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Barile reaches 2,000th game milestone with Blues

The club's head athletic trainer hasn't missed a game since being hired in January 1995

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

Since 1995, the St. Louis Blues have had 10 captains, nine head coaches, four ownership changes and four different names on the arena in which they play their home games.

So while a lot has changed since then, there is one thing that hasn't - Ray Barile has been there for all of it.

Barile has been the Head Athletic Trainer for the Blues for the last 26 years and will work his 2,000th NHL game on Wednesday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. He will become just the eighth athletic trainer in the history of the NHL to accomplish the milestone.

If you need more perspective on his longevity, consider this: Barile was working for the Blues long before the practice of saying upper- and lower-body injury was even invented.

None of the previous seven athletic trainers to reach 2,000 games did it any faster because that wouldn't be possible - Barile hasn't missed a single game since the day he was hired. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he has missed only four days of work ever - two because his wife was having surgery, one because his son was also having surgery and one more because his father passed away and the wake was held in New York. Barile didn't even stay for the funeral service the next day because he was flying back to St. Louis, where the Blues had a home game at what was then Scottrade Center.

"It's all really unbelievable," said former Blue T.J. Oshie, who developed a close relationship with Barile as he mended a handful of injuries during his tenure with the Blues from 2008-15. "There are some people in my mind that will go down in Blues history for not only just their longevity but how much they care about the organization, the people in it and for the Blue Note. And Ray, for me, is in the Top 3 there. He's not going to get the recognition from all the fans and you don't see his name in the paper, but he's there every day and he's one of the guys that makes that engine run there. The fact that he's never missed a game just shows you how much he cares and how much he wants to be there. I'm so happy for him, proud of him, and excited that I got to work with him and build a really good friendship that we still have today."

GETTING THE JOB

Mike Keenan was working as both the general manager and head coach of the Blues in 1995 when he hired a 31-year-old Barile to handle all things medical for his hockey team.

Barile had never worked in the NHL or even been the head guy anywhere in the sport. He had four years of experience as an assistant athletic trainer at Cornell University where he worked with the hockey and football teams, but that was it.

"Ray was a young college graduate who had great credentials, a highly professional approach and instantly gained the respect of our players," Keenan told stlouisblues.com over the phone from his home in Florida. "His resume spoke for itself. He was well-prepared, well-schooled, had a great demeanor about him, was very approachable. Instantly I sensed he could connect with players, which is paramount for a medical trainer. When he was given the job, he was extremely professional and he obviously still continues to have the respect and confidence of the players, otherwise you can't last that long in that position. It's an incredible accomplishment for the franchise - and for Ray - to reach 2,000 games."

"I was actually hoping to just get a few years," Barile recalled. "I was really fortunate in that Mike Keenan hired me, and I was just hoping to survive my tenure with Mike. To still be here 26 years later, I certainly didn't expect that."

Barile's first game on the Blues' bench was Jan. 20, 1995 at the Shark Tank in San Jose.

"I don't remember if we won or lost," Barile said, which can be forgiven since after 1,999 games, the details for anyone would probably be a bit of a blur. "But I do remember that was my first game in the NHL."

The Blues did win, 5-2. Denis Chasse, Adam Creighton and Greg Gilbert scored for St. Louis and naturally, Brett Hull one-upped everybody and scored two.

LEARNING FROM LEGENDS

Some of the biggest names in hockey have come to Barile for advice when dealing with injuries and extending their playing careers.

Wayne Gretzky, Martin Brodeur, Al MacInnis, Grant Fuhr, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and Curtis Joseph are just a few of the players Barile has worked with, and that doesn't even include the legendary coaches like Keenan, Joel Quenneville, Ken Hitchcock and Craig Berube, who each guided teams to Stanley Cup championships.

"There's a lot of things you can learn from guys like that, but one of them is to treat everybody well," Barile said. "Whether a player is up here for a cup of coffee or they're headed for the Hall of Fame, you treat them exactly the same. Some of the things I learned from guys like Al MacInnis and a lot of other guys who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but maybe don't have the numbers is their work ethic. It can't be matched, but you do your best to match it every day."

"I just think that Ray is a special person, because he's always there for you," Hitchcock told stlouisblues.com. "You trust him with your health, your family's health and the players' health. You have full trust in Ray that he's going to do the right thing for you and the organization, and it's a great feeling. It's a security blanket. They're hard to find, people like that. I'm really proud to have known him as my friend."

