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Interview: Cam Janssen lives, breathes, and fights for hockey in St. Louis

Inside STL

If Cam Janssen didn’t play hockey, he may have ended up in jail.

According to the Ex-Blues enforcer, his dad knew when Cam was a teenager that this kid had to unleash some aggression somewhere. Hockey turned out to be the fuse that fit the torch.

Janssen was a fourth round draft pick out of New Jersey in 2002, but spent his most memorable years in St. Louis playing for the Blues from 2008-11. He racked up over 700 penalty minutes, most coming via the method of trying to put his fist through another player’s face. Janssen was an old school scrapper out on the ice, making up for size and skill with blunt force and a will that never stopped. I’d say he did alright. Last summer, Janssen was inducted into the St. Louis Amateur Hockey Hall of Fame.

When you are around Janssen, it’s like sticking your hand into a live outlet. He speaks with energetic passion, moves his hands furiously around like a conductor, and seems to be fighting the clock in order to get everything he wants to say out the door before the clock stops. Thankfully, after a brief stint in Europe after departing the NHL, Janssen moved into the radio business, getting to dish his take every weekday afternoon on 590 The Fan, co-hosting “The Hard Line”.

The first time I met Janssen was back in 2008 after a Dave Matthews Band concert at Busch Stadium. Janssen came stomping up to Mike Shannon’s outdoor bar after the show and told someone next to me, “You tell him to fucking call me!” It was like watching a live scene from Liam Neeson’s Taken, but this guy wasn’t acting. He was the real deal.

Ten years later, nothing has changed. The 33 year old Eureka native is just a little more relaxed.

On Tuesday, I sat down with Janssen over a few beers at Kirkwood Brewhouse and we talked about the dying breed of fighters in the NHL, the current state of the Blues, and how he got to where he is. What started out as a standard interview quickly turned into a spirited conversation between two hockey addicts.

Buffa: When did fighting in the NHL start to die?

Janssen: The 2004-05 lockout. Before that, you could get away without being able to skate fast and be one-dimensional. After the lockout, the game opened up so much to where if you couldn’t skate, you’re irrelevant. I was able to get in on the forecheck and be effective, because no one was able to hold me up. It pushed away the one-dimensional tough guys. A guy like (Tony) Twist knew that in the new NHL, he wouldn’t be able to keep up. If someone doesn’t want to fight and you aren’t quick enough to get to them, it’s almost like forcing them to.

Buffa: It’s almost as if they suddenly decided to police it, or make it shorter. Hockey fights used to be so long.

Janssen: Guys don’t go toe to toe. They don’t wave off refs anymore, which was my thing. Now, they want to get it over with. These guys that are fighting aren’t used to fighting and don’t know what they are doing. Others are playing 16 and 17 minutes a game, so they don’t want to go for two minutes. It wears you out. It’s a different mindset today. Look at the other day. The Blues are down by four goals. Hockey separates itself from other sports in this very way. In baseball or football, if your team is down by a lot, you’re not watching the game.

Buffa: In hockey, you are waiting for a line brawl.

Janssen: Exactly! In hockey, if we are down by five, I’m destroying somebody. If my team is down by five going into the third period, I’m fucking starting a shitshow. I’m letting everyone know. Fuck everything. I’ll take a 2, 5, and 10. Pay the fucking fine! I don’t care. I need to set the tone. This can’t happen in Scottrade. I don’t care if I get my ass kicked. I don’t care! The emotional aspect of games has dwindled away, and that’s not good for the sport at all.

Buffa: Obviously, you’re still in great shape. Do you still get the urge to play when you watch the Blues play? I get the feeling that you could still go out there and wreak havoc.

Janssen: Oh my god yeah, dude! I was one of the few guys who liked to fight. There are some guys who are big, but don’t like to fight. Reed Lowe didn’t want to fight. He was big, so he was forced into that role. I want to do this. I’m crazy and if I don’t do this, I’m probably going to jail doing something stupid. My dad knew I was strong and athletic but also crazy, so he guided me into the sport of hockey. In hockey, you can create your own personality. It was the one sport where I could show who I am. I found my role not only as a player in the game, but as a person in life.

Buffa: How was it playing overseas in Nottingham?

Janssen: I fucking loved it! There are crazy bastards over there. I tore it up for a year before getting out. I didn’t beat everyone, but I was crushing guys.

Buffa: And you go for a long time in fights. I once heard Mike Rupp talk about how he hated fighting you because you wouldn’t stop coming forward.

