Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Berenson, Unger, Mullen, Tkachuk all shared one special trait: No. 7

Former Blues greats honored Monday in pregame cermony

ST. LOUIS -- Each player had different characteristics, but one common bond brought Red Berenson, Garry Unger, Joe Mullen and Keith Tkachuk together for a special night Monday at Scottrade Center.

They shared the No. 7 Blues jersey at some point in their lives playing for this organization.

The foursome were honored in a pregame ceremony prior to the Blues' matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For Berenson, who is in his 27th season coaching the University of Michigan hockey team, his words were echoed by all four at some point.

"It's a special way to do it, and I know I feel honored to be a part of it," Berenson said of the honor. "I've always loved the Blues. It's been a good memory for us to be a part of the Blues. We all feel the same."

Berenson, who wore No. 7 from 1967-71, ranks 12th all-time in Blues history in games played (519). He ranks seventh in goals (172) and eighth in both points (412) and assists (240).

Berenson also served behind the bench for the Blues from 1980-82. In three years, he led the Blues to a 100-72-32 record and ranks second all-time among Blues coaches with a .569 points percentage.

He was traded to Detroit for Unger, no less, in 1971.

"They asked me what was it like the last day when you took off the number," Berenson recalled. "I said, 'I didn't know I was taking it off for the last time.' I found out the next morning. That's the way it goes, and then I put on a No. 7 in Detroit."

Berenson, a six-time NHL All-Star, will always be remembered for scoring six goals in one game on Nov. 7, 1968 at Philadelphia, including four in the second period.

"I get asked about it too often, really," Berenson said of the feat. "Usually every year in November, someone remembers. ... You've got to have a good night once in a while. I hear it once in a while. Somebody will play it for a reason."

Unger, who was 20 years old when he was dealt here, made St. Louis his home. He was married here and two of his three children were born here. The youngest was born in Edmonton.

"I wanted to either be a hockey player or a cowboy," Unger said. "I bought a farm here and raised some quarter horses. It was really a special time in my life.

Unger wore No. 7 from 1970-79. He is the fourth longest tenured Blue in club history. In 662 games, the Calgary, Alberta native accumulated some of the franchise’s top career offensive numbers, including fourth all-time in goals (292) and points (575), sixth in assists (283), third in hat tricks (seven) and game-winning goals (40) while remaining the club leader in game-tying goals (19).

In addition, the seven-time All-Star’s 662 career games came in consecutive fashion, a club record, and he remains one of two players in Blues’ history to record seven points in one game.

Unger's career really took off here after the disappointment of being dealt from the Motor City.

"I really liked Detroit," said Unger, who holds the second longest mark for ironman streak at 914 games. "I was young and single at that time. Detroit was a great hockey town. Gordie Howe was always my favorite player growing up. I got a chance to play with him for three years. ... Everybody knew who Red was. Nobody knew who I was coming in. It was a little bit difficult at first.

"Nobody really likes to get traded. They get settled in the town that they're at. There's a lot of great towns out there, but St. Louis was different. When we came here with the Solomon family owning the team, it was a family atmosphere. It was different than some of the other teams."

Mullen, who wore No. 7 from 1979-86, played 301 career games for the Blues and ranks 11th all-time in goals (151), 20th in assists (184) and 13th in points (335).

He was traded to Calgary in a deal that brought a package of Eddy Beers and Gino Cavallini to St. Louis in 1986.

"It was definitely a shock for me," Mullen said of the trade. "I was starting to feel comfortable and feeling like I had something that was going to last a long, long time here. It really hit me quickly. I wasn't ready for it. I guess you're never ready for your first (trade)."

A veteran of 16 NHL seasons, Mullen, currently an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, is one of seven players in franchise history to have averaged over a point per game while with the club.

The New York, New York native was also one of the NHL’s most prolific U.S.-born players, becoming the first to score 500 goals and record 1,000 points. Overall, he finished his 1,062-game career ranking sixth all-time among U.S.-born skaters in points (1,063), fifth in goals (502) and 11th in assists (561) in a career that saw him play with the Blues, Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. A three-time NHL All-Star, Mullen was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

"Now that I look back on it, it probably was the best move in my career," Mullen said of the trade from St. Louis. "It was not one I was looking forward to but one that just happened and worked out well."

Tkachuk, who was acquired by the Blues in 2001 from the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise, was had for a hefty price tag at the time that cost the Blues Michal Handzus, top-rated prospect Ladislav Nagy, minor leaguer Jeff Taffe and a No. 1 pick, lived up to his potential here despite the lack of playoff success.

Tkachuk, who was the last player to wear No. 7 (2001-10), retired last season after an 18-year NHL career that included parts of nine seasons here in St. Louis.

"I feel pretty honored to be mentioned in the same break as those three guys," Tkachuk said. "This is a fun night. I'm taking it all in."

A five-time NHL All-Star, Tkachuk ranks 11th in club history in games played (543), fifth in goals (208), 13th in assists (219), seventh in points (427) and tied for fifth in game-winning goals (29).

In addition, the Melrose, Massachusetts native finished his career as one of the most productive U.S.-born players in NHL history ranking third in goals (538), fifth in points (1,065) as well as first all-time in power play goals (212).

Known as 'Big Walt' to his teammates, Tkachuk left an ever-lasting impression on his teammates, particularly the ones just getting started in the game.

"We were a very young team a couple years ago," Tkachuk said. "We had some good veteran guys here to help. It takes time, but I hope I hit home in a positive way for some of these younger guys that they'll hopefully help another young guy when he comes in the league. That's what it's all about."

Tkachuk is enjoying retirement and while there are certain areas he misses, he doesn't miss the days of waking up hurting.

"I miss the guys," he said. "I miss that part of it and battling and trying to win games, but I don't miss some mornings you wake up and you're all banged up. It's a long season, and I don't miss that and traveling. I get to spend good, quality time with my family now."

His trade from Phoenix came with much fanfare. But in the end, it was all worth it.

"You might be a little disappointed, but on the other hand, you're excited for a new challenge and go to a great organization that wants to compete and wants to win," Tkachuk said. "It was a blessing."

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