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A New Beginning

On July 27, 1983, exactly six years after Ralston Purina saved the Blues from bankruptcy, Harry Ornest rescued the Blues from limbo. He immediately applied a frugal business approach to reverse the Blues fiscal fortunes. He turned red ink to black and gave Ralston Purina a classic business lesson. "The importance of this ownership era was that Jack Quinn came into the franchise in 1983 and put sound business practices into place," says Mathieu.

Ornest also earned praise for hiring Ron Caron, former chief scout of the Canadiens, to become general manager. Caron, in turn, hired Jacques Demers. Together with Blues leaders like Sutter and Federko, they brought the team a work ethic reminiscent of those early teams. "Sutter, Federko and Rob Ramage, these players did a lot for this franchise," Plager says. "A lot of other veterans would have just gone through the motions."

Instead, they reached back for something more. The first payoff came during the 1986 playoffs when the Blues came within two goals of reaching another Stanley Cup Final. Ten minutes from elimination in Game six against Calgary, the Blues stormed back from a 5-2 deficit to tie the game, then win it in overtime on a Doug Wickenheiser goal. The bedlam in the Arena reminded longtime fans of the early years. "Down three goals with three minutes left, then we came back to tie it and win it in overtime; that was probably the most exciting game in franchise history," Federko says. "That was the type of hockey you would see in the sixth game, the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals."

Like so many, Mathieu was stunned by the spectacle. "I was in the locker room during the comeback," Mathieu says. "It was almost frightening to hear it. I thought the building was coming down." Last season the Blues lost 361 man-games to injury. But with rookie coach Jacques Martin's steady influence, they rallied late in the season to win another Norris division title in typically dramatic fashion, beating the Detroit Red Wings in a season-ending 3-2-overtime thriller. "We've seen a lot of hard times and we've bounced back well," Federko says. "Had lot of problems in the mid-seventies. But this franchise has never hit rock-bottom." "It's only going to get better from here," says Ron Caron. "With the support of our new ownership and our great fans, I think the dark days are finally behind us."

After years of enduring, it's going to be great to enjoy some good times. The party ended abruptly. The Blues finished eight games under .500 the next season (and yes you could still make the playoffs with that record in 1982). The next season only saw the Blues amass 65 points, fourth-lowest in club history. Berenson was fired after that, R. Hal Dean - chairman of Ralston Purina - retired and with him went all interest the company had in hockey.

Citing losses of over a million dollars per year, they put the club up for sale. Perhaps the darkest days in Blues history was when they almost became the Saskatoon Blues in 1983. Most people were sure it was going to happen. It was even erroneously announced by eager fans of the deal up in Saskatoon that it had actually taken place.

But, thankfully, that move was blocked by the league. But that did not solve the problems. The "Checkerdome" was padlocked, the franchise was left on the NHL's doorstep like an orphaned baby, and the team did not participate in the 1983 Entry Draft. But entrepreneur Harry Ornest became another Blues savoir!

Ornest salvaged the derelict team and - along with new GM Ron Caron and coach Jacques Demers - he surprisingly quickly made the team financially viable again. Federko, Sutter and Doug Gilmour became huge stars for the team in the mid-80's.

Caron went to work wheeling and dealing, trading stars like Luit and Joe Mullen and draft picks for affordable but good veterans. The work ethic of these players helped form a new character for the team, giving them back that blue collar type of feel that fans had rallied behind in the early years.

by Jeff Gordon, Gordon covers the Blues in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Blues Become Talk Of Town | Doug Gilmour | Young Guns | Guts, Not Fists, Are The Key | Hungry And Inspired | A New Beginning | The Norris Division Has Gone Respectable | One Of The Greatest Scoring Duos In NHL History | Brendan Shanahan | The Most Storied NHL Franchise Never To Win A Stanley Cup | New Style | Tag-team Duo | True "Money" Goalie Of The 1990s | One Unforgettable Team
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