There was a very amusing letter in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, January 17. It was in the form of a full-page ad taken out by the National Hockey League, and it read in part, “Dear fans…we thank you for your patience and we apologize to you for the time we’ve missed. From today forward, we will do everything we can to make this season worth the wait.”
Really? That sounded laughable as it was written, as much as later in the letter when the sentence, “Like you, we’ve missed NHL hockey” appeared. The letter was signed, “With respect and appreciation, The National Hockey League.”
I’m sorry, but those words simply did not ring true. Under the dubious leadership of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the league now has had three significant work stoppages in the last 20 years. So, when someone representing the NHL writes the phrase, “From today forward, we will do everything we can to make this season worth the wait,” it sounds hollow and false.
Be that as it may, the St. Louis Blues are finally back on the ice after nearly four months of the season were wiped out. They were welcomed at their season opener by more than 20,000 fans thunderous in their enthusiasm and support of the home-town team.
And why not? New owner Tom Stillman is at the bottom of the ownership barrel in the NHL. He had nary a word of influence in the proceedings that stifled badly needed revenue for the rookie owner.
The Blues rely dearly on revenue from attendance at their games. They play in a mid-sized market, they have limited finances from TV and radio contracts, parking or concessions, and they long have been a whipping boy of the commissioner and his cronies, seemingly from the day when they tried to sign Brendan Shanahan decades ago. In a sports world of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ the Blues are a fixture in the latter category.
So, while there is justifiable contempt for Bettman and the owners who greedily will stash away the majority of cash in the new contract hammered out with the NHL Players Association, the Blue Note is a source of civic pride here in St. Louis.
Coming off one of their best seasons ever in 2011-12, the Blues are poised to play a substantial role in the league in this abbreviated, 48-game season. At the January 19 opener, they roared out of the gate and pummeled their long-time rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, by the resounding score of 6-0. That number was made all the more poignant by the passing that day of legendary St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame baseball player Stan “The Man” Musial, whose uniform number 6 was the first to be retired by the Redbirds.
With new sensation Vladimir Tarsenko leading the way with two quick goals, the Blues scored early and often, and goaltender Jaroslav Halak added another shutout to his career stats. The Scotttrade Center shook and vibrated with the manic enthusiasm of the standing-room-only crowd, who were treated to a nearly flawless execution of hockey finesse by the Blues.
There will be little time to rest in this truncated season. That could work to the advantage of a relatively young team such as the Blues, as older players may get winded by the steady onslaught of three or so games every week until the playoffs. Additionally, the Blues should benefit from the savvy experience of veteran coach Ken Hitchcock to lead them in their pursuit of bringing the Stanley Cup to St. Louis for the very first time.
The game is on. Go, Blues!
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