He was the first St. Louis Blue ever to sit out a penalty, which seems about right. Called for hooking just a minute into the Blues’ NHL debut in a 2-2 tie with the mint-new Minnesota North Stars in 1967, Bob Plager did get back on the ice in time to assist on the team’s first goal, scored by Larry Keenan.
That’s worth recalling, too, after Plager’s place in Blues’ history was formally recognized in a ceremony on Thursday at the Scottrade Centre by way of retiring his number 5 and raising it forevermore to the rafters.
Plager, who’s 73 now, hails from Kirkland Lake, Ont., and is (of course) one of three defence-playing brothers to have worn St. Louis blue in the team’s early years. Elder brother Barclay died in 1988 while Bill, two years younger than Bob, died last year. Barclay’s number 8 sweater was already hanging in the rink rafter, which means that with Bob’s joining it, the Plagers are just the second pair of NHL brothers to have their numbers retired, after Maurice and Henri Richard.
I’m recommending you consult Dan O’Neill’s appreciation of the former (and all-time) number 5 in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week. First, though, maybe spare a moment for these several illuminations of the NHLer Plager was:
Someone poaching from and minimally re-arranging Bob Plager’s entry in the 1972 edition of Zander Hollander’s Complete Hockey Handbook to fashion a poem might do it this way:
Want to fight or fool around? Then Bob Plager is your man
Burly Bob loves a brawl, with anybody
Once fought brother Barclay, now a Blues teammate, when both were minor leaguers
A first class practical joker too
Once went on a tie-snipping rampage in the Blues’ dressing room
Stan Hochman of The Philadelphia Daily News wrote about Plager’s prankmanship in 1969. “When he isn’t setting fire to newspapers or nailing shoes to the clubhouse floor,” Hochman wrote, “Plager likes to befuddle newspapermen.”
For example: asked by a reporter how he spent his summers, Plager said he was a deliveryman for a brewery. “I told him,” Plager recounted, “that whenever I made a delivery I had to sample the beer to make sure it wasn’t stale. I said I’d have four bottles with each delivery. … The story went all over Canada. They had seven applications with the Liquor Control Board, people who wanted a job just like that.”
“I’m altogether different on the ice,” Plager told Stan Hochman. “I’m out to win and I’ll do anything to win. But I’ve never spread a guy and you don’t see me getting penalties for slashing. I hit hard but not dirty. What did I have all year, maybe 40 minutes in penalties.” (43, in fact.)
According to Martin O’Malley, chronicler of the talented, tempestuous, ill-fated Leaf Brian Spencer, Plager was respectable among NHL roughians of the early 1970s. From O’Malley’s Globe and Mail profile of Spencer, “A Capacity For Anger,” circa 1971:
Anyone in the NHL is tough or they would not be there, he said, but some players are tougher than others, and not all tough players are good fighters. It takes a special attitude, a capacity for anger. John Ferguson is a good fighter but Spencer does not respect him because at times he suspects fighting is all Ferguson can do well. He respects Ted Green of Boston, Vic Hadfield of New York, Barry Gibbs and Ted Harris of Minnesota, Bob Kelly of Philadelphia, Marc Tardif of Montreal, Bob Plager of St. Louis, and Rosaire Paiement of Vancouver. He respects them, but he will fight them anytime, anywhere.
In a contentious game at Philadelphia’s Spectrum in January of 1972, Blues’ coach Al Arbour crossed the ice at the end of the second period to lodge a protest with referee John Ashley who, in turn, assessed Arbour a two-minute penalty whereupon Arbour followed Ashley into the tunnel as he departed the ice and then the St. Louis, led by Bob Plager, were climbing into the stands, swinging their sticks.
The Philadelphia Daily News later got Arbour’s version of events:
Someone poured beer on me and someone else hit me. Everyone was shoving and pushing and I fell on a policeman. Then I got hit on the head by a billy club. I never hit a policeman — I’d never do that.
Arbour and three of his players, none of them named Plager, were charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery on a policeman.
The charges were eventually dropped, I might add. “I realize at a hockey game the players sometimes lose their tempers,” said Municipal Court Judge Max Ominsky, “and things get out of hand. It is unfortunate. It’s a rough game. I hope this doesn’t happen again.”
In a pre-season game in 1973 in Brantford, Ontario, Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins, a bench-clearer of a brawl ensued, after which Plager was suspended by NHL president Clarence Campbell after he (CP) “physically interfered with game officials and threatened physical violence to referee Andy van Hellemond.” The ban lasted for two regular-season games.
While he sat out, he made news in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, under the headline “From Enraged To Engaged:”
Plager, who came to the Blues seven years ago as the club’s most eligible bachelor, announced his engagement to Robyn Sher, a secretary he met at Jewish Hospital two years ago.
He gave her the engagement ring as the Blues skated off the ice before Wednesday night’s game at the Arena. “Originally I planned to give her the ring cut inside a puck as I skated off.”
The Toronto Star’s Milt Dunnell, writing in 1976:
Robert Plager is a member of the Punching Plagers — his brothers are Barclay and Billy — who have fought most of the leading pugilists on ice — including each other.
He shared this story, about his pre-Blue debut, when he was with the New York Rangers:
Look, the first time I come up to the NHL, it’s for a game in Madison Square Garden, against Chicago.
We’re losing 6-1 and it’s in the third period. I still haven’t been off the bench. The fans are starting to yell: “Bring on Plager.” There had been some advance publicity on me.
Suddenly, I’m out therefor a faceoff in their end. I’m scared stiff the puck will get past me and they’ll have a breakaway. They’ve goy Stan Mikita doing the face-off.
