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No reason to sing the Blues

by Larry Wigge

Brad Boyes admits now that the man who used to always have the right words for him when he was growing up was right on again.
It started out as a few friendly words of advice disguised rather neatly as a push-your-buttons dare by dear old dad.

Brad Boyes is smart, sensitive and, most important, he cares. But one night early last February he was depressed, dejected and disillusioned.

When he struggles, Boyes’ normal routine is to worry and fret and put in tape after tape of games from the 2004-05 season when he was on the Boston Bruins’ No. 1 line and scored 26 goals as a rookie.

On this night in question, he was on another lonely, soul-searching mission, trying to figure out what he was doing wrong. He felt he needed to hear a friendly voice, so he picked up the phone and called home.

"I remember I did most of the talking ... at first," Boyes recalled the other day, roughly 10 months after he was dealt by the Bruins to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline for defenseman Dennis Wideman.

That’s when Bob Boyes, a elementary school principal in Mississauga, Ontario, just kind of blurted out some advice.

"He said; ‘Hey, son, you’re in the NHL, you’re living a dream. Hundreds of thousands of kids would like to be in your shoes.’ Then he said a really smart thing; ‘Take one shift and enjoy it. There’s no time to sulk or feel sorry for yourself.’"

Boyes admits now that the man who used to always have the right words for him when he was growing up and wondering if he could succeed in his dream to make it to the NHL was right on again.

"I couldn’t put a finger on what happened there," Boyes told me just before he scored his 20th goal in 31 games this season to help the Blues beat Detroit 3-2 Dec. 20. "I wasn't going on the ice with the same authority. I mean, I scored 26 goals on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm and then, shortly into the next season, I kept getting demoted and demoted and demoted to the fourth line playing maybe 10 minutes a game.

"There wasn't a lot of help. I had to do things on my own. ... When I came to St. Louis, (coach) Andy Murray came up to me to talk nearly every day. To me, that positive reinforcement was ..."

Brad stopped short of saying that maybe the communication was missing in Boston. Ironically, of all of the big boys that were traded before the Feb. 27 deadline in a 25-transaction splurge -- Ryan Smyth, Keith Tkachuk, Todd Bertuzzi, Bill Guerin and Gary Roberts -- one of the small-print “boyes,” Brad by name, has outscored all the rest.

He has scored goals for the Blues at a Brett Hull pace, getting to the 20-goal mark in just 31 games -- which was just off the team record pace to 20 goals set by Hull (in 29 games) in 1994-95.

And, oh yeah, did I mention that he returned to Boston Dec. 22 and scored again -- his 21st goal of the season and fifth game-winner -- in St. Louis’ 4-1 victory over the Bruins.

"What it comes down to is I tend to over-think situations when I should just react," Boyes admitted, wide smile on his face.

Over-thinking sometimes happen to a player who is smart, quick-witted, wants so much to do the perfect thing both on or off the ice.

Brad Boyes gets the smarts from his parents, Bob, the school principal, and Mary, a substitute teacher. Brad knew he had to be good in school because of his parents. He got A’s in math, calculus and biology and even toyed with the idea of going to medical school at a young age, before his hockey skills offered him different options. But ...

"I heard about the fact that I didn’t do very well in English, believe me," Boyes smiled.

When I asked Brad what he would be doing today if he wasn’t playing hockey ... and scoring goals for a living. He said; "We’ve got time to worry about that later."

The Blues hope Boyes has another decade or so to worry about that. Meanwhile, the math has come in handy with all the important goals Brad has scored for the Blues.

"He’s got magical hands, the kind of hands that are quick and lethal," said Blues President John Davidson.

"He’s one of those players where the puck always seems to find him when he’s working hard and moving his feet," said Blues GM Larry Pleau.

"He's a natural goal-scorer and I think he's just begun to tap his potential," said linemate Paul Kariya. "He sees the game really well. He’s hard in the corners. He’s got a strong stick, with a really quick release.

"He always seems to find the open holes and is in the right spot to get rebounds. I don’t know what happened to him in Boston, but I’m sure glad he’s here with us."

Boyes was a first-round pick in 2000, 24th overall, by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some said his skating kept him from being chosen in the Top 10. But Sherry Bassin, Brad’s junior coach at Erie of the Ontario Hockey League, predicted a lot of teams would be regretting the day they passed on this kid.

"People have concerns about him, because of his skating or this or that," Bassin told me back in June of 2000. "All I see is a kid with great skills who is an unbelievable leader. By my count, I've had 74 kids go to the NHL ... and he is the smartest by far."

When you consider the Maple Leafs traded Boyes to San Jose for Owen Nolan before Brad had even turned pro and, one year later, the Sharks dealt him to Boston, and now on to St. Louis, well, you had to wonder if those teams were right.

"I remember seeing him when I was working as a consultant for the Montreal Canadiens before I came to St. Louis," Murray recalled. "To be honest, I didn't think Brad played very well. I told him that when he got to the Blues, but they saw something there. And, boy, were the scouts here right about him.

"I told him from the get-go that I wanted him to dog the puck ... be a puck pursuer, move his feet. When he does that, he makes things happen."

The work ethic he’s displayed in St. Louis has been obvious, especially since the Blues put him with Kariya, where he’s got to keep up with the speed and pace at which Paul plays the game. Same with new center Andy McDonald.

Forty goals? Fifty? He won’t speculate.

"All I know is I feel like I'm going to score all the time," he said. "I feel like I keep getting good chances. Actually, the biggest thing I’ve had to deal with here is shooting the puck. My dad always taught me to be unselfish. Work with my teammates. I sometimes still catch myself looking to pass first, instead of taking the shot when I have it.

"With Paul and Andy and Keith Tkachuk and some of the others I play with now, it seems like the best part of my game is getting the puck in tight and still being able to get off a shot ... or make a play. I'm not a big guy (6-foot, 195), not a real strong guy. I'm not a Keith Tkachuk or Tomas Holmstrom type that can just plant themselves in front of the net. But for some reason, the puck seems to find me down low and I am able to put the puck in the net."

So much so that you still wonder why he’s just 25 and the Blues are his fourth NHL team.

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