Jay Bouwmeester had to turn on the TV to see playoff hockey for almost a decade after he made it to the NHL.
A third overall pick with lofty expectations, Bouwmeester didn’t get to play beyond the regular season his first nine years in the league.
“Every year you got sick of watching the playoffs,” Bouwmeester said.
Bouwmeester put 764 games on his resume before finally getting his first taste of the playoffs, a record at the time for active players when he finally got the opportunity in 2013. Bouwmeester has since racked up 75 more playoff games. On Wednesday night in Boston, he was the first player St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo handed the Stanley Cup to as a sign of respect for the 35-year-old veteran and appreciation for his long road to his first NHL championship.
“It’s crazy,” Bouwmeester said. “You go through times where you have ups and downs in your career, you always see lots of guys in here, guys that end up winning and you know it’s so hard. To finally do it, I don’t know. I’m kind of dumbfounded.”
Bouwmeester — who signed a $3.25 million contract extension just before the playoffs began — was used to his career being defined in two parts. For years, he was the guy who never made to the postseason and then he was the guy who went all the time. There were other highlights, of course — a 2014 Olympic gold medal, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey title. But until this week, he was the guy with 1,184 regular-season games without an NHL championship, trailing only Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau among active players.
“You play the 82 games or whatever it is and that’s fine, you want to be successfully individually and as a team, but at the end of the day, you want to be in the playoffs because those are the fun games,” Bouwmeester said. “Once you get there, you realize even more how much fun it is and really how easy the games are to play because everybody’s focused.”
The Blues didn’t make anything easy in the playoffs, going to at least six games in all four rounds. They eliminated their first three opponents on the first chance before losing Game 6 of the final against Boston.
That gave Pietrangelo more time to think about who he’d give the Cup to after receiving it from Commissioner Gary Bettman. Not that he needed it.
“It’s not hard to figure out,” Pietrangelo said with a wry smile.
Bouwmeester handed it to next door neighbor and 35-year-old alternate captain Alex Steen, who just completed his 10th full season with St. Louis and 14th in the NHL. That was a no-brainer.
“He’s been through a lot, too,” Bouwmeester said of Steen, who is signed for two more years. “He played 14 years. People talk, we didn’t have anybody who won a Cup, it doesn’t matter. You play the games, and now we all have one.”
That includes 36-year-old journeyman forward Chris Thorburn, who skated three shifts for 1:52 on Oct. 13 in his only NHL action of the season. Still, he was the third player to get the Cup after Pietrangelo on a team full of championship newcomers.
“The team makes you feel a part of it,” said Thorburn, who is a pending free agent and could be at the end of his career. “We don’t leave a man behind. Everyone’s part of the group, part of something special. Just feels like everyone had a part in it.”
Including 32-year-old St. Louis native Chris Butler, who played 13 NHL games in his fifth year in the Blues organization. Butler could probably be a mainstay for their top minor league affiliate in San Antonio for a few more years, but the 18th player to get the Cup more than appreciates the value of winning it.
“There is a lot of people that play a long time in this business and never get an opportunity to be at this stage,” Butler said. “You try not to take anything for granted, you try and enjoy every little bit of it. To be a part of something like this, it’s hard to put into words, but this is pretty damn special.”
Now that the Cup belongs to the Blues, their biggest offseason decisions revolve around a handful of key restricted and unrestricted free agents. That includes pending restricted free agent Jordan Binnington , who came out of nowhere to become the Blues’ goaltender of the present and future, and Patrick Maroon and Carl Gunnarsson, both pending unrestricted free agents.
General manager Doug Armstrong will be busy negotiating new contracts for pending RFA forwards Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist, Sammy Blais and Ivan Barbashev and defenseman Joel Edmundson.
Vince Dunn, who could sign an extension as soon as July 1, got to raise the Cup at age 22 and looks at Bouwmeester with admiration for all the games he played before getting the honor.
“For me at such a young age, it’s very special,” Dunn said. “You kind of take things for granted when you’re younger, but now you really take it in.”
St. Louis will presumably rush to remove the interim tag from Craig Berube’s title after he became the fourth coach in the past 11 seasons to lead a team to the Stanley Cup after taking over midseason.
“We’re going to work that out,” Armstrong said.
Maybe it can wait just a bit longer: The championship parade is Saturday in St. Louis.
Follow AP writer Stephen Whyno at twitter.com/SWhyno.