Follow the Yellow (and blue) Brick Road
"Hockey fans die a thousand deaths." - Al Michaels
"There's no place like the Enterprise Center, there's no place like the Enterprise Center, there's no place like the Enterprise center..." - Dorothy Klone (start clicking those ruby red slippers!)
I believe it was Al Michaels who uttered the best description of hockey fans, that I've ever read. It's one of those things you read and your mind and heart simultaneously shout, "truth." During the Hawk's Cup runs, the vicissitudes of fortune took me on an emotional roller coaster that left me more exhausted than the players when all was said and done. A short handed goal like Brandon Carlo's had our soul's screaming out "et tu Brute?"
I think I speak for most of the Blue's fans when I said, "aaarrrggghhh!" at that moment. Actually, there were many more unprintable words being bantered about in the upper reaches of the Enterprise Center.The fact that Brad Marchand made a great play to set it up, accentuated the pain.
To backtrack just a bit, I have a confession to make. I actually entered the belly of the beast on Monday night. I was in attendance for Game Four with some friends, my first Stanley Cup Final's game. (I sold my Hawk tickets for the Bruins and Lightning Finals because hockey fans will pay stupid prices to be tortured for 3 plus hours.) While I will have to take multiple showers to get all that "blue stuff" off of me before the start of next season, the team I've adopted for the playoffs, prevailed before a passionate, raucous Blue's crowd. They were hoping for the best, but the seed of doubt planted on Saturday night, had them at least thinking about the worst. If the Bruins were to take a 3-1 lead in the Series back to Boston...well... the word sayonara comes to mind.
I made sales calls earlier in the day throughout the St. Louis area. I peddle steel for a living, which many would consider tantamount to being a lawyer. I recall one of our old cutline operators hollering at me, "Hey Lindbloom, get out there on the street corner." Hey, you do whatcha gotta do, eh?! Steel salesmen have mothers too, you know.
On a side note, I have to ask you St Louis residents, "Is there a patch of highway in St Louis that remains straight for more than 500 feet?" Driving through town, taking quick glances at my GPS, sort of prepared for long and winding road to victory on Monday night. Both left my stomach a little queasy!
Why making calls, I'd ask whoever I ran into, "Are you excited about the game tonight?" I met an older man in a Starbucks who said he remembered the days when the players didn't wear helmets. LOL, you didn't need a number to know who Keith Magnuson was!
At one company, I asked a kid, (I'm guessing about 35 years old - which gives you an indication how old I am), "Do you think the Blues can do this thing?" He shook his head no, mentioned something about Games One and Three; he then said "Boston let the Blues win Game Two just so they could clinch on their home ice." Clearly, this young fan was living the life Thoreau described as, "quiet desperation." Me? Hell, I've never been afraid to make an idiot of myself; I told him to man up, the Blues would be the ones clinching on home ice in Game Six.
It was on my first sales call though when a good dose of serendipity took place. (for Blues fans; serendipity = luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things not looked for.) While waiting to see if the purchasing agent would give me a few minutes of his time, I asked a man close to my age, "Do you think the Blues can do it tonight?" I think he said he hoped so, and then he told me about his mom, Dorothy.
"My 89 year old mom loves the Blues ...," at this point I thought he was going to say, "and watches all of the games." I was shocked when he said, "My mom loves the Blues and has been a season ticket holder for 35 years." It turns out Dorothy, who is a very spry 88 years old, attends every Blue's home game. He said after a game, she'll often watch a replay of the game! I'm thinking Coach Berube just might want to get a little insight on his lineup from her. Dorothy's son made the mistake of saying she was 89, which she quickly corrected when I introduced myself.
I love stories like this - and asked if she was going to be at Game Four. He told me she was and gave me her seat location, Section 302, Row B. Despite being on opposite sides of the ice, I hobbled over in between the 1st and 2nd periods to meet Dorothy. More on Dorothy a bit later, but I think you can see where I'm going with this; indeed, Blues fans, follow the yellow (and blue) brick road....I truly believe something magical is about to happen for you Blues fans. (Perhaps it involves throwing a bucket of water on Marchand?)
Well this is the part of the report where I summarize what took place on frozen pond for roughly three hours. Let me start by saying, hockey at his level is pure bliss. The speed and truculence is ratcheted up about 10 notches. You don't have to holler from the 300 Section, as I am want to do on occasion, "Hit Somebody!" There are bodies flying everywhere. Actually there was a fan behind me who was hollering "hit him, hit him," a few times when the goal mouth skirmishes occurred. I eventually couldn't contain myself and hollered out , "Kill him!" When in Rome, do as the Romans do....
I had to laugh as I perused fans comments over at the stlouisgametime blog site. Actually, throughout the playoffs, Blues fans have expressed their disapproval of several of the Blue's stars, especially after losses. After a loss, as the FBI agent said in the movie "National Treasure" to Nicolas cage ..."Somebody has to do the time." There were more than a few desperado's wondering if Captain Binnington should be replaced by Jake Allen.
This option was also being nervously bantered about by a few of the writers at Game Time. (don't enter the Enterprise Center without it!) Game Time is the second cousin of the true fans program that Sam Fels used to peddle on the street corner before Hawk games, The Committed Indian. I was delighted to see Game Time being 'hawked" outside the Enterprise Center, and quickly picked up a copy. I think the sentence at the top of the front page, which may or may not be grammatically correct, summarizes the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a nutshell; "It's Almost Always Never Easy." I'll never forget Chris Pronger lashing back at a reporter when they asked him if he was surprised how easy a victory was after a game. His reply is one I'll never forget; "By no stretch of the imagination have any of these Playoff games been easy."
