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Lighting The Lamp: Remembering Jimmy Roberts

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

1971-72 O-Pee-Chee, #116.
1971-72 O-Pee-Chee, #116.

Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman

After a not-so-thrilling Jake Allen 2-0 shutout over Ben Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the home stand continues as the under-achieving and overwhelmed Anaheim Ducks wing their way into town to do battle with the resilient Blues. The no longer mighty Ducks have only won one of the club's first nine games, scoring a paltry nine goals while allowing 25 against. Goaltender Frederik Andersen has played very well, yet has not won a game despite allowing only 2.05 goals against with a sparkling .931 save percentage in seven games. Ouch!

Anaheim's leading scorer is Panthers, Jets, Canucks, Maple Leafs and Predators reject Mike Santorelli with two goals and an assist in nine games. No other Duck has more than one goal. Stars Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf (out with appendicitis) and Ryan Kesler have not scored and only have a combined five assists. Ex-Blue Chris Stewart is pointless in eight games. Yikes!

There is nary a single Anaheim player with a plus rating, while minus ratings abound, led by defenseman Cam Fowler and center Rickard Rakell (-7), winger Andrew Cogliano (-6) and Kesler, Getzlaf, winger Jakob Silfverberg and defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Hampus Lindholm (-5).  Center Shawn Horcoff leads the plus/minus category with a 0.

In comparison, the Blues plus/minus leader is rookie defenseman Colton Parayko (+6), followed by winger Troy Brouwer (+5) and the disabled duo of Paul Stastny and Jaden Schwartz (+4). The only minus St. Louis players are David Backes, Scottie Upshall and Dmitrij Jaskin (all -1). Of course, the Note has not allowed more than three goals in any one of nine games so far.

The Blues made a wardrobe change for the Lightning game that many in the sellout  crowd may not have noticed. A small patch bearing the initials "JR" was added to the players' helmets, honoring the recently deceased Jimmy Roberts, the first skater chosen by the Blues in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft in the third round at number 15 overall. Goalies were taken in the first and second rounds, and the Blues selected Glenn Hall at number 3 and Don Caley at number 12. Caley played just one game for the Blues (30 minutes) and allowed three goals against and was traded after that first season. He never played for another NHL team and eventually retired from hockey to become a dentist.

James Wilfred Roberts was a Toronto native born in 1940. After working his way up through the amateur ranks with the Peterborough T.P.T.'s (coached by Scotty Bowman), the 19 year old signed with the Montreal Canadiens and played several seasons for the Montreal Royals and Hull-Ottawa Canadiens (coached by Scotty Bowman) of the old EPHL. After one playoff game with the Cleveland Barons, Roberts started the 1963 season with the parent Canadiens and after recording one assist and two penalty minutes in 15 games was sent to the Omaha Knights of the CPHL (coached by Scotty Bowman). St. Louis had a team in that league, so veteran Blues' fans who attended Braves games easily remember Roberts, as well as eventual Blues Ernie Wakely, Barclay Plager, Bill McCreary, Noel Picard and Norm Dennis. Other NHL notables on that championship team included Claude Larose, Bryan "Bugsy" Watson and goaltender Cesare Maniago.

Roberts also played for the Barons and Quebec Aces that season before being promoted to Montreal for good in 1964. After three season there (and two Stanley Cups), he was drafted by the expansion Blues (coached by Scotty Bowman) and wore the Note for five seasons (including one year as team captain) before returning to Montreal (now coached by Scotty Bowman in 1971 in a trade (for Phil Roberto). After six more season in Montreal (and three more Cups), Roberts returned to St. Louis in 1977, where he retired as a player in 1978.

Roberts went on to coach with his old mentor Bowman in Buffalo in 1981 and then in Springfield (MA), winning championships in 1990 and 1991, after which he was named head coach of the Hartford Whalers. He later became the GM/Coach of the Worcester IceCats of the AHL in 1994 before returning to St. Louis in 1996 as an assistant coach and interim head coach in 1997 (when Mike Keenan was fired). He served as an associate coach under Joel Quenneville as well and finally retired in 2000.

Roberts was an active member of the Blues Alumni Association and attended several fantasy camps, where I was blessed with his company for many a talk about the old days of the CPHL and the 1990 championship season with Springfield. Alumni Director Terry Yake (35 goals and 42 assists in 60 games for the Indians) was on that team, and I was part of a fascinating hour or so discussion recalling that club, along with current Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin (four goals and 23 assists in 58 games) who happened to attend fantasy camp that year. Jim remembered the Omaha Knights championship year as one of his best ever, learning from the masterful Bowman and making friendships with many players who would join him with the expansion Blues the first five years in St. Louis.  Roberts' biggest thrill, however, was the time he raised his first of five Stanley Cups to the Montreal Forum faithful in 1965.

The first player to wear #6 for the Blues will certainly be missed, not only by hockey fans in Canada and the U.S., but also by the many players he played with and coached and lives he influenced in his long career.

R.I.P, my friend.