How Acquired: Signed as free agent, December 28, 1995
Buffalo stats (1995-96): 5 games; 2-2-0, 3.53 GAA
Career NHL stats (1992-1996): 46 games; 16-18-7, 3.00 GAA, 1 SO
As the co-lead pastor of the Watermark OC Church in Costa Mesa, California, John Blue is known as a man of his word. So it should come as no surprise that Blue took John Muckler at his word when he signed with the Buffalo Sabres in December of 1995.
With his professional career all but over, an out-of-work Blue received a call from the Sabres, a team in desperate need of a goaltender.
Dominik Hasek was already out with an abdominal injury, and backup Andrei Trefilov went down with a knee injury. Buffalo then turned to Steve Shields and recalled an 18-year-old named Martin Biron from junior hockey. In his search for stability, GM John Muckler called in Blue, whose only NHL experience came in the form of 41 games and a 14-16-7 record with Boston from 1992-94.
Blue recalls Muckler not sugarcoating his expectations when he signed with Buffalo on December 28, 1995.
“Mucks called me in the office and said ‘I didn’t sign you to win any games. But I didn’t sign you to lose any games either. Don’t try to be Dominik Hasek.’ I knew my place right from the beginning.”
Blue made his Sabres debut on December 29 against Chicago in a 5-2 loss at The Aud. Two nights later he was in goal for a 5-2 New Years Eve loss to the New York Islanders.
A pair of wins over Montreal and Toronto evened Blue’s record at 2-2, but it didn’t create any false hope for the journeyman netminder who had been drafted by Winnipeg in the 10th round of the 1986 NHL Draft.
“As an athlete you’re always working hard and you want to play forever. But I was almost 30 and I’d been around for a while. It would’ve been wonderful, but I was always aware of why I was there.”
Once Hasek returned from injury, Blue would never start another game for Buffalo. His last NHL action was a 22-save relief appearance in Florida against the Panthers on January 27, 1996.
When his playing career ended following a 30-game minor league stop in 1996-97, Blue had an offer from the Bruins to return to Boston as a color commentator on their TV broadcasts. One week later he received a call from a pastor asking if he’d consider joining his ministry.
“My wife and I made the decision to join the ministry. It’s been an amazing journey to be part of something where we are able to walk people through changed lives. It’s been pretty amazing.”
Blue had gone to church for his entire life, but had never considered it as a destination for his post-hockey career.
“I didn’t think I was going to be a pastor. While I was playing, I realized that I’d spent my whole life trying to get something – and that was to be a professional hockey player. I was 25 when I played my first game in Boston, and I realized that I’d essentially spent 20 years trying to get to this point in life.
“When I got there, I remember clear as day looking at my first paycheck and thinking ‘there’s got to be more. This can’t be it.’ There was great excitement and emptiness all coming together at the same time. Everything I’d always wanted was there, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be.”
The Watermark church website describes their Sunday services as “thought-provoking and engaging messages based on the Bible,” and feature “really good music … and great donuts and descent coffee too.”
It’s this casual setting where Blue can now be found sharing his words each week.
“It’s not about do the right thing or don’t do the right thing, although I make choices for my love of God and wanting to do the right thing. It’s not religion, it’s about a relationship.
“We’re on a journey here. Walk in the fullest of who God has created us to be. One of my recent messages was about the good life. The good life isn’t more cars, new houses, new wife and new girlfriend. The good life is doing what you are created to do which ultimately helps others.”