ST. LOUIS – On the eve of the biggest game of his life, St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo wasn’t about to disclose to which teammate he’ll hand the Stanley Cup if the Blues win it Sunday night. That would be messing with karma in a big way at this stage. “But it’s not hard to figure out when you look at our roster,” he said.
It’s going to be Jay Bouwmeester. Book it. And the main reason for that is there isn’t a player on the Blues roster more worthy of lifting the Cup over his head than the 35-year-old Bouwmeester, whose path to the Stanley Cup final has been anything but linear. But here he is after 16 seasons in the NHL, coming off major hip surgery last season, pairing with partner Colton Parayko on the shutdown defensive unit that has been most responsible for the Bruins’ top line’s dismal 5-on-5 production in this series. In the Blues 2-1 win in Game 5, Bouwmeester played 29:08, tops among all players on both teams.
“I can talk for days about what he’s done for me,” Pietrangelo said. “You can see the chemistry he has with (Parayko) now. To do what he’s doing at his age and playing at the level he’s playing, it’s pretty darn impressive. He’s been lights out for us. This is some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play.”
It’s actually interesting how the Parayko-Bouwmeester tandem has become the go-to shutdown tandem for the Blues. Both of them came into the league – Parayko three years ago and Bouwmeester way back in 2002-03 – with reputations for being offensive players. Parayko’s was due mostly to his bomb of a shot and Bouwmeester from his smooth-skating style and ability to rush the puck. From the time Bouwmeester played for Canada’s World Junior team at 16, people were predicting great things for him. He won the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospect award in 2002, the same year he was chosen third overall by the Florida Panthers. The only problem is that when people were making all those projections about Bouwmeester, nobody bothered to ask him what kind of defenseman he wanted to be.
“Looking back on all that now, I was never comfortable with all that when I was that age,” Bouwmeester said. “People perceived it as this big offensive defenseman and all that, but I never perceived myself as that. I wanted to be a good, solid defenseman. Everyone wants to score points and play offensively, but your No. 1 job is to be good defensively. I looked at guys like Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer and guys like that. They weren’t guys who were just roaming around out there. They were defensemen who moved the puck well and were smart players.”
Those eye-popping numbers never did come for Bouwmeester. His career high offensively was 42 points, but there’s a reason why he has won an Olympic gold medal, two World Cups and two World Championships and always seemed to get the call for his country. Hockey Canada always loved the guy, mostly because he was able to make his way around the big ice surface so well and played a quiet, but effective game. As far as playing the best hockey of his career, well, he’s not so sure about that.
“People have told me that this year, but last year I didn’t hardly play at all,” Bouwmeester said. “People forget things pretty quickly. Last year it was, ‘This guy isn’t playing,’ and this year it’s, ‘Oh yeah, he’s playing the best hockey of his career,’ which isn’t true. I’m 35 and I don’t have the energy or play the way I did when I was younger, but I think I’m smarter now and I know a little more how to play the game better than times before.”
And part of it is that his skills are on display at the most important time of the year. That wasn’t the case for the longest time. In fact, Bouwmeester played 764 regular-season games before he ever appeared in a playoff game. So, was it him or the teams for which he played? Probably a little bit of both. But there is no doubt Bouwmeester has come a long way from his teenage years when he was so shy that he spoke as though he had marbles in his mouth.
“I was a quiet kid and I’m still a quiet guy,” Bouwmeester said. “I’m more comfortable with it now, but that comes with 20 years of doing it, right?”
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