Jeff Ponder is the host of Let’s Go Blues Radio, the original St. Louis Blues hockey podcast. You can hear his ramblings weekly at letsgoblues.com/radio or wherever you get podcasts. Thank you to him for this piece! - Hildy
There wasn’t a dry eye inside Kiel Center the evening the St. Louis Blues honored Monday Night Miracle hero Doug Wickenheiser.
The day was Jan. 21, 1999. The Blues were returning from a five-game road trip to battle the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just nine days prior, Wickenheiser had succumbed to cancer and this was the first home game on the schedule since his passing.
In 1996, Wickenheiser underwent surgery to remove a cyst on his wrist, which turned out to be a rare form of cancer that returned in his lung. St. Louis residents and Blues fans across the world rallied with Wickenheiser, along with his wife, Dianna, and his three daughters, Rachel, Kaitlyn and Carly, to defeat the cancer, but his final fight ended in tragedy.
With the Blues finally back in St. Louis and the Wickenheiser family still reeling from their loss, the organization held a ceremony to honor Wickenheiser, who teammates affectionately referred to as “Wick,” before the regular season contest.
In this event, the remaining Wickenheiser family took center ice in front of 19,150 fans, who were treated to a tear-evoking video on the big screen, as well as a plaque presentation, honoring Wick and his greatest St. Louis moment, the Monday Night Miracle. Soon after, Wickenheiser’s family, friends and fans were surprised with a banner honoring the fallen hero and his No. 14 jersey number, as well as the foundation created by the Blues, the 14 Fund, which supported efforts to battle all forms of cancer in children and adults alike.
As the banner was revealed, the longtime voice of the Blues, Tom Calhoun, echoed this message over the speaker:
“The Wick 14 banner will hang forever in Kiel Center in tribute to the heart, courage and resolve of No. 14, Doug Wickenheiser. God bless you, Wick.”
Despite this message of hope, perseverance and determination, that same banner cannot be seen when attending a Blues game in 2021.
Where is the banner?
The Wick 14 banner was a fixture for Blues games through four arena name changes (Kiel, Savvis, Scottrade and Enterprise), but it was noticeably absent to fans when the Stanley Cup and Western Conference champions banners were raised in October 2019.
In response to the Blues’ tweet about the banners being raised, Twitter user schumaker_nick asked the important question, “But what happened to the Wickenheiser banner?”
The official Blues account responded, “The 14 banner honoring Doug Wickenheiser will return soon. Stay tuned for details.”
The 14 banner honoring Doug Wickenheiser will return soon. Stay tuned for details.— x - St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) October 4, 2019
It’s been 589 days (May 14) and counting since this conversation. Not one word has been stated publicly since.
Numerous social media users have inquired about the missing banner and they have been met with silence.
Further research on the Blues’ website suggests that the banner should still remain, as the official 14 Fund page states, “Wickenheiser wore No. 14 for the Blues, and the banner hangs nearby retired Blues numbers from the rafters inside the Enterprise Center.”
However, the Blues’ retired numbers section contradicts this. Although 14 was honored and not retired, the page still lists Dan Kelly’s cloverleaf in this section.
A look through internet history suggests that the Wickenheiser tribute was removed from this page sometime within the past four years. A screenshot of this page from Feb. 2, 2017, shows a dedicated spot for Wickenheiser, as well as a section titled “Salute to #7,” which was an honored number for multiple players who have donned this number.
The Blues’ tweet implies that the Wick 14 banner will return, but the removal of his section in the retired numbers area of the organization’s website suggests 14 may no longer be an honored number.
What about the 14 Fund itself?
Luckily, the heart of the banner still remains fully intact. On the 14 Fund page, the organization states the following:
“In the important effort to continue Doug Wickenheiser’s legacy and celebrated history of the Blues’ community efforts, the 14 Fund will continue to serve as the platform for the Blues’ cancer care and awareness initiatives under the Blues for Kids umbrella, including the Blues marque Hockey Fights Cancer initiative.”
Blues for Kids has become a vital charitable trust for the organization, with support stemming from outside Portal 15 at Enterprise Center during home games. The foundation, headed by Blues ownership and personnel, runs auctions to benefit various initiatives and programs, while providing services throughout the St. Louis area.
So what’s the big deal?
The 14 Fund was born from Wickenheiser’s love for the game and willingness to fight back from any setback. Wickenheiser not only battled until his last day, but his fight to return to the NHL after career-threatening reconstructive knee surgery in 1985, subsequently playing a major part a year later in the organization’s biggest moment until winning the Stanley Cup in 2019, was an inspiration in its own right.
“What a courageous man,” said current Blues broadcaster Darren Pang shortly after Wickenheiser’s passing. “It’s got nothing to do with hockey. It (has to) do with how great of a person Doug Wickenheiser has been.”
The 14 Fund banner is a reminder to continue fighting on or off the ice, no matter the cause. It served as a source of motivation for fans, players and anyone attending a live game or watching on television.
The Wickenheiser name has even been attached to the Mid States Club Hockey Association (MSCHA), which serves as the governing body of local high school ice hockey. The Wickenheiser Cup Tournament, introduced in 1993, pits the best St. Louis-metro area high school teams against each other, with one victor emerging as the winner of the illustrious trophy.
“The 14 Fund provided important notoriety and backing to Mid States Hockey,” said MSCHA president Jeff Hayes. “The Blues alumni association and the 14 Fund contributes to youth hockey in the area in various and meaningful ways, so it was a natural decision to name our trophy the Wickenheiser Cup.
“Dianna and her three daughters participate in awarding the trophy. They also help us award a scholarship to a deserving graduating high school senior. At this point, they are just as much a part of Mid States Hockey as anybody. ”
The secrecy surrounding the banner’s whereabouts may be what boggles inquiring minds the most. If the Blues publicly decided to take it down, or possibly hang it at Centene Community Ice Center, the official practice facility of the Blues, that would be a completely different conversation.
But this banner, which represented so many traits and qualities vital to success in not just hockey, but life, vanished without a trace. Now, it just feels like a blip in the Blues’ existence. A minor footnote in the team’s history, only to be remembered by landscape photos of the arena’s rafters from the early 2000s.
For those that are searching for its current location, though, it means much more. Its disappearance without explanation is just as much maddening as it is upsetting.