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Bob Plager: The epitome of Blues hockey

This is what classy toughness looks like.
Scott Rovak

If you are a serious St. Louis Blues fan, you should know who Bob Plager is.

Plager kicked ass during his days with the Blues. Back in the day when defensemen weren’t known for their laser slap shots, Plager was fierce. He had nothing against you personally, but if the jersey on your shoulders didn’t match his own, he was coming for you. He was the human “Do Not Pass Go Without Collecting An Ass Whopping” sign. He simply didn’t give a shit. Vanity didn’t exist in the NHL when Plager played.

The Blues are doing the right thing by retiring Plager’s #5. Some fans felt the need to complain about it when it was announced Friday afternoon. Please excuse those people because they just don’t know. They are the same people who want fighting out of the league and think players hit other players too hard. They are wimps. Players like Plager don’t have the sexy stats that fellow Blues studs like Brett Hull put up.

Instead of goals scored, Plager dished out bone structure rearrangements. If an opposing player took a run at a Blues player, Bob would find him before the end of the game. It was like touching a hot stove. In 615 games played in St.Louis, Plager accumulated just 20 goals and 146 points. Paltry compared to other defensemen, but Plager’s value was measured in grit.

Plager, along with brothers Barclay and Billy, never forgot that the most important part of a player’s jersey was the logo on the front and not the name on the back. He was a team guy and never let his teammates forget it. He was “#5 in your program, #1 in your hearts” because unity was more important to him than vanity. Every single young Blues player should read and know more about Bobby Plager. Make it a thing, Hitchcock.

The Kirkland Lake, Ontario native was only five foot eleven and 190 pounds, but he treated those pounds like a wrecking ball out there. They didn’t wear helmets back then and sleeves were even optional. The birth of Blues hockey is drawn in Plager blood. Fans didn’t come out to see goal scorers in the late 1960’s, because it was a time where physicality still carried merit. Fans wanted to see how many bodies the Plagers could destroy inside 60 minutes. Before MVP’s became the legends, Plager dominated the cool part of hockey.

“We did anything to protect the goaltender,” Plager once said. When the Blues won the Vezina trophy in net with Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall, it felt like a win for Plager and the rest of the Blues defense. They only allowed 157 goals in 1969 to help their goalies win the award.

Plager’s specialty was the hip check, a patented hit that rarely happens these days. Plager would skate backwards as the opponent rushed the zone, and line him up slowly. In a sudden burst of power, Plager would shift his weight sideways and throw his hip into the player. Let’s just say the puck went one way and the player flew in the other direction. He wasn’t just tough. Plager sacrificed his body for his team.

These days, Plager would be penalized for sneezing in a player’s direction. He would rack up so many minutes that the coach couldn’t play him. It’s a soft game and there’s no denying it. Plager is a throwback to another dimension of hockey where toughness was a defining factor of longevity in the game.

He didn’t stop loving the community and team when his body was torn up by injury. Plager has spent his entire life with the Blues. From his first day as a Blue on June 6th, 1967 to this weekend when his number #5 will join the likes of Brett Hull and Al Maclinnis in the rafters. Plager’s number will be the first one to be retired since Hull’s #16 left the ice nearly 10 years ago. It was time for another legend to hang out in the ceiling.

I like the way Plager has hung around. Young players need to know about him. Young fans need to learn about him. He deserves all the applause and respect that he can handle.

Something tells me his number hanging above each home game will keep the other teams honest. Old #5 doesn’t care how much money you make. Old #5 doesn’t care how fast your slap shot is. Old #5 doesn’t care how great you are in shootouts. Old #5 has no shits to give about player ego. He’ll kick your ass and you’ll feel it next week.

Bobby Plager was all about team. Let’s stand together and salute him and set his legacy in stone.

If only the current Blues could play as tough and fearless as Plager did in his prime.