It was an opening night ceremony that linked the original 1967-68 St. Louis Blues team to the present day club that kicked off the franchise’s 50th anniversary season on Thursday at Scottrade Center.
An exciting 3-2 Blues victory over the Minnesota Wild only enhanced the already electric atmosphere on a night that officially kicked off another hockey season in St. Louis.
Five players from the original Blues that took the ice 50 years ago at the old St. Louis Arena received loud standing ovations, none louder than the one for Blues fan favorite and former defenseman Bob Plager.
Wearing his familiar No. 5 that also hangs in the rafters surrounded by heart, Plager took the ice to loud cheers as he joined former 1967-68 teammates Fred Hucul, Bill McCreary, Norm Beaudin and Larry Keenan. Keenan scored the first goal in Blues history and added 11 more during that historic first regular season.
History meets today
The original Blues were later joined by the current Blues during pregame introductions as everyone surrounded a square platform that nearly framed the 50th anniversary logo at center ice.
“It was cool to see them around and be able to come back here, the people that first wore the Blue Note,” said Blues goalie Jake Allen, who stopped 19 of 21 shots for his second win in two days. “It was pretty cool to see and to be able to have them her for opening night was pretty special.”
The current players talked with their counterparts about the many differences from NHL hockey in 1967 to today.
“I think they were a little bit more surprised with the stuff that we have nowadays or how fortunate we are in this room compared to what they had 50 years ago,” Allen said. “Obviously times have changed, but we’re pretty fortunate.”
With so many tributes to the past on Thursday, former Edmonton Oilers first overall pick Nail Yakupov provided a glimpse of the future by scoring his first Blues goal to break a 1-1 tie in the second period.
Yakupov flew down the left side before ripping a laser shot that Wild goaltender Devan Dbnyk could not corral with his glove.
“It’s the first time I scored from a slap shot,” Yakupov said with a laugh.
Why did he do it?
“It had to be once in a while, right? It was tonight,” he said. “You have to try to do something. I just tried to shoot the puck and find the rebound. I didn’t have to find the rebound so it was good.”
The 23-year-old Russian forward, the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, had only eight goals last season with Edmonton.
“I try to not feel any pressure,” said Yakupov, who was excited to be trying out Scottrade Center for the first time as a home rink. “It’s a great building, it’s a really big building and the fans love their hockey here. When I play against the Blues (before) it was really hard to play against them.
Yakupov flashed some more skill early in the third period, breaking into the Wild zone before threading a pass right onto the stick of linemate Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi scored his first of the season to give the Blues a 3-1 lead as the pair of former Oilers combined on the goal.
“I had a decision where I’m going to shoot or I’m going to have to find a seam, so I think I made a good decision to pass to (Magnus),” Yakupov said. “Sometimes I have to take risks to make a new step, so I just tried and thank God it worked out for us.”
The man who proudly wore Plager’s No. 5 during his time with the Blues — with Plager’s blessing — was former Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. Jackman was at the game and got a loud ovation when he was shown on the video scoreboard midway through the third period.
The original Blues team went 27-31-16 for 70 points that first season, finishing third in the NHL’s West Division while playing its home game in the St. Louis Arena. Lynn Patrick began th eseason as head coach before being replaced by future Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman.
The original team captain was Al Arbour, who later went on to fame as coach of the four-time Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders with the Islands wining four straight championships from 1980-83. Arbour also coached the Blues for parts of two seasons in the early 1970s.
The leading scorer on the first Blues team was Red Berenson (22 goals, 51 points) and the top goaltender was Hall of Famer Glenn Hall, who was just getting warmed up at age 36.
The Blues reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three years of existence, swept twice by Montreal and in 1970 by the Boston Bruins.
Blues 3, Wild 2
Nail Yakupov scored his first goal with the Blues and assisted on another as the Blues celebrated their home opener and 50th anniversary season with a 3-1 victory Thursday over the Minnesota Wild. Yakupov scored his first goal of the season late in the second period, then assisted on a goal by Magnus Paajarvi early in the third.
Alexander Steen also scored for the Blues (2-0), who opened the regular season Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Blues goaltender Jake Allen stopped 19 of 21 shots for his second straight victory. Ryan Suter and Charlie Coyle scored goals for the Wild (0-1)
Up next: The Blues are at home at 7 p.m. Saturday against the New York Rangers.