Everybody loves a winner.
I don’t know who first said that, but when it comes to sports it is the gospel truth.
Take the St. Louis Blues, for instance, a hockey team that is in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1970, the year before I got my driver’s license.
The Blues are the oldest active NHL team never to have won the Stanley Cup. They’ve made it four times, 1968, 1969, 1970 and this year. The Blues are certainly fun to follow. They’ve had 11 straight winning seasons, and there is something to be said for the excitement of going to a live hockey game. Over 17,000 fans a game showed up in the Enterprise Center this season, welcomed by strobe lights, loud music, lots of fanfare and food and a never-ending supply of booze.
Hockey around here certainly has its niche and its fans, and there is quite a buzz about the Blues and their Stanley Cup hopes. No doubt they have picked up a lot of extra fans since making the Stanley Cup final. They aren’t the Cardinals or the NFL, but like somebody said way back when, everybody loves a winner.
Me, I just can’t get too excited about it. I watched the winning goal in Game Two and got a few goose bumps like much of Missouri. Then came Game Three, and before I’d settled in really good for some lively hockey, the Blues were behind 3-0.
Not understanding the game at all, I turned to my smartphone and good friend Fred from Canada, a hockey expert if there ever was one.
“They have to stay out of the penalty box,” Fred opined early on when I texted him asking why St. Louis always seemed to be playing defense that night against the Bruins.
Later, I asked the same question in a different manner.
“They have to get it out of their end,” Fred texted, and I wondered if that was an off-color remark that’s true meaning doesn’t belong in a family newspaper.
Anyway, a bit later I switched to the Cardinals, who were in a rain delay, so I called it quits for sports that night. The Cards went on to beat the Cubs, and the Blues lost 7-2, the football equivalent of getting ripped apart 54-10.
Maybe it’s because I grew up way down in the Bootheel of Missouri and then spent the first 22 years of my adult life in Mississippi, where hockey was a sport played by northerners and Canadians in places where it was often too cold to get out and play football or baseball, but I just can’t get into hockey.
A decade ago former Salem Memorial District Hospital Administrator Dennis Pryor took me to a Blues hockey game, partly in payback for a Missouri-Kansas basketball game I’d taken him to in the past. We sat in the BJC Healthcare luxury suite. All I remember about that night were some pretty good chicken wings smothered in blue-cheese dressing, comfortable seats and guys skating in many directions and brutally colliding with one another. I got the same ignorant feeling that night that I get when I go to a soccer game.
It was fun, but to be honest, it was no even swap for a MU-KU basketball game. Don’t tell Dennis I said so.
I actually enjoyed playing hockey a lot more than watching it. My dad was stationed at Grand Forks (North Dakota) Air Force Base when I was 12 or so, and it was so cold outside during the dead of winter we couldn’t go outside for P.E. class, so we played a form of hockey in the gym. We enjoyed it so much that some of us kids built a ring of snow in the backyard, and the air base fire department came by and filled it with water. Voila, three hours later we had our own hockey/skating rink.
Like something out of a movie, one kid had a hockey puck, some of us used hockey sticks and some broomsticks. We’d play for hours, the only rules being no high sticking – the only hockey term I know – and no hitting the puck more than one foot in the air due to the fact we had no protective equipment and a hockey stick across the throat or a flying puck to the forehead would have meant parents would get involved and end forever our backyard hockey league.
No one suffered any serious injuries that I can remember, and the league ended in the spring when the ice melted and our attention turned to baseball. To this day I doubt my mother knew of our hockey exploits. She gets the newspaper, though, so I suppose I will find out this week if confession truly is good for the soul.
After our time in North Dakota, we moved to the South and I forgot about hockey.
Back to the Blues. It really is good to see a local team doing so well, especially in the midst of the Cardinals swoon and Traitor Kroenke moving the Rams out of St. Louis. (His NHL team, the Colorado Avalanche, lost in the second round, by the way.)
As I write this column, the Blues are down 2-1 in the series to the Bruins. Hey, this is history. I plan to watch the rest of the playoffs, if for no other reason than I will eventually need to carry on a hockey conversation with my Canadian pal Fred. And of course, there is also the fact that everybody loves a winner, so it’s time to jump on the bandwagon. I am not alone on that bandwagon.