St. Louis Blues

Winter Classic fuels fire of Blues-Blackhawks rivalry

Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, left, collides with St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in St. Louis.
Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, left, collides with St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in St. Louis. AP

Not that St. Louis Blues fans need any reminders, but they trail the Chicago Blackhawks 6-0 in the all-important Stanley Cup championship race.

It doesn’t help that the Blackhawks’ last three Stanley Cup titles — 2015, 2013 and 2010 — were won with former Blues coach Joel Quenneville behind the bench.

Quenneville has company in the “Blues Coaching Alumni Going on to Win Stanley Cups Elsewhere” fraternity. A total of 17 Stanley Cups were won with ex-Blues coaches behind the bench: nine by Scotty Bowman, four by Al Arbour, three by Quenneville and one by Jacques Demers.

The first NHL Winter Classic outdoor game played in St. Louis needed to be against the Blackhawks. It’s only fitting, given the long-running rivalry between the two Midwestern franchises dating back to the Blues joining the league in 1967.

Saturday’s clash between the Blues and Blackhawks at Scottrade Center was another reminder of how each game seems to add just a little bit more to this hockey blood feud.

The Blues gained a slight upper hand in recent series history by ousting the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs last season. Even that was a major undertaking, requiring the full seven games and a Game 7-winning goal by former Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer.

“I played in Chicago in the minors the two years before that, so every time the Blues would play (the Blackhawks) I’d go watch the game,” Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. “I could see how heated the games were, so coming into last year I had a little better idea what the games were going to be like. Then the whole playoff experience against them just took it to another level. I know we love playing them. It’s a fun grind, and they’re always fun games.”

You like one team or the other. There is no in between or trying to stay neutral.

When one team wins, you hear about it from the other’s teams fans. Social media sites Twitter and Facebook have made that far easier and the glee with which Cubs fans gloated over after winning their first World Series title since 1908 was evident for all to see.

Cards fans had to sit and take it, just as Blues fans did when they watched Blackhawks fans, whose last Stanley Cup title had come in 1961, suddenly become finals regulars while winning championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

When the Cardinals won their 10th and 11th World Series titles in 2006 and 2011, the Cubs fans no doubt endured just a little bit more pain of their own.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Quenneville know each other well after competing against each other for years. Few secrets exist as each tries to make the slightest adjustment that will allow their team to get a leg up on the other.

“I like coaching in these games, and the players like playing in these games,” Hitchcock said. “Chicago’s such a good team, and it’s such a good rivalry. Hopefully we gained a little bit of measure of respect with what happened last year, but it’s a great evaluator. Individually, collectively, they expose holes in your team game defensively if you’re not sharp. There’s a bevy of information every time we play this team that we can learn from.”

When asked about the Blues celebrating their 50th anniversary season — and still no Stanley Cup — Hitchcock said a lot of factors are at work.

“You’re trying to win all the time,” said Hitchcock, whose team reached the Western Conference Final last season only to fall one round short of their goal. “I think these guys (the Blues) were the best team in the league in the early 2000s or late 1990s. They had some injuries that took place that took them out of the mix, but they were the best team. You look back at those a little bit as missed opportunities, but that’s hockey, and timing’s everything.”

There are 20 former Blues players in the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Chris Pronger, Bernie Federko, Al MacInnis, Brendan Shanahan, Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante.

All except Federko won Stanley Cups elsewhere, but never in St. Louis.

The Blues have enjoyed some great team and individual moments through the years, but hockey’s silver chalice has eluded the franchise.

“I like the fact that we’re in the hunt every year and we at least give ourselves a fighting chance,” Hitchcock said. “You never know when it changes. I think this is an amazing franchise because this has so many historical figures to it ... so many high-quality historical people that mean a lot to the game, so many Hall of Famers that are part of this organization. That’s what makes this team special. We all want to win a Cup, everybody wants to win that. But there’s been some great, great people that have gone through here.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders