Former Blues goaltender Ed Staniowski was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1975 - but unlike most hockey players, that's not the only draft he dreamed about. He also wanted to join the Canadian military, but his talent between the pipes put that plan on hold. At least for awhile.
After a successful four years of junior hockey and a Memorial Cup, Staniowski was picked up by the Blues and began a 10-season NHL career that also included stints in Winnipeg and Hartford. Although he tallied almost 70 wins, his journey of becoming a real hero began when he retired from the NHL and joined the Canadian Forces. Reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Staniowski was deployed multiple times to various locations including Africa and Afghanistan. He retired from the military in 2014, which will allow him to return to St. Louis for the Winter Classic Alumni Game on Dec. 31.
We caught up with him from his home in Canada to find out more about his life after the NHL and the legacy of the famous goalie mask he left behind.
BLUES: After retiring from the NHL, you joined the Canadian Forces. What inspired you to make that move?
STANIOWSKI: Well I had always hoped to have a military career as a teenager, but I was playing junior hockey and it looked like I might be able to turn pro, so anything to do with the military got put on hold. I always laugh and say I'm one of the few players who can say I couldn't join the army because I got drafted! My father, mother and brother had all served in the military, so when my NHL career wound down I was 29 years old and thought it might be a little late to join, but it worked out. I served for 29 years, and I loved every minute of it!
BLUES: For most NHL players, making it to the League is what they hang their hat on, but you reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. What does that title mean to you?
STANIOWSKI: In the military, it's a working rank. It's a rank where you're in a leadership position, and you're responsible for people. It means a lot in that it put me in a position where I was very much relying on others, much like in hockey, and others were very much relying on me and how I did things. It was very satisfying to be in that position.
BLUES: At any time did you miss hockey?
STANIOWSKI: It's funny you should say that…I did miss the game. That's one of the reasons I was drawn to the military the longer I did it, because there were so many things that were the same. The camaraderie and dependence on those around you when you're in the Middle East is so much like hockey. In the NHL you have your defense, your forwards, your penalty kill…and when it all comes together, you know you're part of something that's bigger than any individual.
BLUES: Creative mask designs have become a staple of the game for goalies. How does it feel to know the design you made famous in the '70s has inspired the masks of two other Blues' goalies - namely Hannu Toivonen and Carter Hutton?
STANIOWSKI: The way I look at it, the Blue Note, with the way I had it around my eyeholes and sweeping back from the top of the mask, isn't something I have a monopoly over. The Blues logo is something that has been worn with pride for 50 years, and there have been some great goaltenders to put on that sweater with the Blue Note. So, I just consider myself lucky to have been part of that. But it's neat that the legacy of the mask has carried on…it's really become a form of art, and I love that.
BLUES: Your mask had a teardrop falling from one eye. What was the meaning behind that?
STANIOWSKI: I'm a Blues fan, as in musically. And of course, some of the great musicians from that genre have music that's always filled with feeling, always filled with emotion. And when things go well, you can put on some blues music and feel good about it, and you can shed a tear about how well it went. When things don't go so well, you can shed a tear, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back into it.
BLUES: You'll be back in St. Louis soon for the Winter Classic Alumni Game. How much are you looking forward to being back on the ice?
STANIOWSKI: I'm terribly excited about that. St. Louis is a great city. It has 50 great years of hockey behind it, and it'll have another 150 I'm sure. I'm looking forward to getting back and seeing some of my friends… a lot of great players will be playing in that game, so it's just going to be fun to be part of it.