This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Dec. 29, 2019 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email email@example.com
The last home game of last decade was a seminal moment in Blues history. On December 31, 2009, the Canucks were in town — the same Canucks that had swept the Blues out of the playoffs eight months earlier. They were led by the Sedin Twins and backstopped by Roberto Luongo. They were the powerhouse, perennial Cup contenders the Blues wanted to be (and, in fact, probably the most successful team over a seven-to-10-year period that never actually won the Cup.)
Meanwhile, the Blues were floundering at the bottom of the standings. The good vibes from the run to the playoffs in the spring of ’09 had withered away. After a mid-December three-game winning streak, including a 3-1 win in Vancouver, the Blues had lost their previous three.
He-still-went-by-Alex Steen scored on the powerplay late in the first. He always did have a nose for the net. Keith Tkachuk scored early in the second and Andy McDonald made it 3-0. It looked for all the world like the team was going to roar into the New Year, ready to fulfill the sky-high expectations we’d had for them.
Then it fell apart. Daniel Sedin got one toward the end of the second. Mikael Samuelsson got one early in the third, and we all knew what was coming because if there was one thing the Blues had excelled at that year, it was blowing leads. Henrik Sedin tied it late, and then Christian Ehrhoff won it on the powerplay in OT.
I was in Section 312, Row P, Seat 1. I had sat there in April and watched Alex Burrows end the Blues’ season. I had listened to Jeremy Boyer’s organ playing the St. Louis Blues in minor key as the teams shook hands.
And here I was on a should-have-been-festive New Year’s Eve listening again to that song. I could tell, then and there, that this blown lead meant more. Two days later, Andy Murray was fired.
You can play this game with everything in Blues history because as we now know, everything in Blues history led to the summer of 2019. But the firing of Andy Murray, the hard-ass, no-nonsense coach, led to Davis Payne, the younger, hipper player’s coach. When he flamed out, it was back to hard-ass, drill sergeant Ken Hitchcock, who gave way to another accountant. And it all brought us to Craig Berube, who sure seems to be the perfect combination of the two styles.
Five thoughts while kicking around on a piece of ground in my hometown.
1. An image from that game is the pre-2019 St. Louis Blues incarnate.
The video with the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast doesn’t appear to be on YouTube anymore, but luckily, I took a screenshot many years ago. After Ehrhoff scores, the broadcast cuts to a middle-aged man with a scruffy beard in a too-tight Blues jersey whose expression is twistedly beautiful. It’s disbelief, disappointment, and indigestion rolled into one — the patronus, if you will, of the 1967-2018 St. Louis Blues.
2. Sources confirm: Winnipeg does not have an airport.
Jeff Jones was originally responsible for this hard-hitting journalism, but after great effort, I have it on good authority as well: There is indeed no airport in Winnipeg. There does appear to be something called Starbuck Airfield in a town called Macdonald, Manitoba. However, to drive there from the MTS Centre, where the Jets play, is a 47-minute journey. Besides, an “airfield” is not really an airport at all. It appears to be a single runway in the middle of a mass of farmland.
3. It’s no wonder, then, that the Jets are dead-set on locking up their stars to long-term deals. Who in their right mind would want to live in Winnipeg unless they were getting paid a lot more money, and with much greater job security, to play there than anywhere else? Dustin Byfuglien got a five-year contract as a 31-year-old. Blake Wheeler got a five-year deal at age 32. Connor Hellebuyck’s six-year deal looks pretty good now, but he signed it before he’d proven much.
4. It is curious, on the other hand, why the team would be called the Jets. If Winnipeg doesn’t have an airport, then the city would have no use for airplanes, right? Just one of those eternal, unanswerable questions.
5. Despite the inauspicious start to the decade (the Blues lost another three straight to begin the Payne era) it’s been the best, most competitive decade in Blues history. And that was the case before the summer. Here’s to the next 10 years of craziness and drama and fun.
If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.