It's obvious that Barile has made a good impression on many of the players he's worked with. His long tenure with the Blues is enough to tell you that, but he's also been called upon to work for Team USA at the Winter Olympics, the World Championships, the World Junior Championships and even the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.

Barret Jackman said he believes he has had every injury that hockey players get, from broken hands, broken feet, sprained ankles and separated shoulders, and Barile's extensive knowledge about those injuries made all the difference in getting him back on the ice as soon as possible. That knowledge is also the reason he thinks Barile has been called upon so often for international competition.

"I blew out my shoulder and missed 70 games or something in my second year. You name it and I've had it," Jackman said. "I was working closely with Ray probably 95 percent of the days I was at the rink. He is a guy that never takes a day off, and even on the off days he's at the rink doing treatments for the players. There's a reason he's at 2,000 games and they've all been with the same organization."

"Ray doesn't just show up every day - he comes in with expertise and his knowledge and the best of what he's got," said Colton Parayko, who is currently rehabbing an injury that has kept him out of the lineup for weeks. "I think we've gotten along ever since the beginning when I came to St. Louis. We clicked really well. When I was a younger player, he was easy to approach, which I really appreciated. If I needed anything, he was there for me and took care of it for me. To have someone that has your back like that, knowing he's there for you and cares for you, it goes a long way. He's a good friend."

"THAT WAS A BIG DAY, MAN"

When Jay Bouwmeester addressed his cardiac episode for the first time publicly in mid-February 2020, Barile's name was almost the first word out of his mouth.

"From my standpoint, I just want to say thank you to Ray Barile and the training staff of our team and (the staff) in Anaheim and the doctors and the paramedics and everybody who helped that night and up until this point," Bouwmeester said in a press conference at Enterprise Center. "It was a scary thing, but everything has been going pretty good lately."

Situations like Bouwmeester's don't happen all that often around the League, but that wasn't the first time Barile has experienced it.

In the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chris Pronger was hit squarely in the chest with a slapshot from Detroit's Dmitri Mironov. Pronger fell down, got back up, took two strides and collapsed again. The impact of the shot caused Pronger's heart to skip a beat, and he was left unconscious on the ice for 20 seconds.

Back then, AEDs weren't as readily available in NHL buildings as they are now, so Barile didn't have one at his disposal to assist Pronger. Instead, Barile and the medical team attempted a maneuver known as the precordial thump, which involves a hard strike to the sternum to attempt to get the heart back in its natural rhythm. The procedure doesn't have a strong success rate - it's practically zero if not attempted within seconds - but in Pronger's case, it might have brought him back.

With Bouwmeester, the quick work of Barile and the medical staff in Anaheim, along with the League's more recent policy of having AEDs and doctors seated near the benches, helped to save another life.

"Bouwmeester is something that was a first for me," said Dustin Flynn, who has worked for Barile as the Blues' Assistant Athletic Trainer for the last five seasons. "And honestly, that situation was easy for me because Ray was in charge. I was actually in the back, and I saw the commotion on the (locker room) TV and ran out. Ray was already there, he had control. We obviously have training for this, but it's a totally different ballgame when it's real life, especially with someone you know well. You don't really know how you're going to react in that situation until it happens, and not everybody can react to that. But Ray did everything he was supposed to do. Our equipment staff was there, everybody helped get (the right people's) attention. The players were great getting help, the Anaheim staff was great, the doctors were responsive, the EMTs were responsive. Getting that care to Bo and doing what needed to be done in a split second is honestly what made the difference."

"If you have a great team, and you work together as a team like everyone did in both of those cases, you can have great outcomes," Barile said. "Prongs and Bo were willing participants in their saves. It's not just me. There were a lot of people involved to help those two individuals overcome their cardiac emergencies."

Alexander Steen was on the ice in Anaheim when Bouwmeester collapsed, and he remembers being amazed at how quickly the medical teams acted.

"When you ask me about Ray, the thing that sticks out the most is his extremely quick response when one of our best friends went down in Anaheim," Steen said. "Everybody was extremely good. It was incredible what Ray and his staff did in that moment. The whole situation was incredible. Saving our friend, that was a big day, man."

"There are regular every day injuries, and then there are (serious ones)," added Flynn. "If you're a player and you know there's someone there you can trust and maybe save your life, that's big."

