Blues’ Berube Wins Big Bet on Blais

On Sunday, the St. Louis Blues overcame half a decade of bad memories of Game 6 performances by beating the Dallas Stars 4-1, forcing a return to St. Louis for Game 7. It was a gritty performance by the entire team, but one player shined above the rest because he was making his postseason debut.

That player was Sammy Blais (pronounced “Blay,”) a Blues rookie who hasn’t played in a game since March 12. By putting him in the game in relief of Robby Fabbri, interim head coach Craig Berube bet on track record and upside. Fortunately for the Blues, he won big on that bet.

Blais’ Prospect History

If you are not a Blues fan (or perhaps even if you are), you may not know much about Blais. He is an under-the-radar prospect in the Blues’ deep system, and until Sunday, had never made much of a name for himself on the national scene.

St. Louis Blues Samuel Blais
St. Louis Blues left wing Samuel Blais made his mark against the Dallas Stars in Game 6 (Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

Blais arrived with the Blues in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He was selected in the sixth round due to his diminutive size: he stood just 5-foot-9, and weighed 165 pounds. The Blues thought he was skilled enough to take a flier on, but they couldn’t have predicted his growth spurt: he now stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 205 pounds.

While he was growing, Blais put together a distinguished career in the Quebec Major-Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) between the Victoriaville Tigres and the Charlottetown Islanders. In back-to-back seasons after he was drafted, he put up 82 points. Then, he jumped to the AHL level and put up back-to-back 40 point seasons.

He made his NHL debut last season, and collected a goal and two assists in 11 games. This season, he still played sparingly, just 32 NHL games, with two goals and two assists.

In all of those seasons at the professional level, Blais was coached by Berube. Berube served as the head coach of the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, in the 2016-17 season, and has been an assistant coach and now the interim head coach with the parent club ever since. He believed that Blais had the character to make an impact in Game 6, and so he made the difficult and unexpected switch.

Berube’s Bet Pays Off

Berube believed that Blais could make a genuine difference in Game 6, as he explained in his post-game press conference:

Sammy just has that attitude, you know? I’ve coached him for a couple of years now and been around the kid, and he’s come a long way as a player. He just… the big moments like this don’t bother him. He can handle the pressure.

Blues’ interim head coach Craig Berube

As it turns out, Berube’s intuition was spot on. From the early going, he was looking to make an impact, laying a hit on Stars captain Jamie Benn late in the first period. He finished the game with nine hits. And while he was briefly incorrectly credited with an assist on the Blues’ first goal, he would eventually have a much more significant point.

Blues interim head coach Craig Berube
Craig Berube has done a better job instructing young players (like Robert Thomas, L, and Ivan Barbashev, R, pictured in front of him) than his predecessors (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

In the third period, after a fumble by Benn, Ryan O’Reilly grabbed the puck and exited the zone with only one player in front of him. That player was Blais, and the veteran dished the puck forward to the rookie. The pair skated in unopposed on goaltender Ben Bishop, and Blais slowed down, wound up, and fired a heavy shot hard to the glove side. It got past Bishop (who may still have been stinging from an earlier play) and hit the net for Blais’ first career playoff point.

That goal sealed a victory for St. Louis, and guaranteed a seventh game on home ice. But Blais had made an impact all game. Despite playing just over 12 minutes, he was one of the most impactful players on the ice, and he’s a lock to be on the ice again on Tuesday.

New Look Blues

Game 6 was arguably the Blues’ best game of the postseason, but it had to be. A loss meant elimination. In the past, Game 6 has been the death knell for five consecutive Blues’ playoff berths, but Blais saw to it that that was not the case this season.

He deserves a lot of credit, and Berube deserves a lot of credit for trusting him. Now, he will need to formulate a plan to pull out one more victory, and punch the Blues’ ticket to the conference finals.