Why does it feel like long time hockey fans have been here before?
Perhaps because we have.
Unless you are a hockey fanatic the significance of the unfolding final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this week likely means little. However as a youngster who struggled between cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins – May 1970 was an epic timeline.
Forty-nine years ago the St. Louis Blues were eliminated from the final round of the playoffs in four straight games by the big bad Bruins who had waited for decades to finally hoist the cup again. That series sweep was highlighted by probably the most famous hockey photo – Bobby Orr celebrating his cup-winning goal while soaring through the air after being tripped by Blues rearguard Noel Picard. Orr had led the former cellar dwelling Bruins out of the hockey gutter and to the top of the mountain after being drafted by Boston just a few years before.
Ironically a statue of a flying Orr, arms raised, stick high and mouth agape, sits outside TD Garden, where the Bruins and Blues will play Game 1 on Monday.
Referencing and reminiscing that goal and that series will undoubtedly play a role during much of the coverage of the upcoming cup final. It’s one of several interesting hooks to this matchup.
For Boston this Stanley Cup final marks their third appearance this decade (2011, 2013) and 20th time in team history since 1924.
St. Louis has never won the Cup since joining the league. Certainly earlier this year no one thought they would have a sniff of it this season. In fact the Blues are the only NHL team in the expansion era (since 1967-68) to reach the Stanley Cup final round after being in last spot in the NHL during the regular season after at least 20 games played. They have done that twice – the first in 1967-68 and again this season.
St. Louis was in last place Jan. 3 with 34 points through 37 games. The Blues have won an NHL-high 42 of 64 games since, including 12 of 19 in the playoffs.
Four more wins and St. Louis will win their first Stanley Cup. However even one win in the final round will mark another team first. While the club has reached the final three times (1968, 1969 and 1970, they were swept in every series never winning a single game.
To win the Blues will have to find a way to penetrate outstanding Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, who has been brilliant thus far and spearheads the seven-game winning streak Boston carries into the final.
Meanwhile Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington‘s has been outstanding for a 25-year-old rookie, especially of late. He has allowed just two goals on 71 shots to win Games 4, 5 and 6 against the San Jose Sharks. Impressive.
Bruin center Patrice Bergeron and Blues center Ryan O’Reilly will match up against one another during the series which should prove interesting since they are two of the three players in the entire league in running for the Selke Trophy (defensive excellence as a forward).
Bruins right wing David Backes may feel a tad torn during the series. Backes was selected by the Blues in the 2003 NHL draft and spent his first 10 seasons in St. Louis, his last five as captain.
Kelowna kid Jaden Schwartz toils with St. Louis giving a local connection to the series.
Speaking of hockey it is with sad heart I note the passing of former Kelowna hockey star Mitch Wilson earlier this week in his Brinnon, WA. home. Wilson died of complications of ALS. He was just 57.
A Kelowna boy Mitch skated for two seasons with the Buckaroos from 1978 until 1980 before graduating from the B.C. Junior Hockey League to the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Breakers.
The talented forward then played two seasons in the Central Hockey League and American Hockey League before finally having a cup of coffee in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils.
After nine games with the Devils during the 1984-85 season he played 17 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins over the next two years. Wilson then spent eight successful seasons in the American Hockey League before retiring in 1995.
He battled with ALS for several years before dying peacefully at home. Bless you Mitch.
Speaking of Buckaroos a shout out reminder to all former Kelowna Buckaroos hockey players of an upcoming team reunion.
The event is set for July 20 and 21 in Kelowna and includes a relaxed barbecue and rounds of golfing for those interested. For further information email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Shawn Swail at email@example.com