Just like I feared, the puck hops past me and here comes Mikita. As he goes to pass, I stick out my hand clothesline him. I been on the ice seven seconds and I got a penalty.
On the next shift, I knock Bobby Hull into the boards. I flatten him. Hull and I always had a funning feud after that. Anyway, the point I want to make is that, for the next game, the fans have Bob Plager banners hanging from the balcony.
Let me tell you something. In St. Louis, I’ve been voted most popular player, most colourful player and I did more commercials than the big shooters. You think that was because of the two goals I scored?
Back, finally, to 1972. In October of the year, Bob and Barclay were arrested by St. Louis police after an incident in a barroom. UPI had the story. I think it speaks for itself:
Police said that the two Blues defencemen were drinking at a restaurant when somebody apparently spilled soup on Bob Plager. He then got into an argument with bartender Alfredo Castillo.
Police are uncertain as to what happened next. Most of the witnesses fled before police arrived. But there was apparently no exchange of blows.
Bob was cut by glass and treated at St. Louis County Hospital. Castillo was not injured.
The manager of the bar-restaurant said the Plager brothers chased the bartender with pots of coffee and hot water and that Castillo held them off with a small knife. The manager also claimed at least a case of liquor was broken in the melee. No charges have been filed.
The Blues issued a statement saying: “Bob Plager was defending himself, and Barclay came to his assistance.”
“Nothing really happened,” said Barclay. “It’s been blown out of proportion. I’ve seen worse happen on a drive-in restaurant parking lot. There wasn’t a punch thrown.”
(Image of 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee card courtesy of HockeyMedia + The Want List)
You don’t have to be too familiar with the northern Moroccan province of Kenitra to know that they don’t play a lot of hockey there. Even when there was a U.S. naval base and air field in the capital, also called Kenitra, I’m going to venture that it’s baseballs that were being struck locally more than pucks. U.S. servicemen were in the area starting in the 1940s and they stayed around until the early 1990s, but there were never more of them in situ than in the 1950s, when close to 10,000 personnel were Kenitra-based, more than anywhere else in the world that wasn’t the U.S. itself or Japan.
All of this comes by way of explaining how the Pasha of Kenitra found himself at a Chicago Black Hawks game in late 1962. Maybe Abdelhamid El Alaoui would have preferred to view the White Sox or the Cubs, but it was January when the 56-year-old governor, a cousin to Morocco’s King Hassan, visited Chicago, so hockey it was.
He was a guest in the U.S. of the Navy and the State Department. Before Chicago, he went to New York and Disneyland, both of which were said to impress him. Illinois showed him the Inland Steel Co., the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. He met with Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley, too.
At the Stadium, he saw Terry Sawchuk, Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings take on a Hawks’ team featuring Glenn Hall, Stan Mikita, and Bobby Hull, not to mention the first penalty shot to be attempted on Chicago ice in 28 years.
Charles Bartlett of The Chicago Tribune was on hand to see both Pasha and penalty shot. The latter was the first to have been awarded since December 16, 1934, when Earl Robinson of Montreal’s old Maroons beat Lorne Chabot of the Black Hawks. This time, Detroit centreman Bruce MacGregor headed for goal and, in what Bartlett deemed “a good defensive play,” Chicago defenceman Dolly St. Laurent “overhauled the onrushing MacGregor and rassled him to the ice.”
Referee Eddie Powers called the penalty shot; MacGregor skated in alone from centre. Eighteen feet out, he fired a shot, hard and knee-high, which Hall was seen to kick away with his right pad. Not so, said the goaltender, later: hit the post.
Chicago won the game, 4-1, with goals from Hull, Mikita, and Chico Maki, who scored a pair. Norm Ullman scored for Detroit. As the Pasha, none of the reporters seems to have asked him for his impressions of the game. Chicago’s Daily News reported that “he wore Western clothes except his red fez” and “spoke in Arabic through an interpreter.” He said that the people of Kenitra “get along beautifully with the Americans in Morocco.”
(Photos: Chicago Daily News)
Stancam: Chicago Black Hawks’ centre Stan Mikita was the focus of a 1964 CBS television documentary, “Firebrand On Ice,” that aired in February of that year on the network’s popular show The Twentieth Century. Billed as “an inside look at big league, professional ice hockey and the brawling, lightning-paced, hard-playing Hawks,” it was shot on pre-season ice in Ontario, in Hamilton and St. Catharines. “In filming the documentary,” The Ottawa Citizen previewed, “air force gun cameras were mounted in shoulder holsters on Mikita, who also wore a microphone, as did coach Billy Reay and a referee. As well, five cameras were placed in strategic locations around the rink. One of them, encased in plexiglass, was embedded in the ice, back of goalie Glenn Hall.”
Earning A Raise: The Montreal Canadiens went into last game of 1970’s NHL regular season needing to score needing to score a whole raft of goals to in order to edge out the New York Rangers to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. The hometown Hawks, on the other hand, were trying to wrap up first place in the Eastern Division: a win would put them ahead of the Boston Bruins. And so they won, lifting (above) coach Billy Reay on their shoulders. It was, for Montreal, not such a happy episode: they missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. It came down to this on the night: playing Detroit, the Rangers needed to score five more goals than the Canadiens to nip past on goal difference. New York duly blitzed Red Wing goaltender Roger Crozier with 65 shots, on their way to building a 9-5 lead. They even pulled their own goalie, Ed Giacomin, in the attempt to add another goal or two to the anti-Habs tally. In Chicago, Montreal could only muster a pair of goals by the time the third period rolled around, which is why they ended up pulling Rogie Vachon for most of the game’s final nine minutes. The Hawks didn’t mind, sending five pucks into that empty net. Final score: Chicago 10, Montreal 2. (Photo: Dave Fornell)