clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Excerpt: Bernie Federko on becoming a member of the Blues

Bernie will be out and about in town for some book signings soon.

Hall of Famer Bernie Federko will be signing copies of his book My Blues Note next week and the following. I’ve been reading it for review (disclaimer: I was sent a review copy but am not being enumerated for reading or writing about it), and it’s been fun so far. Trust me when I say that this is a book you could have a beer with.

Bernie starts his metro book tour in St. Peters before heading out to the County in Ladue:

  • WHAT: Book signing w/Bernie Federko for his book Bernie Federko: My Blues Note
  • WHEN: Monday, December 10 at 6:30 p.m. CT
  • WHERE: Barnes & Noble
  • ADDRESS: 320 Mid Rivers Center Drive, St. Peters, MO

  • WHAT: Book signing w/Bernie Federko for his book Bernie Federko: My Blues Note
  • WHEN: Monday, December 17 at 7:00 p.m. CT
  • WHERE: Spencer Road Branch Library (Hosted by Main Street Books)
  • ADDRESS: 427 Spencer Road, St. Peters, MO 63376

  • WHAT: Book signing w/Bernie Federko for his book Bernie Federko: My Blues Note
  • WHEN: Wednesday, December 19 at 6:30 p.m. CT
  • WHERE: Barnes & Noble
  • ADDRESS: 8871 Ladue Road, Ladue, MO 63124

If you haven’t had a chance to pick up the copy, the following is an excerpt that I though you guys may want to read - a cool chunk of text about someone excited to be a Blue. We all need some spirit right about now.

This excerpt from Bernie Federko: My Blues Note by Bernie Federko and Jeremy Rutherford is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/BernieFederko.

Living the professional hockey life was a different world, too. Half the guys smoked and it wasn’t just at lunch or dinner, it was in-between periods, and it wasn’t just one cigarette, it was two or three. If you had to go to the bathroom between periods, you had to walk through a cloud of smoke. What always amazed me was that the guys who smoked the most were the fastest skaters. Thankfully, I never got into the smoking deal, and trust me, I would definitely have been slower because of it. Living on your own was pretty neat. Nothing really to answer to except what was going on at the rink, and everything was great out on the rink in K.C. But in the back of my mind, I didn’t want to be there. I knew I was going back to St. Louis, or at least I was hoping that would be the case. Mr. Francis had told me as soon as I got back to my game, he was going to call me back up.

Well, I had a great start to the season, but Brian got called up first in late October. When that happened, it was kind of an embarrassment to me because the second-round pick was getting called up before the first-round pick. Barc must have known I was going to get upset because he immediately grabbed me and said, “Hey Bernie, Brian is not going up because he’s better than you. He’s going up because they need a left winger and he will only be up for a couple of weeks. Just keep biding your time and you’re going to get your chance.”

Barc was always so sound in his reasoning. We had a great relationship because I could yell at him, and he could yell back, and it was okay. I was never disrespectful to him; you couldn’t be. If he just looked at you wrong, you just shut up because he was going to kick your ass. But after talking to Barc, I realized that if I kept working hard, things would work out. I had total faith in him and he was right as usual. Brian was back in two weeks and my hard work paid off when the call came on December 20, 1976.

We had a morning skate and Barc called me in and said, “Good news, you’re going up today.”

“What?”

“Yeah, you’re going up. You and Bourby, you’re both going on a road trip with the Blues to Colorado and Vancouver.” I’m thinking, Wow, dream come true, finally a chance to go up and play for real. The NHL. Then I had to stop and think for a moment. The bad news was that Bernadette was coming to visit me in Kansas City for Christmas. She’d jumped on a plane that morning with two connections: Saskatoon to Winnipeg to Chicago to Kansas City. There were no cell phones back then, so there was no way to get ahold of her. It was very stressful because I had to jump on a plane to meet the team in St. Louis and then head to Colorado and she was headed to Kansas City. As excited as I was, I was frantically trying to arrange for my roommate, “Smrkie,” who she’s never met in her life, to pick her up at the airport in K.C.

Luckily, Smrkie’s girlfriend was there, so at least it wasn’t just him. But when they got there, Bernadette thought it was a joke and that I was hiding around the corner. As the minutes went by, though, she realized that it wasn’t a joke and that she was stuck in Kansas City until I got back. Once I knew that she got to our apartment that night, I called her and she said everything was fine, but I knew she was saying that to me because she knew how important it was for me to be finally getting my chance to play in the NHL. I felt so bad for her but that’s the kind of amazing person she is.

We practiced in St. Louis the next morning, flew to Denver early in the afternoon, and on December 22, 1976, I played my first NHL game, against the Colorado Rockies, wearing No. 14. I had worn No. 7 in the minors, but when I got called up, of course, Unger was wearing that number. No. 24 wasn’t being worn with the Blues at the time, but Doug Palazzari had worn that number when he got called up the year before. So even though he was playing in Kansas City, maybe they were holding it for him in case he got called up. That’s the only explanation I can recall, but quite frankly they could have given me any number and I would have been happy.

It was a long day of preparation and nerves. This was the day that I had waited for from the time I had been drafted in June. This was the carrot dangling in front of me and I was finally going to be able to grab it. That night, I played on a line with Bourby and Chuck Lefley, who the team was trying to get on track. Chuck had 43 goals the year before and three months into the season he maybe had three. We won the game 2–1; unfortunately we only got to play a few shifts. But that was okay. We were in the show and Bourby and I understood that we were just getting our feet wet. We flew to Vancouver the next morning, and what an amazing difference it was to be playing in the NHL. It was amazing yet intimidating playing in front of 17,000 people, not 1,500 like in the minors. This was going to be such a special trip and my first experience of a tough turnaround, crossing the border and going through customs and then playing back-to-back games. It was a long day, but I was excited because I was back in Canada for the first time, playing in Vancouver at the Pacific Coliseum, which I was familiar with from junior hockey. And to top it all off, I had relatives coming to the game.

I was extremely nervous when we took the ice for the pregame warmup, but I remember thinking, This could be the night that I score my first NHL goal! I could do it in front of some family and friends. But then the game started, and as it progressed our line sat at the very end of the bench… and sat… and sat. I’ll never forget that because they had just held the circus at the Coliseum and there were a ton of flies still buzzing around. We were actually on the bench killing flies with our sticks. That was probably the most disheartening thing I ever experienced—relatives watching, I don’t even get a shift, and I’m swatting flies on the bench. I didn’t even get credit for the game on my pension because I didn’t have a shift. But we won the game and everyone was happy.