He remembers being a part of the capacity crowd, clapping his hands and yelling at the top his lungs. He remembers feeling the very foundation of the building shake when Federko scored one of his 352 goals in a Blues uniform. He remembers the hockey atmosphere, one that included the chill from the ice, the smell of hot dogs from the concession stands and the sound of 18,000 fans singing as the team prepared for the start of the game.
For Ackerman, these are memories he’s not likely to forget. He couldn’t even if he wanted to, because the Blues are as essential to his life as food, oxygen and water.
|Bernie Federko (left) poses with Rick Ackerman at the Blues Fantasy Camp at the Summit Center in Chesterfield. |
Just last week, Ackerman had a chance to watch Federko skate with the puck again. He watched the Hall-of-Famer attempt to recreate the magic he had in the good old days, looking for the back of the net or a passing lane to create some offense.
But this time, there were no capacity crowds, no concession stand hot dogs or singing fans. And this time, when Federko looked to pass, he looked for Ackerman.
Playing a competitive hockey game with living legends like Federko is something that most diehard Blues fans can only dream of, so it’s easy to understand why Ackerman pinched himself once last week before pinching himself yet again. He had to be sure he wasn’t dreaming.
He was, in fact, sharing the ice with a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Blues held their annual fantasy camp last week at the Summit Center in Chesterfield, giving fans an opportunity to play in a three-day tournament with dozens of former Blues. Players participating in the event included Federko, Al MacInnis, Brett Hull, Scott Mellanby, Bob Plager, Bruce Affleck and countless others.
While the ‘Bud Light Pro Am’ is the camp’s official name, Ackerman might call it ‘a dream come true.’
“It’s like icing on the cake,” he said. “That’s how much faith I have in this organization. They consistently do the right thing, time after time after time.”
The event cost $10,000 for each team enrolled. Teams consisted of nine players, a goalie, 3-4 Blues alumni players and two coaches. Ackerman, who didn’t have a complete team to participate, joined the tournament as an individual. It cost him $1,000, money that he claims was very well spent. He was placed on a squad that included Federko, Bruce Racine and Blues minority owner Tom Stillman.
As a recently retired 58-year-old, one would think spending $1,000 for a three-day hockey tournament would be out of the question. But Ackerman’s wife, a hockey fan herself from Colorado, didn’t even hesitate when he suggested he was interested in participating in the camp.
“She would have loaned me the money had I needed it because she encourages me in things that I love and that are good for me,” Ackerman said. “She was 100 percent supportive. She would have been more for this than I even wanted.”
So Ackerman, who had a heart attack four years ago and hadn’t skated since playing in a garage league more than 20 years ago, plunked down the cash and played with some of the greatest players to wear a Blues sweater in the team’s 41-year history.
He admits he was the worst skater on the ice, but nonetheless, he might cherish the memories more than anyone else who participated.
“When you don’t have the talent, you make up for it in heart,” Ackerman said. “That’s what I did. I could barely keep up, but they all saw how hard I tried and how much it meant to me. I became the underdog for the whole camp. Even the other team was pulling for me, and they went out of their way to set me up or get me to score.”
|Ackerman wore Brett Hull's gloves at the fantasy camp and credits them for a goal he scored on the final day of the tournament. |
And score he did.
In his team’s final game of the tournament, Ackerman lifted the puck over the goaltender’s shoulder for a top shelf goal. The entire bench emptied as his teammates skated to the ice to congratulate him and more importantly, ask where that talent came from.
“The gloves I had on were Brett Hull’s. They had his name stamped on them,” Ackerman said. “They were old. A lot of his sweat soaked into that equipment. I’m telling you, it was Brett Hull’s gloves that scored that goal. I’m not that good.”
Affleck, who spent weeks organizing the event by collecting team sign ups and making travel arrangements for the participating alumni, is looking at ways to improve upon the camp for next year. The money raised from the event will go to the Mike Shanahan Blues Alumni Scholarship, a four-year scholarship given to a student involved with high school hockey, and to the Al MacInnis Sponsorship Program, which helps pay for equipment for kids who can’t afford to play hockey.
“It takes a little time (to organize), no question. There’s a lot of hours put into it,” Affleck said. “But it’s all about the fans. I can certainly keep up with them, but if somebody is going to have an opportunity to score, I’m going to get out of the way and let them do it. That’s what it’s all about for them.”
Ackerman was born in St. Louis, but moved to Ohio in 1967 to pursue a teaching career, the same year the Blues were born. He has attended at least one Blues game every single year of the team’s existence. He was there when the Plagers delivered body check after body check. He was there when Garry Unger dazzled the crowds with his golden locks and scoring touch, and he was there when Hull put together his record seasons. And as a season ticket holder this year, he’s more excited than ever about the Blues.
“When they put themselves out for fans like me, then you better believe I’ll be supporting this team. We all just feed on each other, and that’s how we’re going to win a Cup,” Ackerman said.
“In a small way, I will be part of the Cup they win in the next three years. It’s gonna happen. It may not be this year or it may not be next year, but they’ve got a nice thing going here and they made me a part of it. This is how much it means to me as a fan. People like Bruce Affleck, (President) John Davidson and (General Manager) Larry Pleau, heck, even down to the people that run the BlueNote shop, they’re all good people. I’m just really jumping on this bandwagon.”
Ackerman said one of the best moments of the camp was getting knocked to the ice by Bob Plager.
“He gave me a tug and I went down like a ton of bricks. It was a gentle nudge, that’s all it took,” Ackerman said. “Getting knocked down by Plager to me is like scoring a goal. It means a lot.”
“You have to throw one or two every game just to knock them down,” Plager joked.
With his first fantasy camp behind him, Ackerman is ready to do it all over again.
“It can’t get any sweeter. I hit a homerun when I first stepped up to the plate,” he said. “But if God will permit me to participate next year, you bet I would. I wouldn’t miss it.”
For now though, Ackerman is going to prepare for the excitement of the 2007-08 season by relaxing. He lived his dream, and he’s got hundreds of memories and quite a few bruises to prove it.