There was a time when this time of the hockey year was alien to Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, a time where all the other kids’ parents let them stay out late while he was home doing schoolwork and washing the dishes.
In his first nine seasons in the NHL, six with Florida, three with Calgary, Bouwmeester never went to the playoffs, and only got close in a few of those seasons. He was putting together a couple of streaks: consecutive games played and consecutive seasons missing the postseason.
Since being traded to the Blues from Calgary in April 2013 (the Blues gave up Mark Cundari, Reto Berra and a first-round draft pick that became Emile Poirier, a trio that combined to appear in 87 NHL games), Bouwmeester has come to see how the other half lives and has found out that it’s pretty nice. Since the trade, he has been to the playoffs every season.
“It’s the funnest time of year,” Bouwmeester said Tuesday. “Now when the playoffs start, it would be weird not to play; it would be a really long summer. Everyone says it, but it is true. It’s funnest for fans, it’s funnest for players. It’s the competition, it’s the atmosphere around it, it’s everything. I think that’s what guys miss when they stop playing. As you get older, you appreciate that more and want to make that count.
“At this point, that’s why you play. You want to ultimately win the Stanley Cup.”
The Blues have a chance to take a definite step in that direction Wednesday night when they try to close out their first-round series with the Minnesota Wild. The Blues hold a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and need just one win in the next four games to advance to the second round in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001 and 2002.
The Blues have held the Wild to just one goal in each of the first three games despite being significantly outshot. The Blues have done their job in front of the net, keeping the Wild from getting to rebounds and denying them odd-man rushes. While the Blues wouldn’t be where they were without the play of Jake Allen in goal, Bouwmeester has been a big part of a defense that has bent but not broken.
“He’s been huge,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s been playing really, really well. When you’ve got a guy that’s big like that, he’s strong, his stick, he’s smart in how he defends, and he’s in good defensive posture but he’s tight, he’s in their face. It’s tough to find room and an ability to find time to make plays, to create things, the execution, his poise. … It’s a guy that’s defended the world’s best players at the world’s highest levels for a long time. I feel like he’s been playing for a long time like that for us.”
Bouwmeester, the third pick in the 2002 draft, is, by far, the senior member of the Blues’ blue line. He’s 33, three years older than Carl Gunnarsson, the next oldest defenseman on the team. No other defenseman is older than 28, but Bouwmeester is an ironman on the ice, ranking 26th in the league in total ice time and second on the team to Alex Pietrangelo, his defensive partner.
“You see a guy like that,” said Pietrangelo, “he’s a pro, off the ice, on the ice. The way he takes care of himself, the way he prepares. Playing with a guy like Bo makes life easy.”
Colton Parayko, who as a kid growing up in Alberta watched Bouwmeester when he played for Calgary, said he’s picked up a lot from Bouwmeester.
“He does so many things well about his game,” he said. “If you watch him, he’s really settling. He’s really patient with the puck. You could name a thousand things. He’s a typical D-man that you want to be. He skates extremely well; he’s one of the best skaters I’ve ever seen. He’s really smart with the puck, great defender. He’s sound. I could be naming them all day.”
That’s one of Bouwmeester’s reputations around the league. Another is of being exceedingly soft-spoken. In a league that seems to have a preference for larger-than-life characters, Bouwmeester is anything but. “He’s the quietest man on the face of the earth,” Wild assistant coach John Anderson, who briefly coached Bouwmeester in the AHL, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Absolutely the quietest man.”
“It’s interesting to see somebody who’s that quiet but gets on the ice and his game speaks so loudly,” said Yeo, “and you just have to respect that. He’s one of those types of players as a coach you have to force yourself to go talk to him and that’s because he’s going out there and doing the things that you’re already asking.”