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Original Blues defenseman Picard remembered as loyal friend, teammate

Legendary goalie Hall cited him as uniting force with young team

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall has a favorite story involving the late Noel Picard, his dear friend and fellow original member of the St. Louis Blues who died Wednesday at age 78.

It's not about Picard's pitchfork that sent Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr flying an instant after Orr scored in overtime of Game 4 to complete the Bruins' four-game sweep of the Blues in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final.

This story is from Dec. 27, 1969. The Blues were riding an overnight train from Toronto to Montreal, and Picard had been having an argument with St. Louis broadcaster Guy Kyle.

Kyle was above Hall in the train's sleeper car, the shoes of both men under Hall's berth. At some point during the night, Picard took one of the shoes, apparently thinking it was Kyle's, and threw it off the speeding train into a snowbank.

Hall awoke to find one of his shoes missing and immediately pinned the blame on Picard, a notorious practical joker.

"Pic [Picard] just kept saying to me, with that thick French accent, 'Truly, truly … I t'ot it was Gus' shoe!'" Hall said Thursday from his farm in Stony Plain, Alberta.

Upon arrival in Montreal, Hall borrowed one of teammate Frank St. Marseille's rubber galoshes, and wearing that and the one shoe he had left, walked into a downtown shoe store.

"I told the guy behind the counter, 'Don't say a word. Just give me a pair of size 9s like the ones you have in the window,'" Hall said, laughing.

The Blues would thump the Montreal Canadiens 5-0 on Dec. 30 at the Montreal Forum.

"I remember that because it didn't happen very often," Hall said of shutting out the Canadiens in Montreal. "The guys knew I was mad. The backcheckers were running into each other that night. They did nothing but play defense.

"Pic was such a good team man. We were close as a team and I think that's why we had success. Pic would go around the room before every game, and from his seat he'd yell at a guy, 'This is the team that didn't want you!' if our opponent had traded him to the Blues."

His NHL career began in 1964-65 with 16 games for the Canadiens and resumed in 1967 after St. Louis claimed him in the 1967 expansion draft. Picard would play 278 games with St. Louis between 1967-68 and 1972-73. He finished his career playing 41 games for the Atlanta Flames in 1972-73 after they claimed him off waivers.

Picard is best known as the Blues defenseman who sent Orr flying on May 10, 1970, two players wearing No. 4 in a moment captured in one of hockey's most famous photos.

"If you're going to get scored on, I don't mind as long as it's Bobby Orr," Picard told Andrew Podnieks for his 2003 book, "The Goal: Bobby Orr and the Most Famous Goal in Stanley Cup History." "To my mind, he was the greatest hockey player in the world."

Picard recalled the desperation he felt as Orr swept in front of the Blues net 40 seconds into overtime, Bruins forward Derek Sanderson passing to Orr from behind the Blues net.

"I played right defense," Picard said. "I couldn't go to [Orr] right away or else I'd lose my man. He had so much speed, by the time he was in front, the puck was in. When I lifted him up, 'Whoosh!' And the puck came out of the net and he went flying. …

"Those things happen so quickly. My God, [Orr] went six feet in the air. At the time, you think only that he's scored a goal. He scored on the short side, right in front of the goal. Then you see the pictures and you admire the play."

Video: Memories: NHL flips out over Orr's historic goal

While being involved in Orr's iconic goal largely would define Picard's career, it hardly was the only momentous event in his life.

Born in Montreal on Dec. 25, 1938, he was named Noel, the French word for Christmas. Picard arrived from the minor leagues in time to help the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in 1965. Upon landing in St. Louis, he quickly became one of the most popular Blues because of his gregarious, outgoing manner and often outrageous sense of humor.

In 1971, Picard was within hours of having a foot amputated after a horse he was riding fell on him and shattered his ankle. Doctors rebuilt the joint and he defied the odds by returning to the game, but without some of his speed and mobility. The Blues waived him in November 1972. He was claimed by the Flames and retired after the 1972-73 season. 

Picard returned to the Blues as a color commentator alongside legendary play-by-play man Dan Kelly, along the way opening a restaurant called Noel Picard's Midway in Cuba, Missouri.

A horseman for many years, Picard was hired by Anheuser-Busch to train and tour throughout North America with the brewery's world-famous team of Clydesdales. After a dozen years based in Missouri and then Colorado, Picard returned to his native Quebec to begin another career as a furniture-builder, having worked as a boy with his woodworking father.

On Thursday, Hall remembered his old friend with deep affection.

"I got my last stitches in hockey from Pic, who ran over me. And I was wearing a mask," Hall said, recalling Picard crashing into him and driving the fiberglass into his face. "But he was a great, great teammate, and boy, was he tough.

"And his French accent was absolutely great. When he did the color TV work with Dan Kelly, he got more and more of that accent into it."

Hall still has the shoe from the 1969 train-toss incident on his mantle. Shortly after Picard's 1971 horse-riding accident, the goalie was told by Blues interim coach Bill McCreary that the defenseman might lose a foot to amputation.

"Bill said to me, 'Maybe you can send Pic a get-well card and wish him luck,'" Hall said. "I said, 'Sure. And if they amputate, tell him I've got a shoe for him.'"

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