Barret Jackman began his career with the St. Louis Blues and after signing a one-day contract with the club on Tuesday, retired as a Blue.
The defenseman played 13 of his 14 NHL seasons with the Blues, the team that made him their first-round pick (17th overall) in the 1999 draft. He played in 803 games here, second only to Bernie Federko’s 927, and endeared himself to teammates and fans with a rough, gritty style that included playing with serious injuries on numerous occasions.
What drove Jackman to play when others wouldn’t or couldn’t?
“Tape and ibuprofen,” said the 35-year-old Jackman, who got a standing ovation from teammates, alumni and family following his emotional speech where he thanked nearly everyone in the room. “It was just knowing if I could get on the ice, as long as I’m not hurting the team I’m going to put the pain out of my mind for 60 minutes and go out there and play.
“You can pull yourself out for a broken bone, but if it doesn’t hurt too much you can play through it.”
That toughness and the ability to adapt and change his game from a rougher, physical style to a faster game with rule changes favoring offensive players is one of the reasons why Jackman lasted as long as he did in the NHL.
It’s also what made him a steadying influence on more than a decade of Blues’ teams and a popular teammate.
“His high character. His high compete level,” said Jackman’s first defense partner with the Blues, Hall of Famer Al MacInnis. “They’re the guys that you go to war with, those are the guys you win with and you can’t say enough about him. It didn’t take him long to get acclimated to the NHL as as young player.
“He came in and he fought, he hit, he slashed, he cross-checked, he backed up teammates — and they’re the guys you want on your team. You look around today at the players that were here still coming in to join him at his press conference. It says a lot about him.”
The Blues threw Jackman and his family a wonderful farewell party that was attended by all the current players and numerous alumni, including MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Bernie Federko and Wayne Gretzky.
Jackman’s wife, Jenny, was on hand along with his children, son Cayden and daughter Makena, and Jackman’s mother. The family lives in St. Louis and Jackman plans on staying here, eventually looking for a way to remain involved in hockey in some aspect.
“There’s no feeling like playing in the NHL,” Jackman said. “It’s a privilege. You earn respect in the game and I owe everything to this game. I just want to thank everybody for being here. I’d really like to thank the fans, too, for making me part of St. Louis
“The fans have been amazing here. I apologize I wasn’t able to bring the (Stanley) Cup here, but I know it’s coming. It’ s a huge honor to wear the Blue Note. I took a lot of pride in it and I’m beyond excited this is where I retire.”
The retirement decision didn’t come easy for the 35-year-old Jackman, who played his first NHL game in 2002 against the Detroit Red Wings.
“One day I’d say ‘Yeah I’m done,’ the next day I’d say ‘No, I’m going to wait for an offer,”’ Jackman said. “I just told my agent don’t beg to get me a job. If somebody calls that’d be great, but I’m not begging. They called me with a couple different PTOs (pro tryout contracts) and inquiries and I just told them you know what, I’m done. I’m at peace with it.
“I’ve had a great career. I’ve had a lot of great memories and I was ready.”
Jackman became an early favorite of longtime Blues defenseman Bob Plager, who passed on his familiar No. 5 to Jackman at the rookie’s first Blues training camp.
“It was unusual for a player to get a single-digit number like that on the first day of camp, but the Blues seemed to know that they had something special in ‘Jacks’ and he did not disappoint them,” Blues Chairman Tom Stillman said. “He wore the Blue Note with pride and he represented us with pride and humility and honesty and toughness, just as Bobby (Plager) had years before.
“He and Bobby had a very special bond during his time here.”
Jackman remains the Blues’ only Calder Trophy winner as NHL Rookie of the Year, picking up that honor in 2003.
MacInnis recalled the one game Jackman played the year before, when Jackman made his NHL debut against the Red Wings.
“That very first game in Detroit set the tone for what was ahead for him in his career and his longevity,” MacInnis said. “That character he showed in that first game, the poise, the compete level .... you can’t groom that. That’s in you.
“That’s just Barret. That’s the way he is.”
In 803 games with the Blues, Jackman had 28 goals, 153 assists, 1,026 penalty minutes and a plus-minus rating of plus-53.
Pronger recalled Jackman’s first training camp, which on those days still included the occasional fight. Jackman arrived from the rough and tumble Western Hockey League eager to prove himself.
“Like most kids coming in with a reputation, someone on the team is going to try them,” Pronger said. “Barret handled himself very well and put a couple beatings on a few guys. He kind of got the word out early that he comes to play and he plays hard and fair and honest, but it’s going to be a tough night.
“From that first year all the way to his last year in Nashville, I think what you see is what you get. We call them meat and potatoes guys, keeps the game simple, a strong, hard tough game. You leave it all out on the ice.”
Near the end of his Blues tenure, Jackman had a penchant for scoring big playoff goals. He netted the game-winner late in the third period of Game 2 in a 2013 first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings.
Jackman also had an overtime goal to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, again in Game 2 of a first-round series.
Jackman played 876 career games, signing with the Nashville Predators and playing there in 2015-16 before having his contract bought out earlier this summer. Jackman signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Predators in July, 2015, but said he never felt comfortable in Nashville.
“I was 34 at the time and I think it was a great opportunity to go and see a different organization and see what it felt like to be on the other side,” he said. :It was fun, I met a lot of great people in Nashville and the team was great, loved the guys in the locker room, but it was just a different feeling.
“Being the guy that had to ask all the question as opposed to knowing all the answers here in St. Louis and being a mentor. I still tried to do that in Nashville, but it wasn’t on the same level as being in a Blue Note.”