(Fifth in a series of "Where are they now?" stories on former St. Louis Blues players.)
By hockey standards, Ed Staniowski retired early, just a few months shy of his 30th birthday. By military standards, just the opposite. He was a late arrival. But we’ll let the former Blues goalie take over from here.
The scene: infantry boot camp for the Canadian army. The year: 1985.
“There was a 25-year-old corporal in the recruit platoon I was in, getting us ready,” Staniowski said. “This is a true story by the way. This young corporal, he’s right in my face, 25 years old. And I’m 30 years old, the oldest recruit in the Canadian army, I’m sure.
“And he’s screaming at me, he says, ‘Staniowski, you are the most uncoordinated thing I’ve ever seen in my life!’ I thought of saying: ‘Oh, you saw my last game.’ I kept my mouth shut and carried on.”
Unbeknownst to the corporal, Staniowski had finished a 10-year NHL career just a year earlier.
So Staniowski, now 64, is one of the lucky ones. He’s had two careers of which many could only dream.
First came the hockey. The native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. The Regina Pats have retired his jersey for his junior hockey exploits.
He was a second-round NHL draft pick by the Blues in 1975, and also drafted that year by the Cleveland Crusaders of the old World Hockey Association. Staniowski chose the Blues in part because he thought he’d have a better chance to play early.
The Crusaders had Gerry Cheevers in goal, now a Hockey Hall of Famer who you might remember more for his two Stanley Cup titles with the Boston Bruins — one against the Blues, in 1970.
Staniowski spent a lot of his career as a backup, but he did log 219 regular-season games in the NHL with the Blues, Winnipeg and Hartford. A nagging injury to his glove hand — nerve problems caused him to lose feeling in that thumb — probably contributed to his decision to retire.
His “second” career was even better: 29 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, reaching the rank of Lt. Colonel. He served all over the world, often in conjunction with U.S. forces in NATO or United Nations peacekeeping forces.
West Africa, the Middle East, Bosnia, Croatia, Afghanistan — Staniowski had his boots on the ground all over the place. To this day, he considers U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, currently Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a close friend.
“I’ve been more than fortunate, I’ve been blessed,” Staniowski said. “There are two things in my life that I’m very, very proud of. One is having had the opportunity to play professional hockey, especially in St. Louis.
“I mean, six years with the St. Louis Blues was something that I still wake up and wonder how I could’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that community and that team and those players.
“And then the other thing was going on to serve Canada in the Canadian Armed Forces, and serve alongside great young American men and women in Africa and Afghanistan and other places. Two different careers but very similar in some ways. It was a brotherhood and a sisterhood. You know the challenges, the teamwork, the focus — a lot of parallels there.
“I went from one uniform to another. From one group of very focused, dedicated people to another group of very focused dedicated people. Winning is winning. The consequences of getting it wrong in the military can be a little more dire, of course, but still I was fortunate.”
You don’t reach the rank of Lt. Colonel without leadership skills and Staniowski said he picked up some pointers watching Blues teammates such as Red Berenson and Brian Sutter, as well as Blues general manager (and coach) Emile Francis.
You don’t last nearly three decades in the military, serving in all those hot spots, without learning how to deal with pressure situations. Staniowski recalled how nervous he was as a 20-year-old rookie making his first start against the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs . . . in Maple Leaf Gardens . . . on “Hockey Night in Canada.”
“The next time I felt that much pressure in my life was when I was parachuting,” he said. “Sitting in the belly of a C-130 Hercules. And you’re looking up and down both sides of the aircraft there and all these young men and women. Again, different uniform — same kind of stress and pressure.”
Staniowski retired from the military in 2016 and now lives in Ontario.
“There’s still a lot of St. Louis paraphernalia on my walls here in southern Ontario, I can tell you that,” he said. “A nice print of the St. Louis waterfront and the Arch. The old Arena. And pictures of my teammates and I.”
Also on display are pucks from his first NHL victory, against the Kansas City Scouts, and his first playoff victory, against the Buffalo Sabres. Both from his rookie season.
His work against the Sabres in a three-game preliminary playoff series that season probably ranks as his career highlight. The Sabres had 50-goal scorer Danny Gare and the famed French Connection line of Gil Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert.
Cup finalists the year before, Buffalo entered the playoffs after a 105-point regular season (46-21-13); the Blues squeaked in with 72 points (29-37-14).
Despite playing in only 11 regular-season games, the rookie goalie nearly sent the Sabres packing. Staniowski started all three playoff games, winning the opener 5-2 and then losing a pair of overtime contests, 3-2 and 2-1.
He had 54 saves in Game 2, after which linesman Neil Armstrong — father of Blues GM Doug Armstrong — said: “That is the best exhibition of playoff goaltending I have seen in 18 years. . . . The kid made one unbelievable save after another and each one was better than the one before.”
Staniowski never played more than 39 games in any of his six seasons with the Blues, but near the end of his St. Louis tenure — as the backup to Mike Liut — he earned the nickname “Saturday Night Eddie.” For whatever reason, he got a lot of Saturday starts and seemed to win almost all of them.
He has maintained friendships with many former Blues teammates, including Larry Patey and Bruce Affleck. It was Affleck, now executive vice president with the Blues, who retrieved those pucks after Staniowski’s first regular-season and playoff wins.
Staniowski was in St. Louis for the NHL All-Star weekend this season and the Winter Classic in 2017. He has met and spoken with goalies Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen on a couple of occasions.
“Who couldn’t be excited for the Blues winning it all last year?” Staniowski asked. “And the goaltending they got from Binnington. Wow. What a story. That was so exciting. Great young man. Very humble and very, very skilled.”
And still early in his first career.
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