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True 'Blue' to Seattle Hockey

As team physician for the Totems, Breakers and Thunderbirds, Dr. Alfred Blue has tended to players with sharp diagnoses and caring words since 1963

by Andy Eide / @AndyEide /

SEATTLE -- From Guyle Fielder to Patrick Marleau to Mathew Barzal, Seattle fans have watched standout hockey players come and, for the most part, go. For five-and-a-half decades, Dr. Alfred Blue has been the constant. 

Blue started as team physician for the Seattle Totems in 1963 and remained with them until they folded in 1975. He viewed Fielder in his prime, the Totems legend totaling 102 points (including 85 assists) in that first season. The team won back-to-back Western Hockey League Lester Patrick Cup championships in 1967 and 1968 during an era when players like Fielder played longer-term with then-professional WHL teams because the NHL only expanded beyond its "Original Six" teams beginning in 1968. 

Blue stayed ready to treat and mend Totems players until the team folded in 1975. Two seasons later, he began working for the newly formed Seattle Breakers, later renamed Thunderbirds, and is still helping tend to injured players today. 

Along the way, he watched Marleau (signed again by the NHL's San Jose Sharks for this season and a two-goal scorer in Thursday's 5-4 win at Chicago) bust out as a legitimate NHL prospect, tallying 199 points (83 G, 116 A) in 143 games over two seasons in the mid-90s. Two decades later, Marleau rejoined the Sharks just this week after two seasons with Toronto, suiting up for a 22nd NHL campaign. 

Blue, 85, grew up in the south, playing baseball for Henderson State University in Arkansas before a stint in the Navy. He wasn't much of a hockey fan then, but that changed when he arrived in Seattle to begin work as a surgeon. 

"The first game I ever saw was Seattle (Totems) playing Spokane and I think it was the most penalty minutes in a game," Blue says. "They fought, and fought, and fought. I've seen so many good players. Good men." 

Nobody has experienced more Seattle hockey than Blue. Starting in the fall of 2014, Blue watched three seasons of Barzal putting up gaudy numbers for the T-Birds (214 points in 143 games) before Barzal nabbed the NHL's Calder Trophy for rookie of the year with the New York Islanders in the 2017-18. 

Away from the rink, Blue starred himself as a top orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hand procedures. Blue is further skilled as a cosmetic surgeon and, this is rare, he earned a law degree in the 1970s, focusing on medical cases. 

In 1963, the Totems offered him $10 a game to be the team doctor. He says at first, the team was inconsistent about paying him, but that matter got settled. Hockey talk with Blue leads to him rattling off the names and their injuries of the way-back Totems regulars. 

That includes the best of them all, Fielder. 

WATCH: Totems legend Guyle Fielder remembers Seattle fans as 'boisterous'

"He had a talent I haven't seen in anybody since," Blue recalls. "The closest I've seen, this may sound strange, is Barzal. Fielder could keep the puck and he kept it. He could hold it until he got someone open. He played for Detroit [in the NHL] and went up the same time [Hall of Fame legend] Gordie Howe did. There was only one puck, so Guyle came back here." 

The Thunderbirds athletic trainer, Phil Varney, has worked with Blue for the past 12 seasons and says he learns something new every day when Blue is present. 

When an injury on the ice occurs, Varney is the first on the scene. If the player needs further attention, Varney will look up to the stands, where Blue sits, always on the blue line with his wife Jan, to signal to meet Varney in the training room. 

"Doc's been doing it so long he knows even before I signal him," Varney says. "Doc's got a no-nonsense way about him. He's got a good rapport. He's earned that respect with the guys. His ability to evaluate is impressive. He's seen so many things that he's usually right."

Totems head coach Keith Allen instructed Blue, when he first started working with the team in the early 1960s, to never tell a player that an injury meant he would be out of the game or longer. Allen felt that communication was the coach's responsibility. 

The notion has stuck with Blue throughout the years. 

"It's not my job to say they can't do something," Blue says. "I will tell them if the injury will lag on and it might make it hard to play. I won't tell them that they can't play. It's the person who has an injury, not the injury who has the person." 

Russ Farwell, Thunderbirds vice president of hockey operations, has witnessed his share of Seattle hockey too. He met Blue in 1988 when Farwell first served as the club's general manager and has worked with Blue ever since, save for a stretch in 1990 to 1994 when Farwell served as GM of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers. 

Farwell, who owned the Thunderbirds for several years before a 2017 sale, was impressed with Blue from day one. 

"The most amazing thing about Doc over the years is his first call on injuries is so good and so accurate," Farwell says. "If it was complicated, he'd reach out and get a second opinion, but his first call was so good. If it was a shoulder or something that was going to be nagging, he nailed it. And beyond a doctor, he's just a phenomenal person and an inspiration." 

Inspiration is a common theme when talking to anyone who has worked with Blue over the years. 

He displays an encyclopedic recall of players who have come through Seattle and the players remember him. That includes San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon. 

Dillon played in Seattle with the Thunderbirds for four seasons from 2007 through 2011. Blue recalls him as a hard worker, who was passed over in his draft year but kept grinding and has gone on to play more 500 games in the NHL with the Dallas Stars and San Jose. Dillon is a top-four defenseman in minutes played for Sharks. 

"I always remember the smile he had on his face every time coming to the rink," Dillon says of Blue. "Here's one of the most brilliant doctors, and he devoted so much time and effort into his craft. He is a genuine fan of hockey and with his expertise as a doctor, has a love for the game of hockey. He genuinely wanted to get us healthy and on the ice as quick as possible. I always looked up to him. 

"It's funny, he's a little guy walking around, when he speaks you listen. I'm really happy to hear that he remembers me." 

Blue shows up to every game wearing a suit and bow tie.

"Did he ever wear the same bow tie more than once?" Dillon says with a chuckle. "He was always the sharpest dressed man in Key Arena and ShoWare Center." 

While Blue performs less hands-on work with the Thunderbirds these days, he still consults with Varney and the team's group of physicians. After every game, he visits Varney in the training room - a training room the Thunderbirds have named after him -- to check in on any nicked-up players. 

He keeps busy with Mariners season tickets and drives each March to watch spring training with his wife. In his spare time, he reads philosophy and works of literature.

"The amount of things on his reading list is phenomenal," Farwell says. "You and I might read one of those books in our lifetime." 

Blue prefers pre-Socratic philosophy and believes we can still learn from the past and the insights of people living 1000 years ago. Blue says those lessons apply to hockey as much as everyday life. 

"You must always do your best," Blue says. "If I had a choice, I'd put a mirror up on the door that says, 'if you don't believe you can win, there's no reason going out there.'" 

Not only have the Thunderbirds named the training room after Blue, but in this fall's training camp the team introduced the Doc Blue Cup, awarded to the side that wins the annual intrasquad tournament. It's a fitting tribute to the man who so closely connected to hockey in Seattle. 

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