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Bob Plager will have No. 5 jersey retired by Blues

Original member of team ready for emotional night

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Six numbers have been retired to the rafters of Scottrade Center by the St. Louis Blues. On Thursday, they will be joined by a seventh.

Prior to hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs (9 p.m. ET; FS-MW, TSN4, NHL.TV), the Blues will retire the No. 5 of defenseman Bob Plager, who joined St. Louis for its expansion season in 1967-68 after a trade with the New York Rangers. The Blues acquired Plager, Tim Ecclestone, Gord Kannegiesser and Gary Sabourin for defenseman Rod Seiling, who had been selected by the Blues in the expansion draft but was traded back to New York.

Plager, who spent 11 seasons with the Blues, finished his 14-year NHL career with 146 points (20 goals, 126 assists) and 802 penalty minutes in 644 games, 615 with St. Louis. He also had 19 points (two goals, 17 points) and 195 penalty minutes in 74 Stanley Cup Playoff games, all with the Blues.

His No. 5 will join Al MacInnis' No. 2, Bob Gassoff's No. 3, Barclay Plager's No. 8, Brian Sutter's No. 11, Brett Hull's No. 16 and Bernie Federko's No. 24. Plager, 73, will slide between Gassoff and older brother Barclay, who died of a brain hemorrhage in 1988 at age 46. 

"I've always glanced up there," Plager said of the retired numbers. "People don't know, I've been in the rink, and not just hockey games, but I'd be talking to Barclay right now, 'We're not playing good.' I'd say. 'You wouldn't like this 'Barc,' … You talk to him and start the game up and let's see what teams want to show up tonight. Now I can be able to whisper to him."

If there's an ultimate member of the Blues, Plager is it. Since retiring as a player in 1978, he has handled a variety of roles in the organization, serving as an ambassador, team spokesman, broadcaster and scout. He also coached the Blues briefly in 1992-93, going 4-6-1 in 11 games.

"It is unbelievable they made that announcement," Plager said of his jersey retirement. "There are nights you're lying around and you're going, 'What am I going to say?' You're thinking things to say.

"I'm going up there, but there's so many people that made that possible for me to go up there. ... I look back now in my junior days, you had Emile Francis in there and I had some of the greatest coaches. You had Scotty Bowman as a coach. What you learn from some of those guys is, and it's a big saying with Emile Francis, 'You go in that dressing room, Bob, you just keep your mouth shut, your ears open and your eyes open and you learn.' That's what you did. We had Doug Harvey, and we sat and we learned, and I learned from him and the guys you played with."

Plager, a native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, said when he was traded to the Blues he welcomed the move because he felt he'd get a chance to become an everyday player in the NHL, something that hadn't happened with the Rangers.

"I was up and down with the Rangers and I was never a regular, so I figured in this expansion, this was my chance to play in the NHL as a regular," he said. "I was disappointed that I didn't get picked up [in the expansion draft], but I didn't know there was a deal made. For any player then, it didn't matter where you were going and what city. Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis ... you're going to the NHL.

"I came here not knowing what St. Louis is, but … I was coming to a place where I was going to be a regular with people I knew."

All Plager did was help the Blues advance to the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three seasons in the NHL. They haven't returned to the Final since then.

Today's Blues fans know Plager well through his public appearances, taking pictures with him or getting an autograph -- always with a smile and a joke. But having his number raised to hang next to his brother's figures to make this an emotional night.

"Will I make it through my little speech? I don't know because when I talk about Barclay, I never finish," Plager said. "I get choked up. It is something special. It is very special. I'm very nervous because there are so many people to thank and you're going to leave somebody out. Not just in hockey. I've got so many friends here that I know."

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