Wednesday, June 12th – Stanley Cup Final- game 7 – Wood and Ales Bar- Manhattan, NY
My wife Theresa and I are originally from St. Louis, love baseball, and love to take vacations where the Cardinals are playing road games. Through the years we’ve seen them play in a dozen different cities- Cincinnati, Houston, Denver, to name a few. This year, sometime around early to mid-March, we decided we would see the Cardinals play in New York against the Mets at Citi Field.
At the time, our beloved St. Louis Blues were nearing the end of their 11 game winning streak and miraculous turnaround, from last place to definite playoff contender. Still, we had no idea that the Blues would factor into our New York visit when we planned our Cardinals vacation.
The closer we got to our vacation though, the deeper into the playoffs the Blues went. Sometime around the Dallas series in round 2, Theresa stumbled across a St. Louis Blues Bar while researching things to do in New York. The bar is called Wood and Ales, and it’s a hangout for Blues fans in downtown Manhattan. I thought it was cool and agreed when Theresa said we should check it out while we’re there.
We can stop in and have a drink or two and take some pictures, not even thinking about ever actually watching a Blues game there. Well, the Blues kept winning and winning. And one day around game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Theresa said to me, “You know, if it goes seven games we’ll be in New York…”
Four hours before game 7, Theresa and I are touring the Empire State Building. It cost us 85 bucks to take the elevator up to the 86th floor. There we had the same view of the city that King Kong had just before he died.
As we were getting on the elevator, we saw a half dozen ladies decked out in Blues gear. Of course, I yelled out, “Let’s Go Blues!” which started up a conversation that led me to bring up Wood and Ales, and how we were going to watch the Blues game there later.
“Oh yeah,” one of them said, “We got there about 2 and a half hours before game 6, and it was packed. There was a line to get in, so we decided to go watch it somewhere else.” Not good.
So although we dropped 85 bucks to tour the Empire State Building, we saw what we came to see then pretty much rushed out of there.
Back at street level, we hopped the nearest subway and emerged a few blocks from 234 West 14th St. When we came within sight of Wood and Ales, we were relieved to see there wasn’t a line. There wasn’t a line, but we were the start of the line.
“Sorry guys,” said one of the two guys at the door. “We’re filled up. You’re welcome to wait if you want to.” Hell yeah, we’re going to wait, I thought. We came all this way, and we’re at the only St. Louis Blues bar in New York City before game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final – the first Stanley Cup Final they’ve been in since I was about four months old. Hell yeah, we’re going to wait!
Then I thought about it. Anyone who is in this bar right now is not going to leave. We could be waiting here at the doorway all night and never get in. About the time I’m thinking of telling Theresa we need to come up with a plan B, the guy who seemed to be in charge relented.
“How many of you are there?” He asked. “Just us two,” I assured him, “and we’re here all the way from South Carolina.” He thought about it for a second and told us to follow him. He’d find a spot for us.
Our benefactor walks us over to 1 of the 2, two-person tables that have a reserved sign on them. Every other table is taken. He takes the reserved sign off one of the tables, and we sit down. It’s ours. People are crammed into the bar, and it’s standing room only. I didn’t notice, but Theresa said a couple of people sitting nearby were wondering who we were, so important that we had a table reserved for us! Anyway, it’s 5:45 pm and we have about 2 ½ hours before the game starts, but we’re in.
Everywhere you look there are St. Louis fans wearing Blues sweaters, t-shirts and hats. They’re all as pumped as we are and have been waiting for this moment just like we have. It’s not long before we’ve had a couple of drinks and discovered that Wood and Ales even has St. Louis Style Pizza! The toasted ravioli, however, was delivered to the wrong restaurant.
Seriously. Aside from that, everything is perfect! The bar is adorned with Blues signs and flags and mirrors everywhere. There is ONE New York Rangers sign, which is almost forgivable, since the Rangers are in the Eastern Conference and we are in New York, after all.
Theresa and I have had a few drinks, and we wait and wait. It’s starting to get HOT in this bar jam-packed with Blues fans, and it’s taking forever for the game to start. The pregame coverage is all but drowned out by the music in the bar and all the chatter. All we can do is sip our drinks and lean in close and comment on how hot and stuffy, yet entirely GREAT this all is!
Finally, the puck drops. After St. Louis controls play for the first two minutes, the Bruins are all over the Blues, dominating puck possession, zone time and outshooting them. At one point the scoring chances are 7-0 Bruins. But Binnington is a brick wall.
The rookie goaltender has been spectacular all year long, but he is never better than after a loss, and he lost game 6. He’s calm, unflappable. About a month after he took the reigns as the Blues starting goalie, he famously answered a Post-Dispatch beat writer’s question about nervousness thusly, “Do I look nervous?”
