On a warm Monday afternoon in St. Louis, Jamal Mayers is one of the last players to leave the team practice facility at St. Louis Mills. Wearing a brown leather jacket and jeans, he casually leaves the locker room before heading down the long, familiar hallway to the exit door. He stops briefly at the player’s lounge to peek his head in, then steps out into the warm mid-March air.
Although the warm weather element is a bit of a rarity during hockey season, this is an exit routine Mayers has become accustomed to since the Ice Zone opened in the fall of 2003.
What does such an everyday routine mean to the longest-tenured Blue on the roster?
“I guess that just means I’m getting older,” Mayers said recently.
The Toronto, Ontario native has been a member of the organization since being drafted as the Blues’ third round selection in the 1993. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 3, 1996.
But for a few days in late February, more than 10 years since he first put on a Blues jersey, it looked as if Mayers may have taken his last walk down that familiar hallway. On a day where Bill Guerin and Ryan Smyth were traded just before the NHL’s 2 p.m. trade deadline, Mayers himself was a hot commodity, drawing interest from at least six NHL teams.
“I knew there was a possibility of (a trade),” Mayers said. “I was hopeful we could work something out so I could stay. I knew that if we couldn’t, it was in (the Blues’) best interest to get something for me.”
Blues President John Davidson decided signing Mayers to a long-term deal was in the team’s best interest.
four years at W. Michigan: 328kb
playing in 500 games: 243kb
community involvement 414kb
playing with Mayers: 153kb
“When you have six different teams call looking for him and making good offers, that tells you something,” Davidson said. “If we allowed him to go, we would need more than one person to replace him because he does too many different things for us. You can’t replace people like that. And if you go to the free agent marketplace to do that, it costs you a lot more money.”
Since making his debut, Mayers has become quite the familiar face in the organization. He recorded his first point by notching an assist in his second NHL game. Ironically, it came against his hometown Maple Leafs, creating a memory that is still vivid nearly 11 years later.
“Growing up in Toronto and playing my second game there at Maple Leaf Gardens, fresh out of college…it was a very exciting time,” Mayers said. “(Mike) Keenan was the coach then. To get an opportunity to be out there and chip in, it certainly was a lot of fun.”
For a guy that chipped in 55 goals and 103 assists in four seasons at Western Michigan, Mayers hasn’t contributed much offensively at the NHL level. But don’t let the numbers fool you. He brings leadership intangibles that make him a valuable asset to his club.
Davidson will be the first to tell you that. Blues coach Andy Murray would likely be next. And Mayers’ teammates, past and present, would say the same thing.
“He’s tenacious on the puck. He’s got a lot more skill than people think sometimes,” former teammate Craig Conroy said. “He can score big goals, he can make good plays. He’s just a great player. (But) he’s always kept the room lively and makes it fun for everyone to come and play everyday. If you’re a new guy, he treats you just like you’re a 10-year veteran.”
|Mayers has spent his entire career with the Blues and recently surprassed the 500 games mark (Photo by Mark Buckner). |
Over the course of an NHL career that has been played exclusively as a Blue, Mayers has been a part of some of the most exciting years in team history. For him, nothing tops appearing in the Western Conference Finals against Colorado in 2001. With the Blues down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and trailing in Game 3, Mayers scored a clutch late goal to send the game to a sudden death period, where Scott Young eventually capped off the come-from-behind victory in double overtime.
Although the Blues lost the series in five games, it is the closest they’ve come to playing for the Stanley Cup since 1986. That’s what makes the moment so memorable for Mayers.
“It’s exciting to be here at the times when we were competing for the Stanley Cup, winning the President’s Trophy and making the conference finals,” Mayers said. “[But] you have to go through those [bad times] to appreciate the good times.”
If that’s true, Mayers (and the Blues, for that matter) have certainly paid their dues over the last year and a half.
Just last season, the team finished dead-last in the standings. Less than five months have passed since the Blues stumbled out of the gate and parted ways with head coach Mike Kitchen, and it wasn’t until December with Murray’s hiring that things started to look up again.
“Having early success (in my career), perhaps we didn’t necessarily earn it. I think that now we’re learning as a group and we’re moving forward. I think with the young guys we have, understanding they’re a huge part of our team and they’re playing well, that’s exciting,” he said.
Thanks to a new three-year contract, it’s an exciting future Mayers will be around to see. And like many of his teammates, his ultimate goal is to help bring a Stanley Cup to St. Louis
“We have a lot of lessons to learn as a team,” Mayers said. “It’s our responsibility as a team to expedite this maturation process so we force (Davidson) and those in charge to make decisions because we’re playing so well. We might be closer than they thought. That’s what we’re trying to do.”