THE CUP, THE PARADE AND THE MAKESHIFT WEDDING

In 2018, Barile's son, Ted, proposed to his girlfriend, Conner, and set their wedding date for June 15, 2019.

The soon-to-be newlyweds booked the Hilton at the Ballpark in downtown St. Louis for their families and had everything ready as the Blues kept advancing deeper and deeper into the postseason.

"When we won the Cup, the Blues had flown our families out to Boston, and my wife, Kathy, came with Ted. My other son, Casey, was in law school at the time and couldn't be there," Ray said. "As we were celebrating on the ice with the Cup, I saw Kathy and Ted come onto the ice, and I looked at Ted and realized that his wedding day was going to be the same day we were having the parade. I remember he said 'dad, don't worry about it. We've got it figured out.'"

When it looked like the Blues winning the Stanley Cup was a real possibility, Ted and Conner devised a Plan B that involved getting married in a small ceremony in St. Louis on June 13 - the same day the players were celebrating their championship on the deck outside at OB. Clark's.

"They had their wedding ceremony for pretty much 10 of us because none of our extended families were due in until the weekend," Ray said. "They did that just for me. I didn't sleep the night before, so in their wedding pictures I'm all blurry-eyed."

The out-of-town wedding guests kept their reservations at the Hilton that weekend and watched the Blues parade down Market Street from their rooms. As soon as the day wrapped up on stage under the Arch, Barile got a ride on a golf cart back to Enterprise Center, changed into his suit, and went to the wedding reception that night - which pretty much doubled as a Stanley Cup championship party.

"That was unbelievable," Ray said of the weekend. "The timing was unbelievable. Conner could have been a bridezilla about all of it, but she was fantastic the whole way."

"Winning the Cup was the most unbelievable thing in my life, maybe even beyond the birth of my two kids," Barile added while laughing. "I still think about being in Boston on the bench with the clock ticking down. That's the highlight of my career."

COVID AND OTHER CHALLENGES

The pandemic has made everyone's life more challenging in many ways, and that is especially true if you're an athletic trainer or medical professional working in sports.

Barile is one of the Blues' compliance officers to the NHL, and he's personally responsible for making sure that the players, coaches and team staff who work with the players are testing everyday, adhering to League protocols, and complying with those protocols in the event that they receive a positive COVID test result.

"The NHL and the NHLPA have put together a great protocol," Barile said. "It's been challenging implementing it because it's very stringent. There is no bending of rules and no getting around things. Getting everyone on board with compliance has not been all that difficult, but you have to monitor it every single day and hour. We've got a great group of players led by Ryan O'Reilly, who has taken the initiative of leading our group with COVID-19 prevention. You'll never see O'Reilly not wearing a mask or doing something outside of the protocols. He is setting a great example for the rest of our team to follow. With him as our captain, we're keeping the train on the tracks."

The Blues are the only NHL team in the United States to not have a player contract COVID-19 since training camp began on Jan. 3. Sammy Blais missed one game while in the League's protocol, but he was back the next day after his test proved to be a false positive.

Video: Blues present Barile with gift before 2,000th game

Even without the pandemic, it's been a challenging season for Barile and his staff. The Blues have lost a whopping 139 man games due to injuries, many of which have proven to be somewhat long term. Tyler Bozak (upper-body), Robert Thomas (hand), Jaden Schwartz (lower-body), Ivan Barbashev (ankle) and Carl Gunnarsson (knee) have all missed significant time, and that doesn't even include Vladimir Tarasenko, who only recently returned for the first time after recovering from shoulder surgery.

But like he has for the last 26 years, Barile will keep pushing forward.

"One of the reasons why I've been able to last this long is the fact that I've worked with some outstanding physicians, athletic trainers and equipment managers," Barile said. "A lot of credit goes to them. I've also got a great family who has been really supportive of me over the years and allowed me to do what I love to do. Hockey seasons are long as it is, but it would be extremely long if my family wasn't so helpful and encouraging. Another constant that continues to energize me every day are the great fans. Whether it's seeing everyone Market Street during the greatest parade, hearing them cheer at Enterprise Center or meeting them face to face at the market or at a restaurant, our fans are simply the best."

"No two days are alike in my job," he added. "One of the highlights of my day is when a player comes back from injury, goes on the ice and has a big assist or scores a big goal, or just finishes the game without pain or issues. If a player has success, then I've had success. That's how I measure my days and try to look at things. I don't look too far forward or too far back, just take every day as it comes."

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