Local youth hockey organization has produced 25 NHL draft picks, including
Keith Tkachuk's son Brady, signed by the Ottawa Senators on Monday
CLARKSON VALLEY, Mo. -- The list is impressive seeing the names on the St. Louis AAA Blues website under the alumni tag.
There are a number of names that have either played in the NHL, are currently there and some that will be there. In fact, one of them on Monday [Brady Tkachuk] decided to take his talents to Canada's capital city of Ottawa.
And it's no surprise that many of them were on hand Monday for the inagural St. Louis AAA Blues Celebrity Golf Classic at Forest Hills Country Club.
Established in 1986, the AAA Blues have produced a number of fine tier 1 hockey players that not only have reached the pinnacle of NHL stardom but also college hockey, the United States national team's developmental program and to an extent, at the very least playing on some form of junior hockey with hopes of reaching greater heights. In all, there have been 25 players drafted to the NHL.
Sean Muncy was the event chairman and helped put on Monday's fundraiser that helps build today's players into future hopefuls.
It's no surprise that a number of them were on hand to play shotgun golf.
"It's the organization that's supported me a lot throughout my youth hockey experience in St. Louis," said AAA Blues alumni and Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Wideman, who played with 2008 Blues second-round pick Philip McRae on the team born in 1990. "It's great to be out here and to give back. Obviously there's teams full of kids that are still playing and hopefully they see us out here and see that we definitely care and we're really appreciative of everything they've done for us."
The list is impressive: Paul Stastny ('85), who got drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round in 2005 and Paul's brother Yan ('82), picked in the eighth round by the Boston Bruins in 2002; Mike McKenna ('83), selected by the Nashville Predators in the sixth round of the '02 draft and Cam Janssen ('84), a fourth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in '02; Ben Bishop ('86) in third round in '05 by the Blues; Pat Maroon ('88) in the seventh round of the '07 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers; Scott Mayfield ('92), a second round pick of the New York Islanders in 2011; Al MacInnis' son Ryan ('96), chosen by the Arizona Coyotes in the second round in 2014; Blues goalie prospect Luke Opilka ('97), picked in the fifth round in 2015, and then there's the big class of players from 2016, of which five of six (Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk, Arizona's Clayton Keller, Ottawa's Logan Brown, Minnesota's Luke Kunin and Boston's Trent Frederic) all went in the first round to their respective teams. Toronto selected Joseph Woll in the third round. And then there's Luke Martin ('98), who went to Carolina in the second round in 2017 and Brady Tkachuk, who was the fourth pick of the Senators in the draft this past June.
"It means a lot to us," said Blues alumni and father of Matthew and Brady, Keith Tkachuk, who is one of the alumni to give back time to coach kids and is a U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer. "This is where my kids grew up playing. This is where they had a lot of success, they had great coaches and it gave them a great chance to move on to the next level, play junior, then play college, one play college and then now both sign pro contracts and hopefully they have long careers in the pros.
"I think a lot of (molding the players here) has to do with the players that have played, retired here in the city and who have been back and really got the ball rolling with this program and started off from scratch. It's gotten better and better each year and I think you're going to see kids succeed because of the people in front of them playing in the National Hockey League. It's going to be awesome. I love it. I've been a part of it and I miss it."
And Wideman is one who credits not only his parents Gary and Julie, season-ticket holders back in the day who took Chris and his brother to see Brett Hull among others, but also coaches/alumni who took the time to make the players that come through the AAA Blues system better.
"It all starts with the Blues alumni that have stuck around and coached," Wideman said. "Just a few to name off that helped me along the way, Mike Zuke, Basil McRae, Rob Ramage. Al MacInnis was out there helping out later on in my career growing up. It starts with those guys, then you have guys like Larry and Scott Sanderson that ran the U-18 program for a bunch of years, just great people that didn't even have kids on the team but are riding on the bus for 12 hours to Detroit and north of that. Awesome memories playing for the U-18 team and all the teams growing up.
"We're all extremely proud to be back here today. Any time you can come back and say thank you, show appreciation for people that laid the foundation for you. I think it's just as important for me to thank guys like Paul and Yan Stastny, guys that paved the way to give me an opportunity to live my dream of playing in the NHL and playing in college and junior. A lot of thank you's all around."
The Stastny brothers were accompanied by their Hockey Hall of Fame father Peter Stastny, who finished his illustrious 15-year career with the Blues in 1995 and paved the way for Paul and Yan when they were young.
"I don't even know how many years I played, it was five, six years. From the coaches I had, Scott Sanderson, I'm still good friends with him. When I was younger, I always thought that was his full-time job is coaching triple-A, but as you get older, you realize everyone volunteers, whether it's coaches, different parents. They have different jobs and a family at home and they're always giving back to the kids and helping them out. It's all about giving back. Those are the people that paved the way."
Al MacInnis, a Hockey Hall of Famer himself and AAA Blues board of directors member, Blues alumnist Bob Plager and current Blue Alexander Steen were on hand Monday, and Steen said from someone who wasn't part of the AAA Blues in his day, he's impressed how they've developed kids.
"It's been special for me to see because when I first came here to where it is now, with the work that the alumni and everybody around, the Blues organization, the community and how tight they get together right away, to see what they have accomplished with all the first rounders that have come through lately, how they do at these tournaments that they travel around to, it's impressive what's gotten done here," Steen said.