The St. Louis Blues won Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday night, stamping their ticket to the team’s first Stanley Cup appearance since 1970. It was a special night for the players, the city, and the fans, but one group deserves special attention.
The Blues’ alumni include some all-time greats as well as some players who are largely unheralded outside of St. Louis. But many of them were in attendance Tuesday and were on hand for a celebration 50 years in the making.
Mr. Blue, Bobby Plager
Outside of St. Louis, Bobby Plager is a largely forgotten player. Along with his brother, Barclay, he played in the Blues’ inaugural season (1967-68) and was part of each of the team’s first three Stanley Cup Final appearances (the youngest Plager brother, Bill, also played parts of four seasons in St. Louis). That team, one of six in the new expansion, tasked with facing original six titans like the Montreal Canadiens (in 1968 and 1969) and the Boston Bruins (in 1970), never won even a single game in the Final.
Plager’s career stats may not immediately suggest how important he is to the franchise. He logged 146 points in 645 games — 29 of those games were with the New York Rangers, before he moved to the Blues. He finished as a career plus-18, and never warranted serious consideration for any of the NHL’s awards.
It was what Plager became off the ice that cemented his legacy. He joined the front office upon retirement, and is credited with developing advanced scouting. He was a fixture with the team for decades, serving as a scout, an occasional coach (in the minor leagues and for a brief stint with the parent club), and a vice-president of player development.
Plager’s number was retired on Feb. 2, 2017, but he continues to be a mainstay in the city. He owns a sports bar, Bobby’s Place, in Valley Park, a suburb of St. Louis, and continues to attend games. During the playoffs, he is so overcome with the weight of the moment that he often paces the hallway rather than watching the action.
So it should be clear why Tuesday’s result meant so much to Plager. His brothers weren’t with him. Barclay died of cancer in 1988, a tragic loss for the franchise, and Bill passed just two years ago. But the trio were united in spirit as the final seconds counted down and the confetti rained from the ceiling. And Bobby even had a pithy comeback to journalists reminding him of the series he lost 49 years ago:
“Somebody said, ‘we have a chance now because Boston doesn’t have Bobby Orr anymore,’ but I told them, ‘you gotta realize, the Blues don’t have the Plager brothers, either.'”
While neither Orr nor the Plagers will lace up skates in this year’s Stanley Cup Final, there’s no question that each team will lean on the support of their legendary alumni as they face each other once again half a century later.
Chase and Hull in Tears
Kelly Chase was known throughout his career as a tough guy. When you come from Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan, how can you not be? And yet, he was not able to contain his tears after the Blues had punched their ticket into the final round.
Chase was a quintessential nineties brawler, logging 2,017 penalty minutes in 458 games. Most of that was in St. Louis, as he began and ended his career there. He also spent three seasons with the Hartford Whalers and a cup of coffee with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After retiring, Chase moved to the broadcast booth, where he spent 18 seasons working as the color commentator for the Blues’ radio affiliate. He stepped down last summer, but has remained around the team all season. It was he who voiced the pregame hype video that the team used in the first and second round.
Hockey fans will need no introduction to the man who took that role for the third round. Brett Hull is the most iconic player in Blues’ history and one of the most prolific scorers ever to play in the NHL. He scored 527 goals in 744 games in St. Louis, and since retiring, he has called the city his home.
For Hull, a tough guy in his own right, the emotions of the night were too much to withstand. Like Plager, like Chase, like so many other Blues’ alumni in attendance, he teared up. It was a moment he never experienced in his illustrious career, one that seemed like it might never happen. For these players, just like the team’s fans, it was a dream come true.
Four More Wins
Of course, the experience won’t be truly complete unless the Blues win four more games and the Stanley Cup parades down Market Street. But this is still a long-awaited achievement for a franchise desperate for some postseason success. Brett Hull’s emotional quote puts things in perfect perspective:
“I still can’t stop crying. It is so exciting. I can’t even fathom how awesome this is for the people of St. Louis, and Blues hockey fans… We’re here and we’re going to the Stanley Cup Final and that is unbelievable.” Believe it, Brett. Believe it, St. Louis. The Blues are in the Stanley Cup Final.