Bruce Affleck –Persons of Interest
If you know hockey in St. Louis, then you know the tune that goes: Oh when the Blues go marchin’ in…
Bruce Affleck remembers the early days of the Blues and how it felt to skate onto the ice when the St. Louis fans stood to sing that song every time the team came out of the locker room. Fans are hoping this is finally the year the Blues come marching in with the Stanley Cup. Nobody in St. Louis wants to be in that number more than Affleck.
“It would be the ultimate!” Affleck exclaims. “Of course, you want to do that when you’re a player. But now that I’ve spent more time on the business side of the team, I know what it would mean to the owners and the city of St. Louis. It would be the best thing imaginable—the smiles would last a long, long time.”
Affleck first wore the Blue Note as a rookie defenseman in 1974; and through the years, he played in other positions on the team. Now, he’s the Blues’ chief operating officer, and he’s still chasing Lord Stanley’s elusive prize.
More than 45 years ago, the Blues almost came close enough to take a sip from hockey’s Holy Grail. When the old six-team NHL first expanded and doubled its size in 1967, Sid Salomon, Lynn Patrick and Scotty Bowman stitched together a group of aging stars that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals the first three years of the team’s existence. They were swept in all three series, once by Boston and twice by Montreal. They haven’t gotten that close since.
I remember going to many of those games as a kid with my dad. Most of the men wore ties and coats, the Old Arena on Oakland Avenue was filled with cigar smoke, and the fans didn’t know the difference between cross-checking and icing (but they knew that a brawl would probably break out and that St. Louis had a winner). Affleck, who joined the team right near the end of the Salomon era, is hoping the fans and today’s players can find inspiration from that golden age. “We have to remember the past and respect those people who brought hockey to St. Louis: the Plagers, Garry Unger, Red Berenson, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante—all those names.”
It’s a Monday night, and the Blues are getting ready to face off against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. I follow Affleck through the Scottrade Center as he makes his regular pre-game circle around the building. As COO, he is in charge of everything that surrounds the team, including the building—everything except the players. “The hockey side falls on our GM, Doug Armstrong,” he says with a certain amount of relief. “I try to stay out of his hair as much as I can.”
As we walk through the building, fans and friends approach at every turn. One fan wants confirmation that Affleck wore the No. 4 (that fan has a good memory!). We take a stairway down to see one of Affleck’s new projects: Suite 16, an exclusive club lounge that sits right next to the team’s locker room door. Members who shell out $5,000 a season can eat and drink in style and high-five the players just before they step on the ice. Affleck talks about the fact that the team skating just a few yards away, the Kings, came into the league at the same time as the Blues; but when L.A. won the cup last season, that meant that St. Louis is now the only team of the expansion era that still hasn’t won it all.
It’s been a tough roller-coaster ride for everybody, but Affleck has found a way to scream a little less when they hit the highs and lows. “I certainly do bleed blue,” he affirms. “But over the years, I’ve come to realize the ride is so emotional that I have to stay a little more on an even keel if I want to add a few extra years to my life!”
Affleck spends a lot of his team working with charities, and he recently was recognized for his work with Youth in Need, an organization that provides nurturing environments and educational opportunities for underserved children. He also is active with the Blues Alumni Association, which he proudly notes has helped raise millions of dollars for worthy causes through the years. But Affleck tells me that sometimes he just gets a kick out of doing something nice for an average fan. He recalls a recent incident at a Schnucks with a kid who happened to have a Blues sweater on. “He slipped and got hurt, and I went over to see if he was OK,” Affleck says, adding that the boy was not seriously injured. “I asked him if he was a Blues fan, and he said, Yeah. So I said, Are you going to the game tonight? When he shook his head no, I asked if he would like to. To see his face light up was great!”
There’s still work to do on the ice and off, and maybe by making Scottrade a little better place to watch the game or keeping a young supporter happy will translate to higher spirits come game time—it could make all the difference for the team and its fans. Maybe this will finally be the year when the Blues go marchin’ in with The Cup. You’ll definitely know where Bruce Affleck wants to be…