Enforcer Olympics – St. Louis Blues

| Craig Jones

It’s been over half a century since St. Louis named their hockey club after the legendary W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” song (Love me some old timey blues). The Blues were amongst six other teams in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft. The others included the Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and California Seals. However, the Blues’ arrival was a lot different than the others. St. Louis never actually submitted a formal expansion bid, yet they were chosen over Baltimore who did. Why? Well, the Chicago Black Hawks owners, James D. Norris and Arthur Wirtz also owned the run-down St. Louis Arena. They were desperately looking to unload it and they saw a hockey team as the solution. However, the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft was a far cry from the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft that catapulted the Vegas Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals. The commentators compared the draft to a rummage sale because the Original Six only lost unnecessary and unwanted players. While this put the Blues and the other five squads at a disadvantage, the Blues had a secret weapon -Scotty Bowman. Lynn Patrick initially served as GM and head coach, but after his squad put up a 4-13-2 record, Scotty Bowman took over head coaching duties. Under Bowman’s leadership, the Blues knocked off the Flyers and North Stars to reach the 1967 Cup Finals. Unfortunately, they ran into the dominant Montreal Canadiens and were easily swept. The 70s didn’t yield the same success, and if it wasn’t for pet food giant Ralston Purina, the Blues could have been relocated. Thankfully they weren’t, and even though it took until 2019 to win the Stanley Cup there have been some magical years in St. Louis. During those years, there have been some absolute gladiators who fought proudly with the Blue Note on their chest. But let’s not mess around, it’s celebrating time! Here we go folks, these are my selections for the St. Louis Enforcer Olympics.

🥉Bronze – Kelly Chase

Our Bronze medalist was not only a ruthless enforcer, he was and remains a fan-favorite in The Gateway to the West. Kelly Chase went undrafted, which is surprising considering he put up 21 goals, 34 assists, and 343 penalty minutes in his final season with the Saskatoon Blades. Maybe it was the exorbitant amount of penalty minutes that deterred teams from drafting the Saskatchewan native, but the Blues took a flyer on Chase and it paid off. In Chase’s two stints with St. Louis, he tallied 1497 penalty minutes and dropped-the-gloves 123 times. While Chaser may not have won every battle, he fought valiantly against the likes of Lyle Odelein, Stu Grimson, Derian Hatcher, Ken Daneyko, and plenty more. Chase terrorized the NHL for over a decade before taking his talents to the broadcast booth. For 18 years he entertained Blues fans with his clever commentary until deciding to take a role with the organization to focus on business and community development. Hopefully, Chase is enjoying his new role, because for all the years of entertainment he gave the fans, he deserves it more than anyone.

Kelly Chase vs Neil Wilkinson – March 20, 1994 – 2nd period – 8:09

While it was rare to catch Chaser with his head down, it did happen on occasion, and Wilkinson caught him that Sunday night in Chicago. Credit to Wilkinson for answering the bell, because Chase wanted immediate retribution, and he got it. In this scrap, referee Bob Hodges made a half-hearted effort to break the boys up before they could throw down, but he was a little too late. Chase started the bout with two big lefts while Wilkinson desperately tried to lock him up. The Chicago defenseman missed his chance to capitalize while Chase battled to get his elbow pad off, and guess what? It cost him. Once Chase got the pad off, he started teeing off on Wilkinson. Two big rights, and then another two. Wilkinson did his best turtle impression to try to limit the damage but Chase had no intention of letting up. Two more big lefts and the linesmen had no option but to jump in and end the one-sided affair. Thanks to an OT winner from Peter Stastny, the Blues left the Windy City with a 4-3 win, and Chaser left Wilkinson with a reminder that even if his head is down, it might not be the best idea to hit him.

