October 11, 2013

Remembering The St. Louis Blues Brawling Plager Brothers - Barclay, Billy and Bob

Here's a classic article by Stephan Altman from the April 1971 issue of "Hockey."

The Plagers: Hockey's Battling Brothers


"The puck goes off into the corner. Plager digs it out; sends it back to the point to Plager; a lateral to the other side for Plager. . ." Sound like double talk? Not really. A St. Louis Blues fan actually could hear such a broadcast this year. for the past few years, the name Plager has been synonymous with tough aggressive hockey. The Blues' aggressive style is in triplicate - in the form of Barclay, Bob and Billy Plager.

The Plagers are tough; just ask anyone who had the audacity to challenge any one of them. Said one opposing player after a bench emptying brawl against the Blues last season, "It doesn't matter which is which. They all hit the same."

Thanks to the boys' father, Gus Plager, the brothers grew up knowing that the only way to settle differences was with their fists, preferably in a boxing ring.

"Around our house we had more fights amongst the three of us," said Bob, the second oldest. "The older guy was right until the younger guy could prove he was wrong. We had boxing gloves at home but there was to no fighting in the house. So we went out in the backyard to settle it and dad would referee. That's the way he was. We'd go until one guy would get beat up and that was the end of the fight."

Probably the greatest intramural Plager battle took place in Bob and Barclay's junior days when Bob was with Guelph and older brother Barclay was with Peterborough. What started out as a typical hockey brawl wound up an all out pier-sixer.

"I'll never forget that one," laughed Bob in a quieter moment recently. "We started out on the ice. We were going at it pretty good for about ten minutes. Finally they got us separated and we were sent to the penalty box. But we were still too hot, and we started again in the box. This time we were both thrown out of the game and sent to our respective dressing rooms. But we never got that far. We battled right underneath the stands for another ten minutes before we finally looked at each other, wondering what we were fighting about in the first place. The funny thing is that neither of us really got the better of it. The fans really got their money's worth that night."

Although defense is the usual Plager position, all three brothers started out as goaltenders.

"The reason for this was simple," explained Billy, the youngest. "We were the only family on the block, back home at Kirkland Lake, to have a set of goalie pads. So we were the goalies."

"I think we were all pretty good goalies," added Bob. "But there wasn't much action. Besides, nobody really wrote much about the goalies where we came from. It was the fellows up front who got all the coverage. Also, how often could a goalie hit someone?"

As far as straight hockey is concerned, Bob has the most NHL experience, seeing big league action in parts of six campaigns. He first came up to the Rangers in 1964-65, when the Broadway Blueshirts would have settled for any defenseman who showed even the slightest amount of promise.

"Those were pretty bad days for the Rangers," smiled Bob. "I really didn't play with them, though. Emile Francis gave me my shot, but I guess I really didn't madke the best of it."

Bob lasted for a little over two years in the New York organization before being shipped to the St. Louis Blues shortly after that club was born. The deal which sent him to the Gateway City was an interesting one. The Blues had drafted Ranger defenseman Rod Seiling as part of the original expansion draft, but New York GM Emile Francis wanted him back. The Blues were willing to oblige, but they wanted another defenseman in return. Bob Plager filled the order, and the St. Louis management have been happy ever since.

"Bob has improved every year he has been in the league," said his former coach Scotty Bowman. "His ruggedness is often built up in the papers so much that his hockey ability is overlooked. Sometimes he may look a little awkwards, but he always gets the job done.

Barclay, oldest of the Plager pugilists, is by Bob's own admission, "the best hockey player among us." Yet it was not until rather late in his career that he finally got a chance with the Blues in the NHL (he's still on the sunny side of 30.) His early pro career resembled a railroad timetable as he performed in various cities and cow-towns throughout the eastern half of the North American continent. In addition to his family trait of aggressiveness and a knack for picking up penalties, Barclay has also been an adept scorer. His 32 points last year for St. Louis was high for a defenseman on that club.

"For some reasons, Barclay never really got a chance to prove himself in the NHL, despite his fine minor league record," said Bowman. "We knew all along that he had fine puck-handling ability to go alonger with his reputation as to go along with his reputation as a fighter. It was no surprise that he's done as well as he has."

Billy, the baby of the family, is also the smallest, but not necessarily the meekest. After a fine junior career, during which he starred both in goal and on defense, Billy was promoted to the Minnesota North Stars after spending only one year in the Central Hockey League. At that time, North Star GM Wren Blair felt, "Billy is an outstanding prospect. If he keeps working and dedicates himself no matter where he plays, he'll make the grade. He has a good attitude and will the best of the three Plagers."

Just barely 25 years of age, Billy sees the bulk of his big league career ahead of him. "Billy is one of our finest prospects," said the new Blues coach Al Arbour during training camp. "He has natural ability and a willingness to make it big."

One of the most interesting moments in the Plager household came when young Billy was still with the North Stars. A game between the Blues and the Stars was being telecast throughout the United States and Canada, giving the nationwide audience its first chance to see all three Plagers in action at the same time. The most interested parties in the viewing audience were a couple in Kapuskasing, Ontario - Mr and Mrs Gus Plager. When asked which team they were rooting for the sly papa merely grinned and said, "I'm just hoping each of my sons just does his best out there. With all three boys now on the same team, this pressing problem for the Plager clan has been resolved.

As much as the Plager boys quarrel among themselves, heaven help anyone who tries to take one of them. He is likely to get the same treatment - but in triplicate. Once while Billy was playing in the Central League and Bob was toiling in the American circuit, Bill was cut by an opposing playing. When Bill told Bob of the incident, the latter promptly marched into the Baltimore Clippers front office and asked if he could go to Omaha in the Central Hockey League to help out his brother. Needless to say, the Baltimore management refused, but the incident clearly shows that blood is thicker than ice.

The Plagers are an exciting bunch (just ask the St. Louis fans), and a talent bunch (just ask some opponents in the NHL). Together they form the basis of the great Blues defense that has kept them at the top of their division since thier inception. The Blues are going to win a lot of hockey games in the next few years, partly due to the inspired play of the battling brothers.

Papa Plager will be very happy.

--

Somewhere I saw a great line that Papa Plager was nicknamed Squirrel - because he raised three nuts! While his kids spent their time trying to break every rule in the book, he spent many years trying to enforce them all - as an amateur referee in Northern Ontario. 

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