Janssen: Styles make fighters, man! You have to find a way to fight these big guys. Rupp hated to fight. Guys like that can string you and couldn’t hit them. I had to find a way to put on a show. That’s what we are doing. We aren’t trying to knock each other out. I want the guys to be standing on the bench. I want to entertain you. If I can’t fight, I will be hitting people.

Buffa: People talk about a good fight long after a game is over.

Janssen: They love it in this town! All my boys from Eureka. Let’s put it this way. This new kid with the Blues (Nikita Soshnikov) doesn’t have to come up here and do what he did. He doesn’t have to fight, but if you bust your fucking ass, these Blues fans will love you. It’s like a party at games. Fans want to see emotion. These young kids will completely run this town if they bring energy to the games. If you work hard, this city will fall in love with you.

Buffa: A year and a half in, how has it been on the radio talking hockey?

Janssen: I’m too comfortable doing this. I talk on the radio like I talk to you right now. People love that. I put myself in a situation where I feel like I’m open to being myself. Saying the same thing I would say to you. I don’t talk down to you. I’ll make fun of you, but you’ll make fun of me, and I’m deserving of it. It’s fun. It’s the same thing as a locker room. I was entertaining in the locker room. It lengthened my career.

Hockey guys are great. You mix and match their personalities and absorb that. You recreate that on the radio. I don’t have to change when the red light comes on. I can be myself on 590. If I go on KMOX or Channel 5 with Frank (Cusumano), I have to tone it down. There’s different layers. On 590, I be myself.

Buffa: What do you think about this current Blues team? Is it one of those scenarios where the team is rebuilding without publicly stating it?

Janssen: Of course, man. It is. You go to the conference final and it didn’t work. You pushed and it didn’t work, so you reset. The Backes decision is something I can understand. Look at Troy Brouwer. Maybe that was a good decision. Here’s something we don’t know. The glue in the locker room is a different story. Having those guys in there to keep it going. Backes will run someone over when things are going bad, and the current team is missing that-but did you want to pay for that? I don’t know.

Doug Armstrong had to do what he did. Blues had a good year last year, going to second round. Now, you are in a weird spot. Jake isn’t right and Tarasenko needs to take it to another level. Tweak this or that, and they make it into the playoffs. If you are in a rebuilding stage and still make the playoffs, you are doing pretty damn good.

Buffa: Playoffs mean revenue.

Janssen: The Blues need revenue. Tom Stillman needs it. It affects all of us, even in the media. If Blues don’t make the playoffs, bars lose money. It affects us. We need to make the playoffs. The Blues are a small market team and paying to the cap. That doesn’t mean you go get a rental. Doug made the right move this year. Players need to make up for that void. You get the Soshnikov kid to go get the puck. Make up for it in forecheck. Bear the fuck down on defense. It’s simple little tweaks. Stastny was a fine player, but he wasn’t fast. In the end, he isn’t what we need going forward, and the Blues can fill that void.

Buffa: There has been rumblings out there that there’s a divide in locker room with half of the players wanting Alex Steen to lead and the other half supporting Alex Pietrangelo. I don’t buy it. Do you?

Janssen: Nobody gives a fuck about who has the “C”! It’s a non-story. Petro does what he’s supposed to do. He controls the game. He plays 30 minutes a game. He still controls the games where he doesn’t play well. When Tarasenko is bad, he’s a non-factor. Petro controls the situation.

Buffa: What is wrong with Tarasenko? Anything?

Janssen: I don’t want to hear any excuses about anything, unless you’re really injured. I know it’s not easy right now. If I’m playing for Chicago and the coach tells me Vlady is hurt, I was going to fucking run him anyway. I’ll be hard on him, because then he hide. There’s no more excuses. Look at it this way. Vlady, Schwartz, Steen, Petro, and Schenn. What a great opportunity. Your team is down and people are pissed. Name me a better opportunity. Tell people to get on your backs and you will carry them there. It’s a great opportunity for the leaders of this team.

Here’s the thing: Janssen is one of the most honest sports voices in our town, and it’s because he is the real deal. He’s lived and breathed hockey since he was a teenager. He will fight for the sports, because it saved his life. In order to be himself, Janssen needs hockey, a place to talk about it, and people to listen to him. Fighting majors used to be his thing. Now it’s talking hockey instead of distributing its justice.

After playing the game for over 15 years, Janssen has settled into a radio gig that he hopes will carry him for many years. He holds nothing back on or off the air, which is refreshing in today’s radio landscape.

If you want authentic sports commentary that doesn’t give a shit what others think, go find Cam Janssen.