The birth of the Blues' tag-team duo known as "Twist and Chase" began well before they came to St. Louis in 1989-90, combining for 36 fighting majors and 368 penalty minutes as rookies. The story starts even before the two arrived together with the Peoria Rivermen in 1988-89, racking up 590 PIMs-again with only a few minor penalties scattered among the heavyweight bouts.
In 1986-87, a 17-year-old Kelly Chase and a 16-year-old Tony Twist met in training camp with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League. And anybody who witnessed the law enforcement in St. Louis in the 1990s wouldn't be surprised that Twist and Chase got their badges long before reaching the NHL. "You could see it developing back then," said NHL hockey legend Wendel Clark, a Saskatoon alum himself whose younger brother, Kerry, played with Twist and Chase. "You always knew something was going to happen-one would be backing the other up. It was always a 1-2 punch. In junior hockey, they had more of a role on the team. But they understood what they had to do to make the NHL, and they knew that job and took it. That's what made them-not just the toughness but how they were as people, making sure the team was together. Those guys were always a big part of holding a team together."
For as much as Twist and Chase are intertwined in St. Louis hockey lore, they only spent parts of three seasons together. But that just goes to show how many punches were packed into a small time frame. On a collision course to be longtime teammates with the Blues, Twist and Chase were separated in their second NHL seasons. In February 1991, one month before the infamous trade with Vancouver, the Blues sent Twist and Herb Raglan, and Andy Rymsha to Quebec for tough guy Darin Kimble.
Twist spent three-plus seasons with the Nordiques before former Blues coach Mike Keenan brought him back to St. Louis as a free agent in 1994. But a few months later, Iron Mike left Chase unprotected for the waiver draft, and Hartford scooped him up. After jamming 1,005 penalty minutes into 208 games with the Blues, Chase bid a tearful farewell to the organization "I'm excited that Hartford wants me," Chase muttered quietly, "but leaving these guys and that city..."
Twist did not mince words when he assessed the move by the Blues. "You know, Chaser, this club just can't get it right," Twist said. "First they got rid of me and kept you. Then they get me back and get rid of you." Meanwhile, Chase told Keenan he "made a mistake letting me go. But I said that down the road, I'd like the chance to come back and prove that I can play." That opportunity eventually unfolded, but for two seasons in Hartford, Chase was now the enemy rather than the longtime fan favorite. And on March 9, 1996, with 20,803 sitting ringside, it became real life when Twist and Chase squared off in the first period of a tilt between the Blues and Whalers.
Earlier in the game, Twist had fought Hartford's Mark Janssens, who stepped in because he didn't want to see Chase fight Twist. Janssens suffered a broken cheekbone. "Keenan put Twister on the ice to settle me down because we were running around," Chase said. "He came up to me at the faceoff and said, 'You've got to stop,' and I told him where to go. I said, 'Why don't we just fight and get it over with?' He said, 'You want to fight with me?' I said, 'Listen, that clown on the bench sent you out here, so why don't we get it over with?' He couldn't believe we were going to fight. Nobody believed we were going to fight for real."
The tone of the broadcasters calling the game quickly went from joking to serious. "I actually hit him with a left and said, 'How did that feel?'" Chase recalled. "That's when he got really mad." Chase, however, held his own in the fight but didn't return because of a torn ligament in his left hand. "I felt awful when he didn't show up for the second period," Twist said. "It's like fighting one of the family. I felt crummy, but that's part of the game."
But guess who had the last laugh? In St. Louis, Twist was renting Chase's house during the season. "The rent just went up $1,000," Chase quipped. In 1997, Twist and Chase would become teammates again. Chase, who had moved on to Toronto, was acquired in a trade with the Blues that cost former general manager Ron Caron "future considerations," which was later learned to be some of Caron's favorite wine. "I was going to be traded somewhere, Chicago or Colorado," Chase said. "Caron called [Toronto associate GM] Mike Smith, and Mike told him, 'I'll make you a deal for future considerations.' They drank really good wine together, and Mike said to Caron, 'You owe me a case.' I used to ask Caron, 'Was it bottles or boxed?'"
Regardless, Twist and Chase were reunited and for the next two seasons they put on their boxing gloves. They combined for 50 fights in that stretch, and you would need a calculator with good batteries to add up the penalty minutes. "We had a pretty good understanding of how to manage the game," Chase said. "We tried to make sure that guys knew not to run around and act up on the ice, and if they ever did, God, we would jump on these guys. Pavol Demitra told everybody, 'The easiest time I had playing in the NHL is when I had Twister and Chaser. We could go out there and just play. Nobody cross-checked us after the whistle, nobody rubbed their glove in our face.' "I'll tell you what-there's nothing more appreciative than hearing that from a teammate."
Twist and Chase took on all comers. Jim Cummins. Lyle Odelein. Reid Simpson. Sam McCarthy. Bob Boughner. Sean O'Donnell. Derian Hatcher. Of their 50 fights in back-to-back years, 32 belonged to Chase (5'11", 190 Ibs.) and 18 to Twist (6'1", 230). "Most of the guys, if they wanted to get their fight in, they wanted to get it in with me," Chase said. "They didn't want to get it in with the big boy."
According to former Detroit enforcer Joey Kocur, "That still was no bargain. Chaser was never one of the bigger guys on the ice, but he had the biggest heart out there. He had to fight guys like [Bob] Probert and [Donald] Brashear, and he did a great job doing it. Tony was a huge man. Strong as a bull and a dangerous right hand. But Chaser, for what he had to do, I really respect it. "They knew their role out there, and they did it to a T. They did everything the right way, the honest way. They didn't go out and run anyone from behind. They were there to protect their players or inject some enthusiasm into the game as needed. I really respect the job that they did."
The run ended in the summer of 1999 when, just hours after the Blues told Twist they would not be re-signing him, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. Twist crashed his custom-built Harley-Davidson into a car that had pulled in front of him, sending him flying into the street and later into intensive care. He suffered a broken pelvis and torn knee ligaments, but he was lucky to be alive. "There's a long road ahead of me to play the game," Twist said. "When this is all said and done, I want to be able to walk properly. I want to lead a normal life."
Twist never played again, and Chase lasted only another season before he retired with the Blues. All these years later, Twist and Chase still live in St. Louis and remain close. "It was great growing up with Twister," Chase said. "There's lots of stuff that happened in our lives where we had to deal with adversity the same way. It's amazing. I may not see him for a month, two months, but nothing changes how we stick together. I guess we'll always have each other's backs."
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