In a vacuum, the news that Carl Gunnarsson would be retiring from the St. Louis Blues, and professional hockey in general, would not garner much attention. Gunnarsson was regularly what I refer to as a ghost player – if the announcer did not say his name, you would not be aware he was on the ice.
However, history has a funny way of changing things in ways we never could have imagined. With one, instant moment, Gunnarsson went from a guy Blues fans would wish well on his future endeavors to someone that will be remembered forever.
As far as his overall career, Gunanrsson was just steady. He was never an offensive player.
Gunnarsson only scored double-digit points once during his seven seasons with the Blues. The five goals he scored in 2017-18 was his career high and also when the Darren Pang coined nickname “Boom-Boom Gunnarsson” started to really take hold.
Despite the lack of numbers in an age when offensive defensemen started really taking hold, Gunnarsson was always the one coaches kept relying on. Though Gunnarsson never played a full 82 games, he still always managed to play the majority of a season, unless he was injured.
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The main reason for this was he rarely gave coaches a reason to take him out. You can have all the offensive ability in the world, but if you continually make mistakes, you get under a coach’s skin rather quickly. Gunnarsson kept under the radar because he would simply do his job, return to the bench and get ready for the next time his number was called.
Usually, the only reason Gunnarsson was removed from a lineup was to give a player with higher upside a look. However, he rarely stayed out of the lineup for long because coaches in Toronto and St. Louis knew he was a steadying force.
Gunnarsson was capable of blocking a lot of shots, getting over 100 blocks in six of his 12 seasons. He also kept his turnover numbers quite low too.
The impressive thing about Gunnarsson was his ability to make the most out of whatever time he was given. For example, Gunnarsson had five goals and nine points in 63 games in 2017-18. He turned around and still provided three goals and seven points in 25 games in 2018-19.
Gunnarsson also had very good point share numbers with the Blues. He might not have provided points, but the Blues were more likely to score and less likely to give up a goal with him on the ice, meaning his presence provided points (as far as that stat is concerned anyway).
Yet, you can throw all that in the trash. Gunnarsson will go down in the Blues history books for providing one of the biggest goals in team history and handing the Blues their first ever win in a Stanley Cup Final.
The goal, in and of itself, was a highlight reel goal. It was a seeing-eye shot from the point, but it was still a blast of a shot from a guy you didn’t really expect it from.
Of course, with any historic moment, you need a good story to go with it. The story preceding that goal is about as good as it gets.
It all boiled down to a conversation between Gunnarsson and Craig Berube that occurred in a rather unusual place. But, if you can share a bathroom story in public, there’s little doubt it will be remembered.
From Gunnarsson’s perspective, that moment was made even better by being able to lift a Stanley Cup for the first and only time in his career a few weeks later. Not only was his goal an integral part of that, but also his play in general.
While we will always remember the goal, we forget he played a pivotal role in the Blues winning another road game in Game 5. I wrote about it and it had already escaped my mind, but Gunnarsson had to help clear the line before Boston could score a goal that might have swung the game and the series.
We all remember the Big Rig and Hometown Hero stuff and the captain’s goal that proved to be the game winner in Game 7. Despite being a quiet player that many fans might have not cared about game in and game out, Gunnarsson put himself in that same group with one swing of the stick.
Looking back at those moments, coupled with how inconsistent the team’s defense has been in his absence, and perhaps we will all miss him more than we all thought.
He will miss us.
"And then I find myself in St. Louis, a city I didn’t know much about. It was nothing like Toronto where I had spent the previous five years. Toronto, where everything revolves around hockey, had a lively downtown and it was all centered around there. St. Louis seemed to be more spread out and nothing really going on downtown, except sporting events of course. I knew it was a baseball-loving city but didn’t know how much it loves hockey. The fans here surprised me and really showed how much they love their Blues, especially during the playoffs.It grew on me. My wife and I found that it is an amazing place to raise a family. Our two kids were born here, and the people of St. Louis made us feel more than welcome. We are truly proud to have been able to call St. Louis our home for the last seven years. – Gunnarsson’s retirement letter"
For those interested, you can read Gunnarsson’s full retirement letter here. I fully suggest you do.
Ultimately, every person will remember the moments in their own way. That goal was probably one of the single, purest forms of joy coming from nowhere I’ve experienced. Yes, marriage and seeing the team winning the Cup and other things in life have been better, but it was just a different type of excitement.
For that, I thank Carl Gunnarson.