I came back to my love of hockey in 2016, after my interest in it waned around the hockey lockout in 2004-2005. When I went to college in 2006, I had no Fox Sports in my dorm room, so watching the majority of the games was out of the question. However, when the Blues captured my heart again during the 2016 post-season, I returned to my true love, and I especially fell in love with the Blues players that gave back to St. Louis and bettered the community. As a fan, there is no question that one person who has given back as much as he received from the game is Kelly Chase.
Chase is one of my favorite players. Yes, most of the time it was because he beat the snot out of people, but I grew to respect and care more about Chase’s character and integrity when I became an adult. If you asked me for an example of someone who shows extreme compassion on and off the ice, is a leader through and through, sacrifices himself for the betterment of the team, and exhibits the best of the St. Louis Blues organization, St. Louis itself, and his country of birth, I would tell you Chase would deserve that honor tenfold. He is someone who makes this world better just by being in it, and contributing more than what anyone asked of him, without question or a thank you. For Humboldt, for youth hockey, for fantasy camps, for broadcasting with passion, for supporting other enforcers through the media… Chaser’s the real deal.
Chase, a native of Porcupine Plain, SK, began his minor league career in hockey with the Saskatoon Blades, when he was 18. He played three seasons with them at right wing, recording 45 goals, 81 assists, for 126 points. What’s more astonishing and unsurprising, was his penalty minutes: an even 800. Did I mention he did all of that in 195 games? To put it into perspective, from ages 18 to 21, Chaser spent an average of 4.11 minutes in the box per game. When he moved on to the Peoria Rivermen from ages 21 to 23, he played 109 games, scored 35 goals and 43 assists for 78 points, and spent 760 minutes in the box, an average of 6.97 minutes in the box per game.
The start of his pro career was with the St. Louis Blues in 1989, when he was 22. He played five seasons with the Blues, then was transferred to the Hartford Whalers for the majority of three seasons in 1994 when he was claimed on waivers. As a Whaler, he played 111 games, scored 3 goals, had 10 assists, and accumulated 493 penalty minutes, or almost 4.44 penalty minutes per game on average. But one of the crowning glories of his enforcer career was the two games in which he played for Toronto in March 1997, when he was traded to the team for an 8th round draft pick. He played all of two games as a Leaf and somehow, astonishingly, acquired 27 penalty minutes. He was so successful at recording them in his first game that he was in the penalty box for a full 22 minutes: he sat out an entire period, and then some. The Blues reacquired him in September 1997 by trade (we wanted him back that much!), and he played an additional three seasons before he retired. As a Blue, he played 345 games, scored 14 goals, 26 assists, and accumulated 1497 penalty minutes, or roughly 4.34 penalty minutes per game on average. In addition, as a Blue, he participated in five post-seasons, in which he played 27 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, and topped out at an even 100 penalty minutes, or 2.7 penalty minutes per game.
With 2017 penalty minutes, one could easily draw the conclusion that Chase liked to fight and rough people up. I would argue the opposite was true. Chase never wanted to hurt anyone; however, he loved his teammates so much that he would put his body, his fists, and his fortitude to the test to go after anyone who would try to mess with those he called his hockey brothers. In the documentary Ice Guardians, goal scorer Brett Hull said that he would not have been as effective a goal scorer without Kelly Chase and Tony Twist, the two enforcers who always had his back. Chase cared so much about his hockey brothers that he went to war with anyone and everyone: he stuck up for teammates, fought, and used intimidation and other peoples’ perceptions of him to his advantage. Anyone who tried to mess with Hull, or MacInnis, or any number of shooters, knew that at the end of their play, they would have Chase to finish “the story”. That prevented many “stories” from being told altogether.
Chase’s love for the game of hockey, and the people who play it, was zealous and unyielding. No greater calling would exist than to give back to those who wished to follow the same path he did, after he retired in July 2000. And give back he did: immediately upon his retirement, he was named the radio color analyst for the Blues’s broadcast team, and served 18 seasons in a role he loved. He helped establish a youth hockey presence in St. Louis, and worked as part of the Blues Alumni Association to help local charities in the community. He executive produced Ice Guardians, one of the most thorough and engaging hockey documentaries about the role of the enforcer, including the dangers of that particular role. Every year in Saskatoon, SK, he and several other hockey alumni and current players put on a hockey fantasy camp, so those who missed out on drafts that never happened could taste a moment of NHL hockey bliss that they never would have received otherwise. He was honored with the Jack Buck Award for his contributions to sports in 2008. In April 2018, after the horrific accident involving the Humboldt Broncos, it was Chase, a former Bronco, and special guests from the hockey and the music world, who put on a concert benefiting the team, its families, its fallen, its survivors, and the hockey community at large. They also held an online auction, where former and current players donated their jerseys to raise money for medical costs, funeral arrangements, or any other need that the Humboldt Broncos families needed to pay for. They did so to help heal, honor, and give hope that even in death, the lives of those lost or injured touched the world; those that were injured, killed, or affected in any way by the accident meant something, and the impact those people made in the hockey community reached farther than just a small town in Saskatchewan. Chase spearheaded the campaign, from the entertainment for the concert, to communicating with the players that appeared or donated the jerseys off their backs. Without expecting a single thank you, or word of gratitude, Chase’s heart was in the right place, and he was exactly where he needed to be.
ENFORCE FROM THE HEART
In Ice Guardians, when asked if he could go back to being an enforcer and relive his career all over again, Chase took a moment to think. With a tear running down his cheek, humble as always, he simply said, “With a little more fire”. We could all learn to love others like Kelly Chase, and have that same fire, that same passion, to better the world around us. Ignited by hockey, or a common cause, or something we love to do, we should never lose that fire.
In light of his recent decision to step down as a radio broadcaster, if I could tell Chaser one thing, it would be “thank you”. Thank you for being someone to look up to. Thank you for giving back when you could have easily walked away without contributing at all. Thank you for never losing that fire. Because of it, you helped others start their own.
Thank you, Chaser, and good luck.
And never lose that fire.
(Sources: Hockey-Reference.com, Ice Guardians, Theplayerstribune.com “For Humboldt” by Kelly Chase)
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