Monday, April 4, 2022

Gunnarsson returns to St. Louis for first time since retirement

Popular defenseman helped lead Blues to first-ever Stanley Cup championship 
in 2019, visited with former teammates, coaches after calling it quits in 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Carl Gunnarsson sat at the podium Monday at Enterprise Center with a smile and no regrets.
Former Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (middle
with son) poses with the Blues on Monday after arriving
in St. Louis for the first time since retiring from the NHL.

And why would he?

A Stanley Cup champion whose career was cut short in 2021 after an ACL tear in his left knee, Gunnarsson was in St. Louis for the first time since he announced his retirement from the game June 23, 2021.

The 35-year-old was accompanied by wife Josefin and their two children at the rink, paying a visit to many of the teammates, coaches and staff he won a Cup with when the Blues defeated he Boston Bruins in seven games in 2019.

Gunnarsson, who played in 630 regular-season games and another 61 in the playoffs (61 with the Blues, seven with the Toronto Maple Leafs), took pictures with former teammates, including a group photo.

"Yeah, it's kind of weird to be back but it feels good though," Gunnarsson said. "I missed it a lot and it's been a little bit too long. We planned on coming earlier but we made it so it's good."

Gunnarsson has been living in his native Sweden, dipping his toes in the game -- not on the ice -- still lending a helping hard with the local team, Örebro HK, of the Swedish Hockey League and helping to raise a family.

"So just doing a little bit of stuff with that. We'll see if that leads anywhere," he said. "I'm just taking a little time off and now back to studying a little bit and just work a little bit with the team back home, taking care of the family, looking after them. It's been all right. It’s a little change your pace but it's been fun in a different way.

"No, I haven't been on ice since … it's been over a year now. So just waiting on that. We'll see if that's going to happen."

But coming back to St. Louis brings back the memories of helping the Blues win their first-ever Stanley Cup, and Gunnarsson will forever go down in Blues history as the one who scored the game-winner in Game 2 of their first-ever win in the Stanley Cup Final after losing their first nine, including three four-game sweeps from 1968-70.

"I knew he was coming to town," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "It's always nice seeing former teammates, especially guys you won with. That was one of the most selfless teammates I've ever had. He's a warrior, he played for the team every single night. It's nice to see him in the building tonight. Hopefully they welcome him back with a nice special something."

Added Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, "I heard grumblings, I didn't know when, and then I saw him in the training room with the kids and wife. Kind of was like, 'Hey, what are you doing here!?' But yeah, great to see him. He was a huge part of this group and organization for a while. Just a standup guy, glad to see him and glad he's doing well.

"Carl looks good, yeah. I think he's looked the same for the last 10 years and I don't think that's going to change. He's got that Swedish build that ages well, I think."

Gunnarsson's encounters with coach Craig Berube will always surround themselves with "the pisser," in which Gunnarsson and Berube met in the urinal of the visiting locker room at TD Garden in Boston at intermission before overtime, when Gunnarsson told Berube he needed just one more chance after hitting the post late in the third period of a 2-2 game.

He would get that chance and make good on it, but thinks of Berube whenever he goes to the bathroom now.

"Every time," Gunnarsson said. "That's the worst part."

"That was pretty funny," Berube said. "It was great to see 'Gunny' though. That was a surprise to me. I didn't know he was here so it was awesome to see him and his family and he's doing really well. Got a lot of respect for 'Gunny', enjoyed coaching him and being around him. Great guy and he was a real good hockey player for us."

"That's a good memory, but that's a lot of times to be going to the bathroom just to be thinking about Chief," Bortuzzo said.

But Gunnarsson is at peace with his decision to leave the game when he did knowing he reached the pinnacle of hockey and doing it in a city that was thirsting for its first title.

"I feel blessed about that," Gunnarsson said. "A lot of people go through 10, 20 years sometimes not winning it, so truly privileged to have been able to do that and be part of such a team. It's really cool looking back at pics, videos and all that. Just got a bunch of good memories from it. So it's, it's really special.

"I guess so. It just topped it off (winning it all) in a real cool way. It would have been good anyways, but that's just that little extra ... just, wow. Right?
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues converge on defenseman Carl Gunnarsson after his OT goal in
Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 defeated the Bruins 3-2.

"The way it happened, I don't think so. That injury just put a stop to (Gunnarsson's career). But it would have been a different feeling. I think now it just feels like yeah, done that, feels great, don't have to push to get back to try to win it again. So at my age too, and it's just like, alright, this is okay, feel okay with it. I would have wanted to go out in different way, but the way things happened, I feel pretty okay with that."

But you know what? Berube would take him back, knowing he still looks like Gunnarsson's in good shape.

"He does look like he can still play," Berube said. "I asked him how his knee was, maybe come out of retirement. Why not? Take a year off and come back? He looks in good shape."

Gunnarsson was in attendance for Monday's 5-1 win over Arizona and will also be in St. Louis to see Wednesday's game against the Seattle Kraken, perhaps catching up with Jaden Schwartz.

Gunnarsson made it clear that his playing days are over.

"No," he said, then joking. "I don't think I can, my number has been taken now, right?"

Yes, by Nick Leddy.

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