If your grandparents told you that they had to climb mountains, swim across lakes and walk six miles to get to school everyday, chances are they were stretching the truth. At least a little bit.
Garry Unger’s story may be just as unbelievable, but his is completely true.
Unger set an iron man record by playing in 914 consecutive NHL games with Toronto, Detroit, St. Louis and Atlanta.
If you’re looking for his secret to staying healthy, stop. There is none. He played hurt.
“As long as it’s not a crippling injury where you can’t move, you hobble into the rink and your focus is on the injury,” Unger said recently. “Once the game starts, you focus on the puck.”
In fact, trainers filed 38 formal injury reports on Unger, including 16 contusions, 13 strains, two separate pulled rib muscles and a dislocated finger. But Unger never missed a game in nine seasons with the Blues.
He’ll be the first to tell you that he could not have done it alone.
|Garry Unger quickly became a fan favorite after coming to St. Louis in a trade for another fan favorite, Red Berenson. |
Unger credits his high pain tolerance and former Blues trainer Tommy Woodcock for helping him prepare for the daily rigors of NHL hockey. But more importantly, Unger drew motivation from his younger sister, who was diagnosed with polio and confined to a wheelchair.
“Growing up, I was out playing basketball and football and hockey and running around with the guys, and she could never get out of her chair,” he said. “I’d always think about her never being able to do anything about it. She motivated me a lot to not feel sorry for myself.”
Unger’s healthy lifestyle also played a big role in helping him claim the iron man record. He stayed away from drugs and alcohol.
“If you’re going make your living with your body, you should take care of it,” Unger said. “I didn’t want to miss a game. I never missed a day of school.”
But there’s more to the Edmonton, Alberta native than just the iron man record.
Unger also made seven consecutive All-Star appearances, an experience he is grateful for.
“To be able to represent the Blues at the All-Star game and be able to play in it, obviously it’s exciting,” he said.
Unger joined the Blues during the 1970-71 season in a trade for Red Berenson, the team’s top scorer and local fan favorite. But Unger, with his flowing blond hair, quickly became one of the most popular sports figures in town. He led the Blues in scoring in 1971-72, 72-73, 73-74, 74-75 and 77-78.
return to St. Louis: 255 kb
memories as a Blue: 258 kb
current state of the Blues: 269 kb
In the 1974 All-Star game, Unger was named MVP for netting the game-winning goal and an assist.
Unger remained a Blue until Oct. 10, 1979 when he was traded to the Atlanta Flames for Ed Kea, Don Laurence and Atlanta’s second choice (Hakan Nordin) in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft.
Unger scored 292 goals and 283 assists (575 points) in 662 career games with the Blues.
“The thing about playing in St. Louis is that it was kind of like a family, a team. Everybody supported everybody,” he said. “Everybody in town supported the team. It was different from other places. St. Louis is a special place for me.”
Unger made the transition to coaching in 1989, taking a job with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the International Hockey League before moving on to coach the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League. While there, he led the Oilers to a championship in 1992-93, the CHL’s inaugural season.
Today, Unger works as a coach in the World Hockey Association in Vancouver.
Although he stays busy, Unger is never out of touch with the Blues.
“St. Louis was such a great hockey town. It would have been really nice to be able to give them a Stanley Cup,” he said. “Hopefully sometime in the near future, something is going to happen where that’s going to change.”