With a little over 3 minutes left to play in the first period, it could have easily been 2 or 3-0 Bruins, but there’s no score until Ryan O’Reilly deflects a deep shot from Jay Bouwmeester into the net behind Tuuka Rask. It’s 1-0 Blues.
All the Boston momentum and pressure was for naught. The Blues lead, and Wood and Ales is going nuts. Theresa and I are now best friends with people we met 3 hours ago. We’re high fiving and hugging and clapping and jumping up and down and screaming “We Want the Cup!” at the top of our lungs, while a guy with a saxophone is belting out “When the Blues Go Marching In” and the familiar 3 horn honk of “Let’s Go Blues” to get the crowd pumped up. As if we needed it.
That goal gives the Blues renewed confidence, and play begins to even out. The Bruins do get more pressure at the end of the period as they try to tie the game, but perhaps trying too hard to extend the Bruins’ scoring chance, Boston forward Brad Marchand stays out on the ice too long. When the Blues regain puck possession and head towards the Boston goal, Marchand is completely gassed.
Jaden Schwartz meets up with him just before the blue line and passes the puck to himself off the boards. Marchand fans on a hip check and heads to the bench with about 12 seconds left in the period. Marchand’s ill-timed change leaves our captain, Alex Pietrangelo, wide open to take Schwartz’s pass. Pietrangelo skates right up to Rask and beats him with a backhand to make it 2-0 with 7 seconds left in the first period. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the game.
Wood and Ales is burning down. The bar takes a deep breath during intermission, we all get more drinks, order another St. Louis Style Pizza and try to control our emotions. Is this happening?
The 2nd period is evenly played. The Blues ring one off the post, and it drops behind Rask. Just before it crosses the goal line, the Bruins captain Zdeno Chara- the broken jawed warrior- flicks the puck out of danger. That would have made it 3-0.
It’s about that time that former Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds shows up. WHAT?! I’m assuming he was in town to broadcast the Cardinals/Mets series. Jimmy Ballgame. Theresa was in line for the bathroom when a fellow Blues fan told her. She didn’t believe him, and I didn’t believe her when she left the line to come to tell me. But it was true.
Standing near the bar, off to the left side was Jim Edmonds, one of my all-time favorite Cardinals. I made my way over to him and asked him if I could shake his hand. I didn’t want to bother him too much, so I simply asked to shake his hand. No selfie, just a quick handshake while we watch game seven as Blues fans.
The 3rd period starts, and Boston has some chances, but Jordan Binnington is the difference in the game. Boston’s last, best chance was lost with barely over 11 minutes left in the 3rd.
Bruins forward Noel Acciari threw a puck on net from 15’ inside the blue line. Binnington made the save, but the rebound ended up on the stick of Joakim Nordstrom right in front of the crease. Nordstrom quickly moved left and thought he was going to bury the puck into a wide-open net. But Binnington was there, with a save for the ages. He turned his body into an open pair of scissors with a sprawling, lunging save- arms and legs extending to their complete outer limits in the blink of an eye. It was his best, and possibly most important save of the playoffs.
If the Bruins score there, they have 11 minutes to get the equalizer, and the crowd would have gone out of its mind. But Binnington stood tall. His face was hidden behind his goalie mask, but I bet he didn’t look a bit nervous.
With a little under 9 minutes left in the game, Vladimir Tarasenko, the closest the Blues have to a superstar, made a great play down in the offensive corner. Just before taking the puck – and a check- he looked over his shoulder and laid a perfect pass right onto the one-timing stick of Brayden Schenn. It’s 3-0 with about 8 minutes left.
Wood and Ales erupts. There’s no way the Blues are going to lose this game. It’s set in. After Theresa and I share a kiss, she hugs the young woman next to her who graduated from Eureka High School. (Yeah, of course, we were all doing the “What High School?” thing!) I think I hugged everyone in the bar, including Jim Edmonds’ wife.
The place is rocking, just like I’m sure it was in St. Louis- at Syberg’s on Market St. and Helen Fitzgerald’s on Lindbergh.
Then with 4 minutes left in the game, David Perron skates straight out from the corner past 3 Bruins and sends a perfect pass to Massachusetts native Zach Sanford. Sanford one times it past Rask to end all doubt. 4 to nothing. This is amazing. This is unbelievable. This was never going to happen, but it did.
And if I couldn’t be in St. Louis, I’m happy to be here, in Manhattan at Wood and Ales, with my beautiful wife at this beautiful moment.
Game over. Series over. Fifty-two years of waiting over. Play Gloria! Bring out the Zamboni! The St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup Champions!