Today, you get to know Tomorrow’s Blues, otherwise known as Your "Game Time" Prospect Department, specializing in the Blues’ deep and talented player development system and the NHL Entry Draft past, present and future.
1. Why/how did you become a Blues fan?
I was born in the bustling metropolis of Staunton, Illinois (40 miles NE on I-55 from the Arch) -- which is also the home town of Tyler, the Donut King -- and have a lot of family in the Chicago area. Some of those relatives were, and are, Blackhawk fans, and when the Blues first came on the scene in 1967 (I was six), those same relatives who had introduced me to Stan Mikita -- the NHL’s first great Eastern European player -- turned me on to the Blues as well.
We moved to Denver when I was nine, and the Denver Spurs were the Blues’ top farm club in those days, so I got to see quite a few future Blues and NHLers develop there... including John Davidson, Floyd Thomson, Wayne Merrick and Curt Bennett.
2. How many years have you suffered?
Since Day One. I saw the film of the (in)famous Bobby Orr Diving Goal on the news the night it happened, and my fists still clench involuntarily every time I see that picture.
3. Favorite player/moment?
My all-time favorite Blue is, without question, the late Bob Gassoff. I attended lots of his games in his rookie season with the Denver Spurs in the old Western League (1973-74), followed his brief NHL career closely, and drew a picture of him skating through a graveyard for an Art class in my senior year of high school... got an "A+," and the drawing was displayed in the Art Department display case at the school for several years thereafter.
The Plager Brothers, of course, are big favorites of mine, as are Red Berenson, Joe Mullen, Garry Unger, Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter, Jeff Brown, Pierre Turgeon, Pavol Demitra, Vitali Prokhorov (whom I will forever maintain got royally screwed by Mike Keenan, and deserved a much longer NHL career than he got) and Al Macinnis. Current favorites are Tarasenko, Jaskin, Schwartz, Lehtera, Pietrangelo, Allen and Lindbohm... all recent draft picks and players developed in the Blues' system.
As for prospects, I'm excited about Fabbri and Barbashev, of course... who isn't? I also think this is the "make-or-break" year for Ty Rattie, and I liked what I saw from Mackenzie Maceachern and recent draftee Glenn Gawdin at Prospect Camp. On defense, Colton Parayko looks to me like the second coming of Chris Pronger (no pressure, kid), and I was impressed with a couple of other defense prospects -- Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman -- at the development camp, too.
And, of course, I think that the Blues have as good a stable of prospect goaltenders as you will find anywhere in the NHL. They should be very solid in the AHL this year with Binnington and the newly-acquired Pheonix Copley, with Niklas Lundström waiting his turn for a longer cup of coffee in the AHL. Husso and Opilka both looked good at the Prospect Camp, and I have a hunch that Jeremy Brodeur will end up formally in the Blues' system at some point soon.
My favorite Blues-related moment is still the hosting of the NHL Entry Draft in 1996... even though Keenan ran the draft for the Blues that year, and wasted his first pick on Marty Reasoner, the Draft was still a fantastic experience, and the Blues really need to host it again very, VERY soon...
4. How did you begin writing for Game Time?
Back in the Keenan Years, I saw a piece in "The Hockey News" by that asshat Stan Fischler, basically laying the blame for the NHL’s every financial issue at the feet of the Blues because they (gasp!) had the nerve to pay Brett Hull tons of money. So I fired off a 14-page reply, which never got printed in "THN," but did get reproduced (in part) in the "Blueliners" booster club newsletter.
That brought me to the attention of a group of long-suffering Blues fans called The Dead Penguin League, who commiserated with one another via e-mail and who’s ranks included Jeff Collins, founder and publisher of "The Game Night Revue." One thing led to another, and I started writing the occasional bit on prospects for the "GNR."
Remember, at that time, the Blues’ top prospects were Alexandre Vasilevskii, Tyler Harlton, Mike Buzak and Fred Knipscheer... it was a challenge to find good things to say about guys like that, but I persevered and got to watch the system grow and develop into what it is now, one of the NHL’s best.
