The dates Jan. 6-7 of this year should be marked, highlighted and remembered if you’re a fan of the St. Louis Blues and Robert Bortuzzo.
According to Bortuzzo, those two days the Blues galvanized from a last-place club to a team to be reckoned with.
Alexander Steen, Joel Edmundson, Bortuzzo, Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri heard the song Gloria! in a Philadelphia bar while watching an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and the Eagles. It was the song getting the most play that night, and getting the most reaction. The five decided that Gloria! — a 1982 hit by Laura Branigan — would be the new Blues’ rally cry.
“There was a game in Philadelphia. I talked to Chief, just on the ice, our coach (Craig Berube) and I just said you could tell we were building something because we hadn’t been for a long time,” recalled Bortuzzo of the Jan. 7 game against the Flyers — a 3-0 win that started a 24-5-1 tear.
“We got (goaltender) Jordan Binnington. There were just a lot of little things that came together at the right time that shot us on an incredible run. That was the Gloria! trip, yeah. You can’t pinpoint one thing. It was a lot of special moments that led us to where we are today.”
That time was 191 days later when Bortuzzo stood front and centre in his hometown with the Stanley Cup in tow on Tuesday afternoon. Bortuzzo’s entrance song as he entered the Da Vinci Centre? Gloria!, of course.
“There’s not really any January you could envisage this happening,” said the six-foot-four Bortuzzo.
“It’s something you hoped you wanted to do. As you get older, you get realistic about things. They don’t call it one of the hardest trophies in sports to win for no reason. We just came together as a group.
“There was so many little things throughout the year. It was just a rollercoaster ride of fun and emotions. For us to finish on top it was an amazing story with a lot of good people.”
Sure, the Killer B’s, Berube and Binnington, had more to do with St. Louis winning the Cup than Gloria! did. Berube instilled a grittier style and demanding more accountability, after replacing Mike Yeo as head coach on Nov. 9, 2018.
Under Berube, the team took time to catch fire, but went 38-19-6 in the regular season, and 16-10 in the playoffs, last defeating the Boston Bruins in seven games in the NHL final.
“In January we were all of us, guys in the community we’re talking, they’re ready to blow up the team,” said Oscar Bortuzzo, Robert’s father.
“I give Berube, the coaches, credit for hanging on. I give (GM Doug) Armstrong credit for hanging in there,” he added. “It just shows maybe you don’t get rid of your team too early. Once we got the goaltending going, we got the coaching change, team started winning.”
Ryan O’Reilly, picked up in a trade with Buffalo in July 2018, won the Frank J. Selke award for best defensive forward and won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
“Ryan O’Reilly, he was the glue that sort of kept it together when they were in deep trouble,” said Oscar.
“To me, he was the cog. Sure, Binnington came in, coach came in. Underrated player, the guy just did it all. Game in and game out there wasn’t a bad game.
“If you look at Boston and us, both teams, those first two lines were neutralized. The third and fourth lines really put us over the top.”
Binnington recently signed a two-year contract. Robert Bortuzzo is signed until 2021-22.
Berube went from interim coach to pocketing a three-year contract. When the summer-long celebrations end, the Blues should be among the favourites to put up a solid defence of their title.
Bortuzzo missed out on the back-to-back cups in Pittsburgh in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He made up for lost time on his day with the Cup that includes several stops around the city.
“It was tough seeing your former team win. But I was very happy for some of my best friends on that team,” said Bortuzzo, who has skated in 335 regular season games and 40 playoff contests.
“At the same time you think maybe you missed your opportunity. When this one came back around it was, I don’t want to say it made it more special, but it was definitely something you thought about.”