Kelly Chase vs Bryan Marchment – October 26, 1993 – 3rd period – 18:46

Bryan Marchment must have been watching a little soccer the morning before the Tuesday night game, because sheeeeesh, he looked like Neymar after Chase’s jab. While it may have looked like a little bit of a sucker punch, you can tell he barely connected. Besides, Marchment came in with a dirty elbow, and those that watched him throughout his career know that this wasn’t a one-time thing. Marchment was notorious for not only high-elbows but vicious knee-on-knee hits as well. Luckily, these two were able to lock up at the end of a blowout game. The Hawks scored seven unanswered goals, so you knew a few scraps were on the horizon. While this fight started with Chase in a vulnerable position, things quickly changed when they locked up. The Saskatchewan native always had great timing and immediately caught Marchment with two big rights. Once Chase was able to get off the boards, the two gladiators traded a few rights, but only Chase’s connected. After a few moments of grappling, Chase caught Marchment with a  big body shot and then capitalized with a massive right hook to Marchment’s chin. Marchment tried to answer back, but Chase was too strong and easily jerseyed the Hawks defenseman. Chaser showed class by backing off, but Marchment wasn’t done and charged at Chase to keep it going. Then to add insult to injury Chase gave one final right hand while the linesmen desperately tried to break it up. Thanks to a four-point night from Jeremy Roenick, Chase and the Blues left Chicago with a 9-2 loss.

🥈Silver – Brian Sutter

The Sutter brothers were a hockey institution in the 1970s and 80s. There was Duane, Darryl, and Brent, but when it comes to St. Louis it’s all about Rich, Ron, and our Silver medalist, Brian Sutter. After the Alberta native was drafted by the Blues, he had no intention of going anywhere else. Sutter played 12 years in St. Louis until he was forced to retire because of a nagging back injury. That’s when he immediately made a seamless transition to bench boss and won the Jack Adams award for the NHL’s best coach in 1991. While Sutter may have never won a Cup with the Blues, he made the playoffs 9 out of 12 years as a player and all four years as coach. The former second-round draft pick tallied the most fights, most penalty minutes, and sits behind only Bernie Federko and Brett Hull for most points in franchise history. Sutter fought at 5’11” and 173 lbs, making him one of the smallest enforcers in Blues history. But when you grow up with six brothers, you learn a thing or two about fighting. St. Louis takes pride in being a hard-working, blue-collared city and the Blues are no different. Sutter embodied that belief, and that’s why his jersey proudly hangs in the rafters of the Enterprise Center. Enough chit-chat, let’s celebrate our Silver medalist.

Brian Sutter vs Jack O’Callahan – November 16, 1983 – 1st period – 17:25

I gotta say, there’s nothing better than seeing a dirty player get TKOed. That’s why it was fitting that Sutter dropped O’Callahan after not one, not two, but three headbutts. As soon as they locked up, O’Callahan landed a vicious headbutt, but Sutter didn’t even flinch. He just fired off a slick uppercut and a decent right hook. After a few moments of grappling, O’Callahan went for the headbutt again! This is when you can tell Sutter thought to himself, enough of this bullshit. One massive uppercut and a devastating right jab to the chin and down went O’Callahan. While the Blues and Hawks rivalry is no secret, it’s worth noting that Sutter fought against the Hawks more than any other team in the NHL. The Hawks may have got the W on that chilly night in Chicago, but Sutter proved that you can try all the dirty tricks you want, in the end, the right hook will always prevail.

Brian Sutter vs Ed Hospodar – April 17, 1981 – 1st period – 12:26

It’s always wild watching the videos of the old 80s rinks. I just imagine how awesome it would have been to be so close to the action, and then I remember the downside, being TOO close to the action. That’s exactly what happened on that Friday night in the Checkerdome. Sutter and Hospodar squared off as usual, trading right hands and grappling for position. Our Silver medalist got the jump with a flurry of right hands and followed it up with his patented uppercut. That’s when things took a turn for the worse. As the two warriors battled, Hospodar got pressed against the boards. Then out of nowhere, a fan reaches over the glass to hold Hospodar’s jersey to make it easier for Sutter to land a few blows. One problem though, that’s not Sutter’s style. As soon as he saw the fan grab a hold of the Rangers’ big man, Sutter stopped the fight and helped Hospodar get off the glass. That’s when mayhem ensued. Several Rangers came to the aid of their teammate and did everything they could to get at the fan. While it’s entertaining to watch, I compare this to a stupid heckler at a comedy show, or someone being obnoxiously loud in a restaurant. We didn’t come here for you, we came here for the players, comedians, or the food. Considering it was a playoff game, I understand the passion. But it was still nice to see the police rush down and escort the fan out of the arena. The Rangers ended up giving the jab to the fans on the scoreboard with a 6-4 win and took the series in six games.

