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Underdog Week: Cam Janssen and his never-say-die spirit

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I had just walked into the casino when I saw some colorful St. Louis Blues highlights on the television stuck in the corner.

A pile of players were stuffed into the corner of the ice, following what appeared to be a big hit and a whistle. The Blues were playing the Montreal Canadiens and things were getting hot. But no matter what had happened, I had a good feeling who would be at the bottom of the pile: Cam Janssen.

When the bodies were peeled off one by one, there was Cam near the bottom. He had ran Carey Price over (the dipshit goalie was way out of the crease) and the Habs goalie wanted blood. Janssen was ready for anything at all times when he got on the ice. When Janssen got on the ice, he treated the shift like the last dance in the NHL. That’s how he treated every single shift. He was the thunder that Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp was talking about in “Tombstone,” a live bolt of “here I come” on the ice. Reckless in the best way.

He broke into the league at 21 years old, a Eureka native who became the first player from St. Louis to make it into the NHL. Janssen’s career was split just about evenly between the New Jersey Devils and Blues, but anyone who knows the man will tell you he holds his time in the Lou in the highes regard. He was 23 years old when he stepped on the ice for the first time with the blue note across his chest.

While he was an offensive threat in juniors and the minor league systems, Janssen was a pure fighter at the NHL level. In the 2009-10 season, Janssen recorded 190 penalty minutes in just 43 games. He tallied just six goals and 13 points during his 336 game career, but you didn’t look to him for goals and fancy-delivered assists. He was out there to beat the shit out of the other team’s toughest guy ... or at the very least, wear him out. As he told me last year in an interview, it was all about firing up his bench and teammates.

“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!”

I remember Mike Rupp talking about fighting Janssen like an ordinary person would describe going to the dentist: A tiring and overall hideous experience. That’s because Janssen didn’t immediately annihilate you in a fight like Tony Twist; he let it ride over two to three minutes, usually taking a few punches in the beginning before tiring out his opponent in the end. He would get hit and keep coming, like a broken NHL clock possessed by a St. Louis county demon child. In the end, he either beat you up or drained your battery. That was the Cam way.

If you need a good example, check out Janssen’s work in a game with the Washington Capitals on Feb. 13, 2010. Or more like, what he did to Matt Bradley and Quintin Lang in a span of 60 seconds. He torpedoed Bradley near the Blues net, and then got into a fight with Lang, pounding him behind the net. By the time the referees got to the two, Lang didn’t even know he was in a fight and Bradley was trying to figure out how an Amtrak train broke through the Scottrade Center wall and got onto the ice.

Janssen would later be inducted into the St. Louis Amateur Hall of Fame, an honor he would receive while on the air working as a radio host for 590 The Fan. He has worked with KFNS over the past three-plus years, also putting in some work with Frank Cusumano on KSDK Channel 5.

He was an underdog to me because the NHL, even back in 2010, were trying to weed out the fighters. The players who didn’t put up big points. Janssen’s role as an enforcer was already becoming a dying breed, but he stuck around for nine seasons with two great organizations. He singlehandledly gave hope to so many St. Louis area hockey players by making it. He showed them that you don’t have to do things in a linear fashion when it came to making a career out of your passion. You don’t need to be a superstar to make it. Sometimes, it gets a little bumpy and I’m sure it did for Janssen-but he stuck it out and put together a great career.

At 36 years of age, he’s still a guy in demand in his town. That’s the top of the mountain if you ask me.

Cheers to Cam Janssen, the St. Louis underdog.