Earlier this year, I had the chance to take my youngest son to a St. Louis Blues game, where we sat in the seats that used to be my parents’ season tickets. Now my son is a Minnesota Wild/North Stars fan, so the fact that it was against the Dallas Stars made it special and the fact that Dallas won made him even happier. Add the fact that it was the day after his birthday and I think he scored a hat trick.
The one thing he didn’t want to do that night, however, was go to the pre-game Hall of Fame Reception for long-time season ticket holders over at Stifel Theatre, which is next door to the Enterprise Center. Turns out though that it was a special event, at least for one of the Blues former defensemen, Chris Pronger. It was where Al MacInnis and the Blues organization let Pronger know that they’re going to retire his No. 44 prior to the start of the 2020-21 season.
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While we weren’t there to see Al MacInnis give Pronger the news (the Blues also announced it prior to the start of the game), it was fun listening to Pronger tell stories about his early years, from his time prior to being drafted by the Peterborough Petes in the Ontario Hockey League, to his time in Hartford Whalers to his years with the Blues to his tenures with Anaheim Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers, and, finally, Arizona Coyotes.
According to Pronger at the Hall of Fame Reception, his original intent was to join his brother Sean at Bowling Green State University but after being drafted by the Peterborough Petes in the sixth round of the OHL Priority Selection, he decided to change course, heading to Petersborough instead. Needless to say, while Chris and Sean ended up going their separate ways, they both ended up making it to the NHL.
To say there were bumps in the road on Chris’ journey to the NHL would be an understatement. For example, early on during his rookie year with the Hartford Whalers, he managed to be one of several players arrested in a barroom brawl towards the end of the season when Hartford was scheduled to play Buffalo. It was a story he shared at the Hall of Fame Reception, where of course, he declared his innocence.
Time to Grow Up
Following his second year with Hartford, Pronger had the misfortunate of being traded to St. Louis for fan-favorite Brendan Shanahan. In addition to that, he was brought in during one of St. Louis’s most tumultuous times, when Mike Keenan was both the general manager and coach. Despite all this, it was here in St. Louis where Pronger began to blossom as a player. A little later, the Blues then went out and acquired a couple of rather well-known players named Wayne Gretzky and Grant Fuhr.
By the 1996-97 season however, the Blues once again had another new coach. This time it was Joel Quenneville. The following season, Pronger was made captain and became an All-Star for the first time. In 1999–00, Pronger had what many consider a career year. In addition to being voted as an All-Star again, he also led the league in both points and plus/minus rating among defensemen, with 62 points and a plus-52 rating, which helped him win both the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman and the Hart Trophy for the player judged to be most valuable to his team.
To put this in perspective, Brett Hull is the only other player on the St. Louis Blues to ever win the Hart Trophy during his time here while Bobby Orr was the only other player to ever win both awards in the same year. In addition to that, Pronger also had the chance to represent Canada in both the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.
All told, Pronger was a four-time All-Star and also finished in the top five of Norris Trophy vote-getters five times while with St. Louis. In addition, he is in the top-10 of all-time assist leaders for St. Louis in the regular season, but it was the playoffs where he really shined for the Blues – he is in the top five for both points and assists in the post-season. In all, he spent nine years in St. Louis, the majority of his career.
Coming Back Home
Unfortunately, all of that hockey also began to take a toll on his body as he was limited to 51 games during the 2000-01 season and just five in 2002-03. Following the lockout which erased the 2004-05 season, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers after nine years in St. Louis. Following stops in Anaheim (where he eventually won the Stanley Cup), Philadelphia, and Arizona, Pronger officially retired in 2017.
These days, he’s now the senior advisor of hockey operations for the Florida Panthers. With all that moving around, however, he and his wife Lauren eventually moved back to St. Louis and, along with his family, were all here the night they announced to the crowd that his number was going to be up in the rafters, next to Al MacInnis, Bob Gassoff, Bob and Barclay Plager, Brian Sutter, Brett Hull and Bernie Federko.
I’m a lifelong Blues fan. The year they came here is the year we moved here from the Hockey State of Minnesota. As the superstition goes, you don’t touch the cup until you win the cup. Well, here I am with the cup.