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Davidson's goal: Build a Cup winner

Thursday, 11.11.2010 / 8:12 PM / NHL Insider

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Davidson's goal: Build a Cup winner
In the years since, Davidson has gone from an NHL goalie who played for the Blues and led the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup Final to a longtime broadcaster for the Rangers and numerous national TV outlets to his current position as the Blues' team president.
John Davidson became the first goaltender to go from junior hockey to the pros when he was taken by the St. Louis Blues with the fifth pick in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft.

In the years since, Davidson has gone from an NHL goalie who played for the Blues and led the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup Final to a longtime broadcaster for the Rangers and numerous national TV outlets to his current position as the Blues' team president.

In a wide-ranging interview on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman," he talked about making those various traditions, weighed in on current issues like head hits and the new All-Star format and addressed the trade that brought goalie Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis and continued the franchise's resurgence in the state of Missouri.

"As a youngster growing up, in school, drawing pictures of goalie pads instead of listening to the science class and math class, that's what I was doing … had a chance to play and turn pro, loved it, but then I had to do something because I had to retire at 29," Davidson said.

"I was lucky, and I mean real lucky. I had a lot of people take care of me in New York at MSG, others with Hockey Night In Canada … I had people help me, and if they didn't help me I don't know where I would have gone. But they helped me, and that helped the transition. And then once I decided to go back to St. Louis, again I've had help -- people like Larry Pleau (the former Blues' GM and now a senior consultant), with all those years of experience, they've really helped me do this job.

"It's self-motivation, yes, and some of it out of survival, but the other thing is the many, many people in this game who can mentor and help is one of the key reasons why people are successful."

After the Rangers lost that 1979 Final to the Canadiens, Davidson had plenty of opportunities to be around the Cup as a broadcaster, including 15 years later when the Blueshirts ended their 54-year championship drought. But the "opportunity to be part of the inside in winning a Stanley Cup" lured him from the broadcast booth and into the front office during the summer of 2006, when he took the job that brought him back to St. Louis.

The Blues had fallen on hard times after making the playoffs every season from 1980 to 2004, the third-longest streak in North American professional sports history. Davidson set about changing the culture of the team and reestablishing ties within the community.

"It's a long grind, anyone will tell you, from last to first," he said. "But we're grinding and we're trying and we're doing pretty well. And that's the carrot right in front of the nose, is to try be a champion, and I'm so glad we've been able to reestablish hockey in St. Louis. The fans here are great, they deserve it. The support has been terrific and we're gradually getting on our way."

St. Louis entered Thursday night's home game against Nashville with a 9-2-2 record, its 20 points tied with Los Angeles for first in the Western Conference. A reason for that success is Halak, who put together a fantastic playoff run last spring for the Canadiens, was acquired in the offseason for a pair of prospects and is now tied for the League lead in shutouts (3) and in the top five for wins (8), goals-against average (1.79) and save percentage (.932).

"He means a lot, there's no question, and he's had a great start for us and a lot of people are focusing on that," Davidson said. "But I think it's a combination of we don't really -- up until last night (an 8-1 loss in Columbus), that is -- give up a whole lot, and he's really been timely with his saves. It's more than the amount of saves he's making, it's the timely ones. If we're down a goal, he keeps us in the game, or if we're down two goals, he keeps us in the game. Or if we're ahead by one late, he helps us find a way to win games, and that's appreciated."

"It's self-motivation, yes, and some of it out of survival, but the other thing is the many, many people in this game who can mentor and help is one of the key reasons why people are successful."
-- John Davidson

Like many clubs, the Blues have dealt with a rash of recent injuries sidelining several key defensemen like Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo and Roman Polak. They lost T.J. Oshie to a broken angle in the loss to the Blue Jackets and have also been without David Perron, who has concussion symptoms following a hit by Joe Thornton that earned the San Jose captain a two-game suspension under the NHL's new Rule 48 governing hits to the head.

"It's a very serious injury that we all have to bear responsibility for," said Davidson, who made it clear he didn't think Thornton had any malicious intent but thought in this case that the punishment fit the crime. "People have to understand that there's two people involved here, it's the hitter and it's that player who got hit. There is a victim, it's the player generally who gets hit. And I have to think of that from the League's point of view and I have to also say that the player's association has to understand that, too. They have to take care of both sides of the ledger sheet -- the player who gets hit and the player who does the hitting."

Davidson also lauded the decision to change the All-Star format in which two captains will select the players on each team for this season's game in Raleigh.

"It's very hard, with 30 teams, to try to keep everybody happy and get everybody in that you want," he said. "It's going to have interaction, it's going to have people involved. I like it. I like change sometimes, I have no fear of evolution. I love the tradition of our sport, there's no question about that. And we have people with (the League) office that really have an understanding of that and are protective of it, and also have an open mind where things come up, let's at least talk about them and if we do make changes it's for the right reason. Times change. I like it. I think it's going to be a great debate, and that's what it's about."

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