The date was April 14, 1981. It was a Tuesday night. I remember it like the very first time I put on a pair of ice skates. Some precious things in life you just don’t forget. But first, allow me to back track. The Blues had just finished their best regular season in the history of the organization. The team finished with 107 points and had the fewest losses in the league (18). Their roster was loaded with skill and grit. Bernie Federko led the team with 104 points. Wayne Babych filled the net with 54 goals. Rookie Jorgen Pettersson added 37 tallies. Can you imagine? A rookie with 37 goals? The team had 10 players with 20 or more goals. Their third line players such as Larry Patey and Blair Chapman scored 22 and 20 goals respectively. Mike Liut was a wall between the pipes. The team was simply awesome.
Now back to April 14 of that year. I was 16 and had more interest in Brian Sutter than in my high school cheerleaders. Oh how I would love those days back! The Blues were matched up against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a best of five 1st round series. It was time for the decisive game 5 at the Checkerdome. Yes, the Checkerdome. After regulation the score was tied. The first overtime finished with no scoring. Would the Blues really lose in the first round after such a marvelous season? I could barely sit still in section 302, row A, yellow seat 31. I had season tickets with my good buddy Mark Gershenson. We weren’t speaking after the first OT. All I could think about was what Coach Red Berenson might be telling MY Blues. Were they more nervous than me? Did the game mean more to me than to them? How come my hands were shaking, with sweat pouring from my forehead and the horrible feeling inside my stomach? Was there anything I could do to help this team score? All of these symptoms would thankfully be gone soon as fourth line winger Mike Crombeen sent the Checkerdome into a frenzy in double overtime. It is still clear in my memory. Rick Lapointe carried the puck into Pittsburgh’s zone from the left side. Mike Zuke swooped in and centered to Crombeen, who had just come on to the ice for his first shift of the game. Crombeen punched the puck past Greg Millen, and just like that the Blues advanced to the second round (youtube it!). It was the first time the team clinched a playoff series in 9 years. I had never felt such euphoria and excitement. Maybe I should have paid more attention to our cheerleaders.
The Blues went on to lose in the second round to the Rangers in six games. The series was finished in a flash. I felt like my life was over. How could a team with such promise and hope fall to defeat before their time was due. They were supposed to win the franchises first ever Stanley Cup. At least, that’s how it was being played out in my delusional mind. I went into a state of depression. I refused to go to school for three days. I would have increased that number had my father not threatened to end my life all by himself. The point being, this feeling of massive disappointment, of sheer pain and excruciating hurt, was the first of what would become many delivered by the Blues in the postseason.
The very next season, the Blues finished eight games under .500. That’s right, they went from 27 games over to eight games under and lost again in the second round. So much for hoping they would learn from the previous year’s failure.
The 1985 season was one filled with hope. The team finished first in the Norris Division with 86 points but was swept by Minnesota in three games. A North Stars team that finished with 24 fewer points than the Blues had dismantled them. The next season did not seem to capture anybody’s attention. The team finished three games under .500 but this time defeated Minnesota in five games. Then the Blues took care of Toronto in seven games. It was the teams first “final four” appearance since 1970. During this time, I continued to allow myself to get caught up in the emotion. Unfortunately I was still more interested in what Doug Gilmour had to say than one of our intoxicated sorority girls at a frat party. Yes, I would like to have those days back as well. Fast forward to the conference finals against Calgary. Game six with the Blues trailing three games to two. Down in the game by three goals with under 12 minutes to play, I began to surrender. But just when you thought you could get out, the team would drag you back in much like Tony Soprano. Brian Sutter made it 5-3. Greg Paslawski caused the nerves to tighten with a goal to make it 5-4. Then Paslawski shocked the Arena crowd by stealing the puck and knotting the game at 5 with 90 seconds to play. With Brett Hull watching alongside his Calgary teammates in the press box, the Blues’ Doug Wickenheiser scored in overtime to lift the note to one win away from a Stanley Cup appearance. The game would famously become known as the “Monday Night Miracle”. Of course it was all for not. The Blues lost game 7 in Calgary 2-1 and the emotional rollercoaster came to an end. Had I known what prozac was, I would have taken an entire bottle. Instead, I settled for Jagermeister.
Ten years later, somebody by the name of Wayne Gretzky would be brought to St. Louis. Could “the great one” be the difference? Was he who we had been missing all along? A Gretzky and Hull duo certainly would do the trick right? With Mike Keenan behind the bench, there were more games being played off the ice than on it. But the team somehow managed to get one goal away from advancing to the third round. It was game seven in Detroit. I was there for work standing at the very top of Joe Louis Arena. You are supposed to be impartial as a professional. But if my boss thought I was going to act like a professional, he was nuttier than Keenan. Steve Yzerman ended my hopes in double overtime with a rifle over Jon Casey’s shoulder. It seemed ironic Gretzky was on the ice for that goal. Although it certainly wasn’t his fault. He had a tremendous postseason. I walked into Detroit’s locker room after the game to try and get an interview with Yzerman. I felt like getting sick on their logo.
Seasons would pass and disappointment would follow. Hope and setbacks. Hysteria and disaster. The Blues would lead the league with 51 wins and 114 points in 2000, but lost to San Jose in the first round. Marc Bergevin threw the puck in his own net and Roman Turek forgot how to stop a puck. I sought counseling. The next season they finished 21 games over .500 and lost in the Western Conference finals in five games. I wanted a lobotomy. Two seasons later, the Blues finished 17 games over .500 but lost to Vancouver in the first round. Over the years, Blues fans have witnessed Stanley Cup appearances from the Kings (also a 1967 expansion team) back in 1993 and even the lowly Florida Panthers (1996). To make matters worse, these very same Blues loyalists had to swallow more than just their pride when watching the likes of Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim, and most recently Chicago (this one in particular hurt more than a Bob Plager hip check) parade on the ice with that trophy we crave so dearly. Just please somebody put me out of my gut-wrenching misery.
So here we are. 2010 on the calendar and no Stanley Cups. Nothing even close to that since 1970, if you could even consider that year close. So what’s the real point of this column? Don’t get your hopes up? Don’t cheer the team on? Don’t believe in miracles? I’m not even sure anymore. The only thing I’m really certain of is I just wish I would have paid more attention to a certain unnamed blonde cheerleader than to Perry Turnbull.
About the Author
Written by Dave Frederick
Dave has spent more than 20 years covering the NHL for a variety of different media outlets. Most notably ESPN, Fox Sports and the National Hockey League.