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Bobby MacMillan will be cheering for one of his former teams to capture its first Stanley Cup when the finals begin Monday.
The St. Louis Blues travel to Boston to play Game 1 at 9 p.m. Atlantic. MacMillan, a Charlottetown native and Stanhope resident, played his first full season in the NHL with the Blues in 1975-76. The centre led the team in scoring in his second season with the Blues before being traded to the Atlanta Flames the following season.
“St. Louis will always be one of my favourite teams,” the veteran of 11 NHL seasons said Thursday. “It would be wonderful for that loyal fanbase to be rewarded.”
But it might make for some interesting conversations around the MacMillan household as his wife, Michelle, is from Boston.
MacMillan, like many former Blues, has great memories of playing in St. Louis and the big, boisterous crowds that flocked to the St. Louis Arena.
While MacMillan and San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson are friends, MacMillan was pleased to see the Blues defeat the Sharks to reach the final.
“To see them do what they did in such a deliberate and hard-working style of the old Blues, I’m sure it made a lot of people happy,” he said.
Before long, names of yesteryear come up in conversation: Gordon (Red) Berenson; Ed Johnston; Brian Sutter; Bernie Federko; Claude Larose; Bill Fairbairn; brothers Bob and Barclay Plager and more. MacMillan cherishes the memories made during his time in Missouri and the special group of players he called teammates and friends.
“The game meant so much to them,” he said. “I loved so many of them. We did fun stuff as a team.”
A quote from Bob Plager stood out to MacMillan. Known as the original Blue, Plager’s jersey hangs in the rafters of the St. Louis Enterprise Center next to his late brother Barclay’s.
“There’s a lot of tears up there (in heaven),” Bob said after the Blues clinched a berth in the final.
This is the first time the Blues have reached the Stanley Cup final since losing to the Bruins in 1970. You might remember a certain legend flying through the air after scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 4. Bobby Orr’s goal, captured by photographer Ray Lussier, is one of hockey’s iconic images.
It was the Blues third straight trip to the final after joining the league for the 1967-68 season. The Blues, under head coach Scotty Bowman, never won a game in the final.
As part of the 1967 expansion, the six new teams were in the West Division while the Original Six squads comprised the East Division. The winner of each division final played for the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens swept the Blues in 1968 and 1969.
MacMillan is the best-known Island native to play for the Blues. The list also includes Bob Stewart, Shane MacEachern and Steve Ott. The late Pavol Demitra, a former P.E.I. Senators, starred for the Blues while former P.E.I. Rocket coach Guy Chouinard also played for the Blues.
Summerside’s Doug MacLean got his NHL coaching start with the Blues. More on MacLean in next week’s Guardian.
Sammy Blais, who played half a season with the Charlottetown Islanders in 2016, is with the Blues.
“It’s really, really nice to see somebody who wore the Islanders jersey getting a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup,” said Islanders head coach and general manager Jim Hulton. “Sammy was only here a short time with our franchise, but he left a pretty big mark.”
Then general manager Grant Sonier traded Alexandre Goulet to Victoriaville to try to spark a struggling Islanders franchise. Blais found chemistry with Kameron Kielly and Jake Coughler, giving the Isles more balance behind the Filip Chlapik-Daniel Sprong duo.
“The great part with Sammy, even then, was whoever he played with, he made them better,” Hulton said.
Blais played 11 games with the Blues in 2017-18 and 32 this season, amassing three goals and four assists for seven points in 43 games. The 22-year-old has contributed a goal and two assists in eight playoff games.
Hulton said what stands out to him today about the six-foot-two, 205-pound forward is how much he has embraced the physical side of the game.
“If you watch him now, he’s an absolute force,” Hulton said, noting he has heard talk of Blais delivering upwards of 10 hits a night. “He always had the skill, but once he got himself some man muscle on his body and really committed to fitness and nutrition his game has taken off.
“He’s a typical story of a guy who gets close to the NHL and realizes, ‘Hey, if I finish all my checks, I can get an NHL paycheque. The cherry on the top is getting a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.”
By the numbers
A look at Bobby MacMillan’s statistics from his 2 ½ seasons with the St. Louis Blues.
Season GP G A Pts.
1975-76 80 20 32 52
1976-77 80 19 39 58
1977-78 28 7 12 19