Scoring an NHL First in St. Louis

13, November 2017

Long before the St. Louis Blues took to the ice at the Arena, another National Hockey League team called St. Louis home—and scored an important first in NHL history.

Ralph “Scotty” Bowman and the St. Louis Eagles

Color photo of St. Louis Eagles logo on replica sweaterSt. Louis Eagles logo on a replica wool sweater. Photo by Rick Ackerman. Courtesy of Rick Ackerman.

In 1934 the Ottawa Senators were relocated to St. Louis. A charter member of the NHL, the Senators were four-time Stanley Cup champions. Yet poor attendance and mounting debt forced the team to move to a more prosperous market. With a population approaching 900,000, St. Louis seemed like the perfect choice.

Renamed the St. Louis Eagles, a nod to the famous Anheuser-Busch logo, the team didn’t fare much better in its new home. The Eagles were 2–11 after the first 13 games and 11–31–6 overall, placing them last in the Canadian Division and making them the worst team in the NHL for the 1934–1935 season. The Eagles also lost $70,000 over the course of the season, largely due to the expense of train travel to Montreal, Toronto, and NHL cities on the East Coast. Ultimately the league opted to purchase the team and terminate the franchise.

Black-and-white photo of the St. Louis Eagles hockey teamSt. Louis Eagles hockey team, 1934–1935. Photo by Taylor Photographers. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Before this sad turn of events, Eagles defenseman Ralph “Scotty” Bowman made hockey history on the night of November 13, 1934, in a game against the Montreal Maroons. During the second period, opposing defenseman Stew Evans tripped Eagles left winger Syd Howe as he shot the puck at Maroons goaltender Alex Connell. The Eagles were then awarded the second penalty shot in NHL history. (Three days earlier, Montreal Canadiens player Armand Mondou had taken the first penalty shot, which was blocked by Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender George Hainsworth.)

The puck was placed in a 10-foot-wide circle, 38 feet from the goalmouth. Bowman, chosen by Eagles coach Eddie Girard for the chance to score, had the option of remaining stationary within the circle or moving. He chose to skate hard down the ice and shoot the puck while moving. Bowman's shot found the left corner of the mesh, just past Connell’s right shin. With that goal, Bowman tied the game and laid claim to the first-ever successful penalty shot in the NHL.

A scoreless third period forced play into overtime. The roughly 8,000 hometown fans in attendance ultimately were disappointed when Maroons winger Dave Trottier scored a goal halfway through, earning the Montreal team a hard-fought 2–1 victory.

Even More St. Louis Connections

Although the penalty shot was a new addition to the NHL rulebook for the 1934–1935 season, it actually had been around for a while. It was invented in the old Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1921 by league president Frank Patrick, uncle of Lynn Patrick, who later became the first general manager (GM) and coach of the St. Louis Blues expansion team in 1967.

Color postcard of St. Louis Blues goalie Jacques PlanteJacques Plante was one of the first goalies to play for the St. Louis Blues. He was signed to the team in 1968 and traded to Toronto in 1970. Postcard, ca. 1969. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Lynn Patrick was a star player for the New York Rangers, winning a Stanley Cup in 1940. From there he coached the Rangers and the Boston Bruins, also serving as GM of the Bruins from 1954 to 1964. Patrick turned over Blues coaching duties to Scotty Bowman—no relation to the Eagles defenseman—during the team’s first season in St. Louis so he could concentrate on his responsibilities as GM.

Color photo of TJ OshieFormer Blues player T. J. Oshie warming up before a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, March 23, 2014. Photo by Michael Miller. Wikimedia Commons.

Bowman took the Blues to three Stanley Cup Final series but failed to bring a championship banner to the Arena before a heated 1971 dispute with the Salomons, the original owners of the St. Louis Blues franchise, drove him out of town. Bowman went on to coach in Montreal, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, winning a total of nine Stanley Cup championships.

The last successful penalty shot by a home-team player occurred in a 4–1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Blues right winger T. J. Oshie lit the lamp on January 16, 2014, just under 80 years from when Ralph “Scotty” Bowman scored St. Louis a place in the hockey history books.

—Rick Ackerman, Blues fan and history buff

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