Wayne Gretzky was 9 years old when he saw highlights of Bobby Orr’s Game Four Stanley Cup Finals goal that beat the St. Louis Blues 4-3 and brought the NHL championship to Boston for the first time in 29 years.
In an ESPN article celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the NHL in 2017, Orr’s goal for the Bruins was named the most iconic moment in league history.
“There’s some moments in hockey that are just so special that we’ll never be able to ever sort of recreate that moment again,” Gretzky said.
“And that's one of those iconic moments that we'll never be able to recreate.”
There might have been snow on the ground on May 10, 1970 in Gretzky’s native Ontario, but it was a hot spring day in St. Louis. Here, a fellow 9-year-old was sad that the Blues lost – for the third consecutive year in a Stanley Cup finals sweep.
It was me.
When the NHL expanded from the Original Six, the Blues came into existence. One of the six expansion teams was gifted a trip to the Finals if it won a pair of series against fellow newcomers.
In 1968 and 1969, the Montreal Canadiens swept respective series against the Blues to win the Cup. In 1970, the Bruins were on the way to doing the same thing. But the Blues forced overtime in the fourth game and I just wanted to win one game.
As they say, the rest is history.
So, I’ve been waiting 49 years for a chance to watch the Blues win a Stanley Cup Finals game. The time has come. As fate would have it, the Blues will take on the Bruins when the championship series begins on Memorial Day night.
I think the Blues will win the first Stanley Cup game in franchise history – I’m not as confident The Cup will tour the region throughout the summer after a Blues’ title win. But the Blues have made believers out of all doubters – and that’s all of us.
The team with the lowest point total in the NHL on January 3, now has a chance to be its champion. Go figure.
By the way, I wrote a poem that Sunday afternoon in St. Louis honoring Orr. Something along the lines of “The Great Bobby Orr: No. 4.”
Almost 50 years later, I’m still writing about sports. Once again, go figure.
Holiday hockey, holiday blues
I didn’t see my first Blues game until I was 12, in January 1973. St. Louis tied with the expansion Atlanta Flames 3-3.
Just like going to a restaurant or when taking an airplane flight, fans at the game actually dressed nicely. I went with my dad and I had to wear my Sunday school pants.
While that was my first Blues game, I had witnessed the best in collegiate hockey in the Arena. Saint Louis University took part in a two-night event called the Holiday Hockey Tournament. I saw Brown, Wisconsin and other highly ranked teams during the two years I went. My father was a pressman and he and others got the tickets through work. Hockey still had not become the norm in St. Louis, so college hockey tickets weren’t in high demand.
I’ve mentioned my late father, Robert A. Reid, a couple of times here. The Blues helped me say goodbye to him when he passed away in November 1990, just a few days after Thanksgiving
I flew back to St. Louis from Little Rock, Arkansas where I was an editor with the Arkansas Gazette. My dad died suddenly of a heart attack at just 55 years old.
Almost a week would pass before his funeral as family gathered. The evening of November 29, I decided to get my mind off things and go to the Blues game. Gretzky and the L.A. Kings were the opponent.
I didn’t have a ticket. I went to the Arena, held up my index finger and hoped someone would sell me one. Sure enough, a nice guy young man sold me one and jokingly said, “you’ll have to sit with me and my girlfriend.”
It turns out that his friend’s girlfriend could not attend that night, so I got her ticket. I went in and sat down and shortly before the game began, they came in. We chatted a bit and it wasn’t long before I told them I was in from Little Rock for my dad’s funeral.
One of the guy’s said, “you’re not paying for any beer tonight.” At that time, you could just buy three beers at a time, so throughout the game, we topped off each other’s cups. Two white guys, a white young lady and a black guy in his 30s sharing beers at The Arena.
After a scoreless first period, the Blues stormed to a 4-0 lead in the second period. Brett Hull scored a pair of goals. In the third, the Kings tallied four goals, with Gretzky netting one. The game went to overtime and ended in a 4-4 tie.
I’ll never forget those people, even if I never really knew their names.
I, and many other black kids in the 1960s, learned how to ice skate. I never played hockey, but I still enjoy renting a pair of size 8 hockey skates at the Kirkwood Community Center rink and buzzing around the ice for 20-30 minutes.
While I never played on ice, we played street hockey all the time. Black boys and white owned hockey sticks, and our neighborhood – which was around Rose Hill Elementary School – actually played other neighborhood teams.
Ray Taylor, a friend of mine and physical education teacher in the Riverview Gardens School District, introduced floor hockey in the gymnasium to his students when he was in the Normandy district.
“When I first told them, the boys said ‘man, don’t nobody want to play hockey.’ We started playing and they realized how athletic a game it is and they had a blast,” he said.
“When we were young, we knew all the Blues players names, we used to watch games on TV seems like every Sunday.”
I think I still have one stick somewhere in my mom’s house in Kirkwood.
Bring back McKegney
The Enterprise Center will host dozens of the Blues’ greatest players when the Stanley Cup Finals return to St. Louis for the first time in 49 years when Game Three is played at the Enterprise Center.
There is one former player the Blues should make sure is here and introduced to the fans – and reintroduced to the hockey world.
He played just two seasons here, 1987-88 and 88-89. He scored 40 goals and played in a team high 80 games that first season, and added 25 goals in 71 games the next year.
He is Tony McKegney – the St. Louis Blues first black player.
In all, McKegney played 912 games over 13 seasons in the NHL, scoring 320 goals with 319 assists for the Buffalo Sabres, Quebec Nordiques, Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, Blues, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.
When he was 20, McKegney signed a contract to play in the World Hockey Association with the Birmingham franchise. The team’s owner illegally refused to honor the deal after fans threatened to boycott the team for having a black player. This was in 1978, folks.
NHL and minor league players of color still face vulgar, racist comments from fans today. You can just imagine what McKegney had to put up with.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, McKegney was adopted by a white family in Sarnia, Ontario and followed in an older brother’s footsteps and played hockey.
His is a story of perseverance that should be shared on the national stage during the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s one that is part of Blues’ history and should never be forgotten.
The Reid Roundup
If the Blues do win the Stanley Cup, I hope it will travel north of Delmar a few times during the offseason … During the dismal first half of the season, I wondered in the Roundup when the Blues would start selling bargain price tickets. I’ll admit I was wrong. I wish other media members would do the same … What must Kevin Durant be thinking now after the Golden State Warriors swept the Portland Trailblazers without him playing a single minute? … Sandy Alcantara, the former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who was the main player in the deal to acquire outfielder Marcell Ozuna, threw an 89-pitch shutout against the New York Mets last week … Tommy Pham update: .279 batting average with five home runs, 18 RBI and six stolen bases … Of course, of players dealt away in the last year by the Cardinals, New York Yankees first baseman/DH Luke Voit is making the most noise. As of Tuesday, he posted 11 home runs with 34 RBIs and has become a fan favorite … I watched two periods of Sunday’s 5-0 Blues win at San Jose in a place with nine televisions. None of them had the Cardinals’ game on the screen.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.