In a sick sort of way, as a Hawk fan, I take delight in watching Blues fans suffer, wring their hands and gnash their teeth. Don't get me wrong, I'm clearly cheering for a parade in a week of so in St Louis. But I can take some solace that you're being put through the ringer!
It seems like only yesterday that Blackhawk fans wanted to replace Corey Crawford with Scott Darling. A well known hockey axiom is, when all else fails, blame the goalie. Replacing Binnington with Allen at this point is just plain crazy talk. As Al Maguire once said, "you dance with the girl you brought to the party." Binnington is a special goalie; he actually reminds me a lot of Crawford. I think Crawford took over the pipes for the Hawks when he was 26 also. He makes himself big in the net. In the end, he's the main reason I think the Blues will prevail.
While the Blues were on the power play in the third period, Bradley Marchand did a fly by and tripped up Binnington. Apparently, the referee was not looking. I remember saying, "I don't care if you win or lose, you can't let that douche nozzle go unpunished for that sort of malfeasance." There are certain plays in hockey that cry out for a five on one beat down. Fortunately, the Blue's players kept there cool, and the man advantage. But if the Blues get a big lead in Game Five, I hope Marchand gets his just comeuppance for his dastardly, weaselly deed. I'm not sure if he has blue eyes, but there is no doubt Marchand is the bad man The Who sang about.
Here's a picture of Bradley in action:
(To digress just a tad, before the playoffs started, I must admit I had no idea who Robert Thomas was. It didn't take long for me to realize this 19 year old kid got bonafide game! It is a huge, huge blow to the Blues chances that he apparently has a broken wrist. He's most definitely destined for stardom, and a lot of GM's will lament not picking him before the 20th pick in 2017. Getting Vince Dunn back on Monday helps soften the loss of Thomas a little, but #18 is a huge hole to fill.)
Another target of Blues fans ire that I've noticed is Pietrangelo. I don't think Coach Berube is listening to those critics though. It seemed on Monday that Petro jumped over the boards every time the Bergeron Line took to the ice. I'd gladly take Pietrangelo for any of the Hawk defensemen right now. And I wear a #2 jersey. It seems everything #27 does is so smooth and effortless. Pietrangelo hauled down David Backes towards the end of the game like he was felling a Giant Sequoia. I was thinking that might have been a penalty, but happy the refs decided it was just a little extracurricular activity! Just boys being boys!
And then of course, there is "Easter Island." (Get Smart reference)
The fans I was with were lamenting the fact that he is not taking enough slappers. If I were a Blues fan, I'd be wearing a Parayko jersey. Like many of the Blues defensmen, he's big and seems to easily absorb a lot of the big hits while chasing down the puck behind his own net. I think the size of the Blues defensemen has made a big difference in this series. You can hit them, but you just sort of bounce off of them. It seems the Bruin defensemen, especially Krug and McAvoy are more the puck moving speedsters that a lot of NHL teams are turning to. Think Nashville. The Blues are more old school when it comes to d-dawgs. Big, ugly guys who remove the trash from the crease in front of their goalie.
It was great to see Oskar Sundqvist back in action. The Blues fourth line, much like Boston's, have played a huge part the Blues playoff success. It's a pretty good thing when Alexander Steen is on your fourth line!
Well, all the nervous Nellies on Monday morning, were singing a different tune as the clock wound down at the end of Game Four. The Blues played a pretty dominating game, out shooting a highly talented Boston team 38 - 23. News flash - staying out of the penalty box had a great deal to do with the Blues success. Although, I'm guessing there were at least 10 "ooh," "yikes," "Oh F__k," moments where Boston narrowly missed striking pay dirt. The same could be said for many Blues chances. You want to know if a shot was a prime scoring chance? - listen to the sounds of the crowd. The difference between a win and a loss in the NHL is slender as a razor's edge.
In closing, in perhaps another good sign that it is the Blues time, I asked Dorothy what number she had on her jersey. That night it turned out to be #17,Jaden Schwartz. (Dorothy did say she has several jerseys!) I recall when Schwartz started playing, a few years after Toews and Kane broke into the league, that this kid was going to be a handful. Curious, does the Schwartz/Schenn/Tarasenko triumvirate have a name for their line yet? Schwartz is another player the Blues fans are hoping for a little more from. As one writer at Game Time noted, "Anytime Schwartz wants to score a goal again would be great."
My encounter with Dorothy brought back fond memories of my mom who passed away last year, a few months short of 89. I told Dorothy's son that my mom would have to turn the game off during the playoffs - it just made her to nervous! Throughout the game on Monday, they kept showing St Louis celebrities who were back in town for the game. As I exited the Enterprise Center with the boisterous, "We want the Cup," crowd, I couldn't help but think I met a most special celebrity. There's something to be said for the common fan, eh? The one's who have stuck with the team, through thick and thin. Fans who can appreciate the assiduous efforts of a player like Cam Janssen.
Indeed, a fan who bleeds blue.
Wouldn't it be nice if the Blues organization would acknowledge fans like Dorothy. How about letting her drop the ceremonial puck before Game Six? And Dorothy, whatever you do, keep wearing that #17 jersey, Like Tarasenko was a couple of weeks ago, Schwartz is overdue!
Blue's fans, keep following that yellow brick road. As Dorothy would say, "there's no place like the Enterprise Center, there's no place like the Enterprise Center, there's no place like the Enterprise Center....
Dorothy and her stupid dog Toto in her younger years.
Skipping in the Mississippi dew,
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