🥇Gold – Tony Twist

Our Gold medalist in this year’s Enforcer Olympics is none other than Tony Twist. The second the Blues drafted ‘Twister’ in the 9th round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft they let an absolute warrior into the league. The former Saskatoon Blades tough guy fought at 6’1” and 245 lbs, but what he lacked in height, he made up with power and a unique fighting style. Seriously, the way Twist would immobilize his opponent by grabbing their right shoulder pad, while simultaneously raining down vicious right hands was truly special to watch. His right hands were so powerful that his former teammate Owen Nolan is quoted as saying, “he throws hammers, he throws to kill. I’ve seen him crack a helmet with a punch. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it.” Sheesh, I don’t even think I could crack a helmet with a hammer, let alone my fist. That’s probably why nobody has made a comic book character based on me. That’s right Spawn fans, Antonio “Tony Twist” Twistelli, is based on Tony Twist. But with one caveat, nobody asked Tony to use his likeness. As a matter of fact, he would never have even known about it if some kids hadn’t gone to his mother’s house and asked if they could get their Twistelli merchandise autographed. After countless appeals, the courts ruled in favor of Twist for $5 million, but it wasn’t about the money for Twist. Our Gold medalist was always a class act, and he was disgusted by the behavior of the character that was his namesake. Twist embodied the unwritten code of enforcers, so let’s not mess around, it’s Twister time.

Tony Twist vs Rob Ray – November 27, 1995 – 1st period – 6:32

This is honestly one of my favorite fights ever. Rob Ray and Tony Twist standing and trading blows, what more could a fight fan ask for? This scrap started with a quick chat at the faceoff and then it was time to give the fans a show. Twist landed the first shot, then Ray threw a couple of hooks that never connected. Then it was 16. Yup, Twist landed 16 unanswered right hands that weren’t just jabs, they were bombs. One glance at Ray’s face at the end of this battle and there’s no disputing who won. Even more so when you realize that Twister not only bloodied Ray up, but he also broke the Sabres legend’s orbital bone. It was this fight that made Twist more of a boogeyman than an enforcer. Chris Simon was asked why enforcers suddenly became more reluctant to fight Twist, and he simply said – “he broke Rob Ray’s face.” Simple, but true. This played into Twist’s strategy of making sure that he left his mark on every fight because heaven forbid they ever tangled again, he wanted to make sure their first bout was always lingering in the back of their minds. Mission accomplished.

Tony Twist vs Dennis Bonvie – January 07, 1999 – 2nd period – 16:06

While most of America was focused on the first day of Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, fight fans were more concerned with seeing Tony Twist and Dennis Bonvie get after it in the Kiel Center. In hopes of shifting momentum in favor of their respective squads, the two warriors threw down before the second intermission in a 2-2 game. Bonvie started the bout strong with a good body- shot and a clean left, but that left the former North Bay Centennial vulnerable to Twist’s death grip. Twist capitalized with six huge overhand rights that shook Bonvie. But that’s when something interesting happened. The two enforcers had fought a handful of times in their career, so Twist switched his style up a bit by adding a couple of powerful jersey-jabs. This new maneuver stunned Bonvie and freed up Twist to do what he’s best at – throw hammers. Credit to Bonvie for standing in there because Twister landed two massive right hooks to the back of his head before the linesmen intervened. This fight started to spark the team, and thanks to two 3rd period goals from Pavol Demitra and Chris Pronger, it worked for St. Louis. The Blues sent Chicago home with a loss, and Twist sent Bonvie home with a beating. A win-win situation for Blue Notes fans.

This concludes the St. Louis Enforcer Olympics. As always, there are only three spots on the podium, so naturally, some worthy names were omitted. Honorable mentions need to be given to Bob Gassoff, Reed Low, Jamal Mayers, Cam Janssen, Bob Plager, and the Vegas Gold medalist, Ryan Reaves. Please let us know anyone else you think should be mentioned because these Olympics are so subjective that everyone’s list could be completely different. Next week we head to the City of Oaks, Raleigh, North Carolina. The Hurricanes will be a blend between Carolina and Hartford, so there will be plenty of gladiators to choose from. Tune in to find out who takes their deserving spot on the Enforcer Olympics podium.

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