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50 Years Of The St. Louis Blues

Dan O'Neill's new book is an illustrated timeline of St. Louis Blues hockey

Dan O'Neill will hold a presentation and book signing at the Weber Road Branch Library, 4444 Weber Road, 10 to 11:30 a.m., on Saturday, Dec. 9. (click for larger version)

December 01, 2017
As the St. Louis Blues celebrate 50 years of hockey, sports columnist and Oakville native Dan O'Neill offers a new book, "When the Blues Go Marching In," published by Reedy Press.

O'Neill said reactions to his latest sports offering have been positive.

"I think people have enjoyed the way the book is set up," O'Neill said. "I identified about 75 key moments of the history of the organization, and then embellished those moments with big, dynamic pictures."

O'Neill was able to get Blues play-by-play announcer John Kelly and Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman to write the foreword and introduction to his book.

Bowman was head coach of the Blues during their first season in 1967-68 and led the team to three straight Stanley Cup Finals.

"Of course, he has gone on to bigger things elsewhere," O'Neill said. "He is the winningest coach in NHL history and won nine Stanley Cups, but he still remembers St. Louis fondly. He met his wife here and it was his first coaching job in the NHL. He has a soft spot in his heart for St. Louis and was more than happy to write the introduction."

Top goal scorers Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull were teammates from 1992 to 1994. Both players scored 50 goals or more over the course of the two seasons. photo courtesy of Reedy Press. (click for larger version)

While the franchise had early successes, the Blues have yet to win a Stanley Cup. While the ultimate prize remains elusive, the Blues have only missed the playoffs eight times in 50 seasons. The Blues also had a 25-year streak of making the playoffs, from 1980 to 2004 — the third longest in NHL history.

O'Neill writes about the 1995-96 team that featured Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger and Grant Fuhr, describing it as one of the most talented teams in Blues history. The Blues nearly upset the Red Wings in the conference semifinals, but Detroit captain Steve Yzerman scored the game winning goal in double overtime in Game 7.

"I've talked to Wayne Gretzky about that, and he really thinks if they were able to win that game they would have beat Colorado in the next round and won the Stanley Cup," O'Neill said. "He would have finished his career here. That moment really had a big impact on the franchise."

Instead, Gretzky signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers after general manager and coach Mike Keenan pulled his contract offer.

Soon after, Keenan was fired and replaced by Joel Quenneville. Hull would depart after the 1997-98 season, but the Blues built up a team that would win the President's Cup in 1999-2000. While the Blues finished with the best record during that regular season, the San Jose Sharks would upset them in the first round.

O'Neill said the 2015-16 team that featured Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz was also one of the most talented teams in Blues history. The Blues beat both the Blackhawks and Stars in seven games to make their first conference finals in 15 years that postseason.

"They were just one series away from getting to the Stanley Cup Finals," O'Neill said. "Certainly that team would come to mind as one that had a good chance to win the Cup."

"I identified about 75 key moments of the history of the organization, and then embellished those moments with big, dynamic pictures." — Dan O'Neill

When O'Neill was starting out as a sports reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he was covering the Blues during their 1986 playoff run. The Blues came within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals that postseason.

O'Neill said he already wrote his story for Game 6 coverage when the Blues were losing 5-2 in the third period. However, the Blues rallied to tie the game, and won it in overtime with a goal from Doug Wickenheiser. Blues fans remember this game as the "Monday Night Miracle."

"It completely trashed the story I had, and I had to start from scratch with no time to get it done," O'Neill said. "That's the worse case scenario for a beat writer, but it happens."

The Blues have also had a few low points in their 50 years in the league. After the 2004-05 lockout cancelled the season, ownership cut payroll and the Blues were the worst team in the league when play resumed.

The franchise almost went bankrupt until Ralston Purina purchased the team in 1977. However, Ralston lost $10.2 million during its six-year ownership.

"Ralston Purina pretty much decided to sell the team to an ownership group in Saskatoon, but the NHL stepped in and voted 15-3 to not allow that to happen" O'Neill said. "Ralston sued the league for $60 million and said they were not going to operate the team anymore. That was tough, and the NHL gave the Blues a deadline to find another owner or they would disband the team. The Blues were 10 days away from that deadline when California entrepreneur Harry Ornest stepped up and bought the team."

Hockey is a sport known for its brawls, and the Blues have had their share. One such brawl was the 1991 "St. Patrick's Day Massacre" against the rival Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium. This brawl resulted in 12 player ejections.

The Blues were involved in another memorable brawl against the Philadelphia Flyers in 1972. Blues head coach Al Arbour questioned a referee about a call. Flyer fans reacted by dousing him with beer.

"All of the sudden, Bobby Plager saw that, and he and Barclay Plager came to Al Arbour's rescue, and actually climbed over the glass into the stands to fight the fans," O'Neill said. "It was just a wild scene. The Philadelphia police showed up and Al Arbour got hit over the head with a billy club and needed 30 stitches."

O'Neill will hold a presentation and book signing at the Weber Road Branch Library, 4444 Weber Road, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9. A second booking signing will be held Dec. 9, 1 to 3 p.m., at Christopher's, 127 E. Argonne Drive in Kirkwood.

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