After the "GNR" shut down, I was one of the first people contacted by Sean Gallagher to take up writing for the new "St. Louis Game Time," which was to carry the torch held high by the "GNR," and I have been the "Game Time" Prospect Department ever since.
5. Are you an out of towner? How does this impact your fandom?
Yes, and have been since 1970.
It wasn’t too tough to follow the Blues at first, since as I mentioned, the Denver Spurs were their farm club, and they stayed affiliated with the Blues right up until the day the Spurs made the ill-fated decision to reject an NHL expansion club and join the WHA instead. Fortunately, though the WHA experiment lasted only one-half a season, the NHL moved the Kansas City Scouts to Denver a year later, and I had an NHL club at home -- the Colorado Rockies -- to follow; my first loyalty was still to the Blues, however, because even though I lived in Denver, Staunton and the St. Louis area were, and still are, "home" to me.
Through the magic of the Internet, I have been able to keep pretty close tabs on the Blues even while living in Dallas (liked it so much, I joined the Army), Germany (thanks, Uncle Sam), Portland, Oregon (go Winter Hawks) and northern Illinois (founder of the Rockford IceHogs booster club back in 1999). While living in Elgin and Belvidere, Illinois, and after moving back home to the Staunton area, I was able to attend a lot of Peoria Rivermen games and even had a press pass with them for several years. That was probably the peak of my "GTPD" experience to date.
I am currently living in God-forsaken, sun-blasted Arizona, and still following the Blues’ prospects through the ‘Net and with the occasional visit back home -- as I recently did for the 2015 Prospect Camp.
6. Do you have other hobbies other than hockey?
Oh, yes... I am a student of German history, from Charlemagne through the Weimar Republic. My life’s work is to write a comprehensive history of "The Third Germany," which is the part of Germany that was not part of either Austria or Prussia. This means Bavaria, southern Germany (Baden and Wuerttemberg, or what was the "stem duchy" of Swabia), most of the Rhineland, and Saxony, most notably.
I am also very much into music of the "classic rock" variety. I grew up with The Beatles and other British Invasion bands -- the Stones, the Who, the Yardbirds, etc. -- and got turned on to Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd in my pre-teen years. Also a huge Rush fan, and have always had a keen interest in the blues -- BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, etc.
7. Favorite beer/beverage?
My favorite beer is Killian’s Red, and the occasional Michelob. None of it compares, however, to the beer brewed by the monks at the Kreuzberg Monastery in Germany, which is near a little town called Wildflecken, where I was stationed when I joined the Army in 1983.
I am also a vodka connoisseur -- drank a lot of Absolut over in Germany -- and had a shot of some kick-ass Polish blackberry brandy in a little Slavic bar near the old Denver Coliseum once, a long time ago. I’m still looking for a bottle of that stuff.
8. How many more years do you think it'll be before the Blues win the Stanley Cup?
Honestly, I think it should not be long. The pieces are in place on the ice, if the coaching staff will just stop tinkering and let lines stay together for long enough to let the players really get comfortable with one another. It’s really hard to build chemistry when your linemates in the third period are different from your linemates in the second period, who were different from the linemates you started the game with.
As "Game Time’s" resident draft and prospects expert, however, I do have some serious concerns with management’s willingness -- even, at times, apparent eagerness -- to trade away first-round picks and prospects for "quick fix" solutions that never seem to work out. In 2013, the Blues moved several picks in order to trade up and draft William Carrier, a decent left wing prospect, and then shipped him off nine months later -- along with a first-round pick in 2015 -- for Steve Ott and a goalie who will not be named here.
Sorry, Mr. Armstrong, but Cup champions are not built that way. You know better.
9. Most important lesson learned as a Blues fan?
All good things come to those who wait. And the longer the wait, the sweeter the outcome will be. I waited thirty years for the Denver Broncos to go from being lucky to win five games in a season to winning back-to-back Super Bowls, one of only a handful of teams to do that. I’ve waited almost fifty for the Blues to win a Cup, and when -- not if -- it finally does happen, it will be that much sweeter for having had to wait so long.