ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Blues hockey legend Bob Plager was killed Wednesday in a crash on Highway 40 (Interstate 64) in St. Louis, according to the team.
Plager, 78, was killed in a two-vehicle wreck about 1:30 p.m. on the highway, shocking longtime fans and admirers of the man who played 11 years and 615 games with the team, and became a face of the Blues franchise through decades of continued work with the organization.
Several police units responded to the scene of the crash, under the Tower Grove Avenue overpass along the Central West End neighborhood Wednesday. Police did not say what caused the crash, but there was a Cadillac SUV and a Dodge minivan with significant damage on scene. Plager was alone in the SUV. There were two women in the minivan, including one who suffered minor injuries, St. Louis police said.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong confirmed the death in a video statement Wednesday.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bobby Jr., Melissa and the entire Plager family,” Armstrong said. “As Bobby would fondly say, ‘He’s No. 5 in your program, but No. 1 in your hearts.’ That holds true today and forever as Bobby is, truly, the St. Louis Blues.”
The team said in a statement that Plager was a true original: “Today, our hearts are broken, but one day they will be warmed again by memories of his character, humor and strong love for his family, our community, the St. Louis Blues and generations of fans who will miss him dearly.”
Although Plager was a defenseman known more for his physical play than scoring ability, he was a central figure in the Blues franchise — a constant over its 50-plus years. He was a member of the inaugural Blues team on Day One in 1967, and finished his playing career with the Blues in 1977-78.
He grew up in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, and joined the Blues as a 21-year-old and was soon joined on the Blues by his brothers, Barclay and Bill, in 1968. The team would advance to the Stanley Cup Final in each of its first three seasons.
Plager recalled the early days of the team in an interview with the Post-Dispatch in 2019.
“We’re so very proud of what we did,” he said. “We didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but we were there. I used to say, if you don’t win the Stanley Cup, be the team that loses. That means you’re No. 2.”
After his playing career, Plager returned to St. Louis and worked for decades in a variety of roles for the Blues, including a brief stint as head coach of the team in 1992.
Known affectionately as “Mr. Blue,” he resigned as coach after 11 games because he said it was making his life miserable. Even decades later, Plager had a tough time watching the third period of Blues games, often standing in the back of the press box where he couldn’t see the ice.
Instead, what best suited Plager was being with people, telling stories and unleashing his rollicking humor.
When new players joined the team, part of becoming a Blue was getting to know Plager. He was, in many ways, the gatekeeper of the franchise. The team’s ownership changed several times, but Plager was the one constant that ran through every team, every season.
His title with the team later in life was, fittingly, ambassador, and he routinely made appearances in the community on behalf of the team.
Plager was with the team on the ice in 2019 when the Blues won their first Stanley Cup.
“It’s what you dream about,” he told the Post-Dispatch just after hoisting the Stanley Cup after the win. “I never did as a player, but this is just as good.”
The Blues retired Plager’s No. 5 jersey in 2017, joining his brother Barclay’s No. 8 in the rafters.