Saturday, March 26, 2011
One of the most popular players in St. Louis Blues history, Barclay Plager was born on this date in 1941. Barclay was the oldest of the three Plager brother to play in the NHL, followed by Bill and Bob.
Barclay began his road to the NHL playing for the Peterborough Petes on the Ontario Hockey Association in 1957-58. During his four seasons playing for the Petes, Barclay established a himself as a rugged, tough defenseman, a reputation only enhanced by a fight he had with his brother Bob, who was playing for the Guelph Royals.
Barclay, accidentally he claimed, jammed his stick in Bob's mouth and Bob responded with his fists. "We went at it pretty good on the ice," Bob remembers, "but they broke it up. As we went into the penalty box he gave me a shove and we started fighting again. Then, after we were thrown out of the game, we continued to battle in the runway leading to the dressing rooms. But I got the best of him for the first time. Afterwards I met him in a restaurant across the street from the rink. I was sitting there eating when he walked in. We looked at each other and I didn't know what was going to happen. The whole Guelph team rushed into the place to see. Everyone figured we'd go at it again, but Barclay just looked me in the eye and said, 'Can you lend me five dollars?'"
Like many players of his era, Plager found himself mired in the minor leagues, unable to crack the exclusive ranks of the NHL, which was then only six member clubs which afforded approximately 30 jobs to defensemen league wide.
Plager began his travels through the minor leagues with a stop in Hull in 1961-62, Edmonton and Pittsburgh in 1962-63, Omaha in 1963-64, where he had an outstanding season with 75 points where he led the league in both assists and penalty minutes by wide margins as Omaha captured the CPHL's inaugural Adams Cup, and Springfield in 1964-65 and 1965-66 before splitting time between Springfield and Omaha in 1966-67.
Just when it looked as if Plager would toil in the minors for the remainder of his playing days, the NHL expansion of 1967-68 doubled the size of the league overnight, creating twice as many job opportunities than previously available.
With his rights acquired by the St. Louis Blues from the New York Rangers, Plager embarked on a new phase of his career in the NHL. While the Blues finished third in the "Western" division, comprised of the six new expansion clubs, they outlasted both the Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota North Stars to qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals in only their first season in the NHL. Although Plager only played in 49 of the Blues games due to spending 20 games with the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL, Plager's no nonsense approach to his game led to a league leading 153 penalty minutes. Barclay was also joined on the Blues blueline by his brother Bob who arrived via a trade with the Rangers.
In 1968-69, backed by veteran goaltenders Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante, Plager and the Blues defensive corps of Al Arbour, Jean-Guy Talbot, veteran Doug Harvey, Noel Picard, Jim Roberts, Bob Plager, Terry Crisp and Ron Schock shockingly allowed the least goals against by a country mile, 39 less than the New York Rangers and 68 less an any of their expansion cousins to win the Vezina Trophy for Hall and Plante.
"We did anything to protect the goaltender," recalled Bob Plager. "The greatest time for us was the year we won the Vezina Trophy. Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante were in goal and we only allowed 157 goals. That record will probably never be broken. Winning the Vezina was the finest reward anyone could get."
Of note, Bill Plager arrived in St. Louis for a pair of games, giving St. Louis all three brothers at the same time.
Barclay, Bill and Bob Plager lacing up their skates for the Blues
The Blues again returned to the Stanley Cup Finals after eliminating the Flyers and Los Angeles Kings.
The Blues were again stingy on defense, coming in second to Boston but 46 goals better than any other "Second 6" franchise and again made their annual trip to the finals, but once again they were swept by an Original 6 franchise. Barclay led the Blues in trips to the penalty box that season, besting his brother Bob 128 penalty minutes to 113.
Barclay, Bob and Bill would play for the Blues during parts of three seasons, with the limiting factor being mainly Bill's number of games played, as he had 2 in 1968-69, 24 in 1969-70 and 36 during his final season with the Blues in 1970-71 before moving on to the Atlanta Flames and considerably more playing time.
For the next six seasons, Barclay would continue to provide his rock-steady defensive play and offensive output, as he would play no less than 54 games while scoring between 26 and 33 points, which was Plager's NHL career high. Additionally, he was named team captain in 1972, a position he would hold until 1976.
After one more season in St. Louis, Barclay would play just two final games for the Blues before being named as a player/coach for the Kansas City Blues in 19767-77. He remained an effective player and as well as a team leader, as coach Plager guided his team to the CHL finals, while Plager the player was named as the league's MVP.
He served the same dual roles in 1977-78 with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, which would prove to be his final season as an active player.
He remained with the Blues organization as a scout and an assistant coach before being named the club's head coach for the 1978-79 season.
His number 8 was retired by the Blues on March 24, 1981.
Plager's final NHL stats were 44 goals and 187 assists for 231 points along with 1,115 penalty minutes, which included leading the team on four separate occasions, and 15 broken noses, a testament to his bruising, shot blocking ways which earned him the hearts of the fans.
Today's featured jersey is a 1968-69 St. Louis Blues Barclay Plager jersey as worn by the Blues during their second ever season, one in which they would make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
This jersey style, introduced during the Blues first season of 1967-68, would remain in use through 1972-73 when the colors of the striping were reversed, with names arriving on the back in 1977-78. That similar style would survive through the 1978-79 season when additional trim was added to the shoulder yoke, keeping it in line with the striping on the shoulders of the white jerseys.
Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1973 NHL All-Star Game Barclay Plager jersey. Plager played in the NHL All-Star Game on four occasions, 1970, 1971, 1973 and 1974. This particular jersey was worn by Barclay Plager during the 1973 edition held in New York's Madison Square Garden.
This was the first year for this brand new style of All-Star jersey and it would be worn for eight All-Star Games through 1981, skipping 1979 when a slightly different jersey was worn for the Challenge Cup against the Soviet Union instead of the normal all-star game format.
Today's video selection features the Plager brothers, Barclay, Bob and Bill.