Hockey has been a dynamic and changing game throughout the course of its history, but there is one thing that hasn’t changed and that’s the toughness of its players. Hockey enforcers are some of the toughest players in all sports where an NHL tough guy throws out devastating hits, takes shots to the body illegally and legally and then some, and is able to takes of the gloves can get down and dirty with a brawl every so often. They are often incorporated with the defending a star player on the team or taking down the best player on the other team.
It is way more than just that, a tough guy is also someone who has to overcome long term injuries and even play through nasty injuries they sustained during the course of the battle. Being a NHL tough guy is a lot of hard work which means many hours in the weight room to pack on extra muscle whilst working hard at home obtaining the right nutrition to make full use of your body when you get on the ice.
The Blues have had a number of memorable tough guys during their 51 year existence in recent times and in yesteryear. The “Blue Note” have long been known throughout the NHL for their toughness and courage. Its that toughness and courage that is on display in virtually every shift that makes the game of hockey so compelling to watch. These type of players have warmed the hearts of fans through their “True Blue” spirit and never say die attitude.
In a recent poll on social media the results that were gathered will give Blues fans some insight into the various perceptions of the fan-base and who they believe is the “toughest Blue of all time”. There is no “top toughest Blue of all time”, just a selection based on findings with notable mentions. As with any poll there will be players who missed the cut but based on the findings we can drive a conclusion to the results. The list can be interpreted many different ways and is open to discussion with Blues fans.
Starting in the early years of the franchise, Blues fans know that one player in particular springs to mind and that is a man who in 2017 was inducted into the rafters of the Enterprise Center. Bob Plager was acquired by the Blues in 1967 and in his 615 games over 11 years with the Blues patrolled the blue line starting the very existence of hard hitting style the team was to incorporate. He earned the reputation as a bruising player, expert hip checker and became one of the fiercest competitors in all of hockey. He was loved by the fans who used to see him in the 1960’s and 70’s at the old St. Louis arena and still is today where he is the Vice President of Player Development continuing his 50 year association with the franchise.
Plager was also able to be a prankster of the ice with his lighthearted demeanor but when it came time to play there was no one who wore that sweater with more pride and passion. His no 5 sweater stands proudly in the rafters of the Enterprise Center and as an original Blue and someone who lives for St Louis Blues hockey it seems quite fitting. There would not be a happier guy in St. Louis if he were to see a Stanley cup hoisted in the near future. He is the epitome of a player who BLEEDS BLUE !!!
Bob Gassoff played only four seasons in the NHL with the Blues until he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 1977 at the young age of 24. His number 3 jersey was subsequently retired by the Blues. Gassoff was a big part of the Blues blue-liners in the 1970’s who were feared around the NHL. He established himself as one of the elite enforcers at that time but he also evolved into a fine all round defenseman who was fearless and had that drive and determination to succeed. In that was respected by all his teammates and the all round the league.
He was that true “old school” enforcer and would always be the first to stick up for teammates. In his short career he amassed 217 games with the Blues with 782 PIM. In his honor, the Bob Gassoff Trophy was introduced shortly after his death in 1978 given to the most improved defenseman of the Central Hockey League.
Brian Sutter played with the Blues from 1976 to 1988 until a back injury forced him into retirement. He was the captain of the Blues for the last 9 years of his tenure with the organization and had his number 11 jersey retired up into the rafters of the Enterprise Arena. Sutter had and still does have the most PIM’s in the Blues history at 1786 but also has 636 points which ranks 3rd of all time only behind Bernie Federko and Brett Hull.
He gained respect all round the league for his gritty playing style and led the team in his captaincy both on and off the ice and like Plager and Gassoff was a “True Blue”. He also represented the Blues in three NHL all star games in 1982, 1983 and 1985.
Tony Twist during his time with the Blues was known for his devastating punches where he brawled with many of the leagues top enforcers. When he returned to the Blues in the 1994/95 season after a stint with the Quebec Nordiques after initially being drafted by the Blues in the 1988 NHL draft he became and already was a fire ball for opponents. In his 6 seasons with the Blues he became one of the Blues biggest brawlers and was always looking for a player to fight with dropping the gloves at any moment. He spent most of his time with the Blues protecting superstar Brett Hull.
Twist was undoubtedly the heaviest punch of his time however a motorcycle accident in 1999 would ultimately cut his career short. During the course of his career in St. Louis he played 294 games accumulating 588 PIM. However for all his rough and tumble style of play he became very popular in the St. Louis area for his charity and community work and helped him become a personality in the community similar to Brett Hull.
The other players who have dawn the “The Blue Note” who have been included in the toughest players of all time are Rob Ramage (1982-1988), Chris Pronger (1995-2004), Kelly Chase (1989-2000), David Backes (2006-2016) and Ryan Reeves (2010-2017). These players all deserve a mention for what they delivered in terms of toughness in their Blues careers.
However lots of hockey fans think that every tough guy loves the fighting part of his job and they couldn’t be more wrong. Any tough guy that we mentioned would rather do anything else but fight on the ice. These players would rather be able to score lots of goals, become more talented and earn bigger salaries, which are all things they dream about as they enter the NHL as a teenager. All these players who have played with the Blues have sacrificed their bodies, experienced trauma and more but ultimately it hasn’t been enough to give the fan-base that elusive championship.
These players all showed immense courage and were always accountable and always standing up for their teammates. In today’s NHL however the role of the pure fighter and tough guy has diminished somewhat as both roster spots and salary cap space have often left teams in need of more versatile players. The toughness in players is still required but as the NHL moves toward speed and skill it is becoming secondary.
With the current Blues group, their is an abundance of those skill and speed attributes however a question for the fans is does this group have enough mental toughness individually and collectively? It is arguable that fans may never see the “old school” type of players again as we move into the new age of the NHL but it certainly was fun seeing those players putting on that “Blue Note” sweater ready to die for the team giving that 100% every shift through blood and sweat. They will always be remembered by the fans past and present as we dawn a new chapter of player in the NHL.