It’s a voice that’s typically reserved for op-eds, so consider this a simple series of observations I’ve made since moving to St. Louis and taking over FanSided’s Blues-centric website. I’ve never lived in a hockey city before. I grew up in Cincinnati and a few small towns in Indiana—the heart of basketball land and no one gives a lick about the NHL or the sport in general.
Moving to St. Louis in January provided me with an opportunity to do something that I’d never been able to do before. I was able to walk down the street to Southtown Pub during game nights and take in the Blues in a setting where people actually gave a damn.
I wasn’t prepared for just how many damns this city gives about their Blues though. I recall the first conversation I had with a Blues fan that I’d never met or talked to before. Hockey gets strangers talking, obviously. The $10 buckets of beer don’t hurt matters much either. After speaking for a few moments, the man leaned in a bit closer and asked me if I knew why the team was called the Blues.
I started rambling about St. Louis’ history with blues music and he cut me off with a shrug that almost looked more like a wince. He said to me “It’s because that’s what they always give you. The Blues.”
This has probably been a common joke told throughout the area over the years, but I’d never heard it. If this line had been delivered from a snarky kid in a 59-50 flatbill Blues hat with a brand spanking new “Oshie” USA sweater, then maybe I would have forgotten about it. This was an old-timer sitting in front of me though. He said that he’d been cheering for the Blues since the 70’s. I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to grow up with a team and grow old with a team without seeing them win a championship.
It dawned on me that night that this is what Blues fans struggle with during each and every postseason. Even before the six-game losing streak St. Louis went on to close out the season, fans down at Southtown and in the comments sections and on Twitter seemed incredibly pessimistic.
I didn’t understand why for a few weeks. Then I recalled this conversation with a total stranger I’ll never see again and it hit me. This is a wounded fanbase that has never had a thing handed to them. Missouri isn’t considered a hotbed for hockey either. Let’s be honest, this is Cardinals country. But the Blues have a much more interesting hold on the community. With the Cards, it seems like the feeling is “when we win a Championship.” Not if.
The Blues though? No one cares if they win round one. They’ve seen that before. No one cares if they make it to the Western Conference Final. That’s old news too. I’m not trying to paint this fanbase as one that isn’t grateful for the team and the successes. It’s just that they crave a Stanley Cup parade just as much as folks in Toronto or Montreal.
To be clear, St. Louis doesn’t live and die by its hockey team like the neighbors up North do. But the people who are in are in totally. There’s a noticeable shortage of bandwagon fans here, even with the recent success the team has had. When you pass guys in the Shop ‘N Save during the winter, they don’t have on brand new Reebok Blues coats and jackets.
It’s always the old school stuff with the yellow piping. There’s something enamoring and alluring about a city like this. My exposure has been small and short, obviously. The Blues need to take down the Blackhawks for reasons that stem beyond the doors of the Scottrade Center though.
This is the best team St. Louis has had in quite some time. Not since the days of Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis have the Blues looked so good and held so much promise. That promise has seemingly brought even more disbelief though. The fans seem to simply be bracing for another playoff disappointment.
It’s in their postures and the way they take in games with their hands over their mouths. Everyone seems to be waiting for the next heartbreak. Not in a “we’re owed this” fashion like fans of the Maple Leafs or the Habs. There’s no misplaced feeling of entitlement. Just desire. A need to kill the ghost of Steve Yzerman that still walks these streets like a man in his prime that can launch a crippling slap shot from 60 feet.
On paper the goal is to make it through the first round. There’s more to it here. A win over the defending and Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks would send a surge through St. Louis. A surge of belief and a feeling that has probably been missing since the late 90’s.
How David Backes matches up with Jonathan Toews isn’t important—though we’ll be covering plenty of that down the stretch here at Bleedin’ Blue. What’s important is that every individual on the Blues realizes what they mean to this town before they take the ice for Game One. Maybe it’s been in the back of their heads all year long, but it needs to be at the forefront.
It seems like every champion has a veteran centerpiece that hasn’t won the Cup before. It turns into a “Win it for Player X” campaign, and it inspires. The Blues don’t have a guy like that though.
So win it for the man who I met at the Pub during one of my first nights in town. Win it for the guys that work overtime shifts just to sit up in the nosebleeds and the folks that remember Bobby Orr‘s murderous goal because they were watching that day. Win it for the guys in the old coats and the 15-year-old sweaters with names like Fuhr and Hull still stitched onto the back.
Win it for St. Louis, and kill off these playoff demons, once and for all.