs with realistic aspirations to qualify for the playoffs and truly compete for Lord Stanley's Cup.
Let's keep 'er going...Let's go Blues!