Jay Bouwmeester is the kind of athlete and competitor that most hockey dads want their sons to grow up to emulate. He has one of the best tool boxes in the world for a defenseman; an incredibly smooth and agile skater, great offensive play making ability, intense demeanor in his own zone, and he is the perennial NHL iron man, competing in 82-games every season, no questions asked. He is a player with a ubiquitous hockey IQ that permeates throughout a defensive corp and Jay has the ability to skate and move the puck out of his zone with an ease that is rarely seen in today’s game.
And his selection to the esteemed 2014 Canadian Olympic hockey team truly has to be one of the feel-good stories of the Winter Games in Sochi.
Bouwmeester was selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2002 draft, behind two guys he’ll see in Russia, Rick Nash and Kari Lehtonen, by the Florida Panthers. He would go on to play there for the next seven seasons under the intense microscope of the aging snow birds at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL. Bouwmeester flourished, though, in south Florida, earning credit around hockey circles for being one of the best offensive, puck moving defenseman in the league. But as any talented, highly touted hockey player knows (i.e. Nathan Horton, Roberto Luongo) south in the Sunshine State is not a place to win championships and compete at the top of your game.
After the seven lack-luster years and not a single playoff appearance, but while building a great base tan, Bouwmeester got the itch and wanted out of Sunrise to compete for a championship. Unfortunately he ended up being dealt to Calgary (in exchange for Jordan Leopold), and had some tough years with a dwindling Flames franchise. The playoffs were never in the picture, as every NHL season ended in early April for him. Again he found time to continue to build a solid base tan, so it could always be worse, but with low offensive outputs and under achieving teams in Stampede country, Jay Bo found himself in a similar Sunrise situation.
And maybe more significantly, during those dim years in Calgary, Bouwmeester was denied a chance to play in his second consecutive Olympics in 2010, in nearby Vancouver. He had competed in the 2006 games in Torino for Canada, with the team having piccolo success there (that’s Italian for little). Perhaps this snub was a wake up call of sorts, that if Jay wanted to really make a name for himself, he would need to play for a distinguished franchise who had a legitimate shot to win a Stanley Cup.
Thus, to the delight of Blue blooded fans everywhere, on April 1, 2013, Bouwmeester waived his no-trade clause and accepted a deal that brought him from the Saddledome to the Checkerdome (well, Scottrade Center now).
He made his career post-season debut last spring for the Blues, and got the proverbial playoff monkey off his back. And since then, Bouwmeester has been playing much better hockey than ever before. The 30-year-old is on pace to break his career high in points scored of 46, which he put up in 2006. He’s a +17 and has logged nearly 25 minutes of ice time a game this year. He is also part of a defensive duo that has scored 73 points and is a +31 through 57 games, and is arguably the best D-pair going.
Critics of Bouwmeester point to that Blues, and team Canada, defensive partner, Alex Pietrangelo, for being the catalyst to his new-found glory on the ice, and frequently implying its significance as the reason for Jay being selected for team Canada.
But wiser, more in-tuned others would point to the maturation of a highly skilled defenseman who, for the first time, is playing with capable teammates as the reason for this career year, of sorts. And the others would also point to Jay Bo’s international success, including being a part of three World Junior teams, and playing a critical role on Canada’s back-end during the World Hockey Championships in 2008 & 2012, as a reason for the selection.
One of those others happens to be Blues head coach, and team Canada’s assistant coach, Ken Hitchcock, who told Eric Francis of the CalgarySun.com just how important his international experience was to the selection committee.
I think what people don’t recognize is how well he played at the Worlds. Some of it is because he gets to play with us (Hitchock and Blues-turned-team Canada GM Doug Armstrong), and some of it because he gets to play with Petro. But the bigger part is what he did on his own at the Worlds. The two times he went there he ended up being the best defenseman there. I think everybody saw how valuable he was on a big surface.
That is high praise from a defensive minded genius in Hitchcock. And obviously Hitchcock, Babcock, Armstrong and Yzerman saw something substantial in his game that warranted giving Jay the opportunity to open his tool box and exhibit his impeccable skating stride and puck moving ability, that is second to none, on hockey’s grandest stage.
While Bouwmeester may be over shadowed by Canadian defensive teammates like Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and partner, Alex Pietrangelo, the Olympics in Sochi will give Jay Bo experience to compete and win at the highest level. Something that St. Louis will definitely reap the benefits of come playoff time.
Seeing that Bouwmeester is the only Edmontonian on the Canadian roster, actually the only Albertan son competing for Gold in hockey, you know the collective energy of western Canada will be focused 5,500 miles away towards Jay bringing home his first Gold medal. And, not to mention, making his father, Dan, a pretty lucky and proud guy.