When I interviewed Ed Ronan two months ago, I was so nervous, and couldn’t believe it. For today’s guest, I was a lot less anxious. I was well prepared, and knew the stress to come. I gotta admit I was very thrilled doing this, even if my French Canadian accent always was a big source of stress...this time was no different. When I got former Boston Bruins goalie John Blue on the phone, he started with the following: "Ah, I just love the French Canadian accent!
Now, I was nervous!!! But the result ended up being just as great and satisfying as the first time. So here it is, my interview / bio with a great guy, John Blue.
DISCOVERING AND GROWING WITH HOCKEY
John Blue was born February 19th 1966 in Huntingdon Beach, California. When he grew up, despite having the Kings and the Seals to cheer for, hockey was not very popular in California. How does a young boy growing there at that time gets to like hockey ?
"I moved to Seattle when I was 5 and lived there for two years. My father saw a picture of a hockey player, and thought it would be interesting to try. So I started playing and we moved back in northern California. I played football and baseball too. Hockey was not big then and we had to travel a lot, even for practice. I practiced once or twice a week only, not having an arena close to our home. So I didn’t play as much as I would’ve wanted. I went to the Pee-Wee Tournament in Quebec and we would get beat 7-0, 6- 1....I’d get peppered with 40-50 shots all the time...think it made me a better goalie."
After spending the first 17 years of his life in California, Blue had just started playing quarterback for his high school’s football team, but plans changed when he was invited to training camp by the Des Moines Buccaneers in the UHL. He got a spot on the team and didn’t go back to California.
"It was intimidating at first. I had just gotten there with two suitcases and ended up making the team. I didn’t know what to expect...the guy from California...I’ve never had my own sticks...but I just loved playing hockey and was a decent athlete. It was a good step up and I had to adapt."
Blue then went to Minnesota University to study speech communications. And, it goes without saying, he played hockey there for three seasons as well . He was named to the 2nd All-Star Team in 1985, and he bettered that the next after with a 1st All-Star Team Selection. He played with future NHLers there such as Corey Millen, Paul Broten and Tom Chorske, and went to the Final Four in 1986 and 1987.
"Arriving there was the biggest shock. It was my first experience with cold and snow...Minnesota had one of the finest teams in the country back then. They never had a kid from California before...almost everybody except for two players were from Minnesota. Playing in front of 10,000 people crowds was totally crazy. In 1985, I was runner up to Brett Hull for Rookie of the Year when he won it. I guess they made the right choice!" said a laughing Blue.
He was drafted by the Jets in 1986 as a 10th rounder ( 197th overall ) and was traded to the North Stars in 1987, but never played with either team. He turned pro by signing his first contract at that time with the North Stars organization, leaving school before his senior year.
"I have very few regrets in my life. I’m a blessed man with five children and a great wife. At the time, I signed with Minnesota because Lou Nanne, the North Stars GM at the time, saw me play and traded for me. There were injuries there and they wanted me to be the third goalie. Unfortunately, Lou was fired a year after and I never got my chance under GM Bobby Clarke," said the former Minnesota college player, disappointed. "I had fun playing at college. It was a great experience. If there was one thing I could do all over, I definitely would’ve gone to back for my senior year."
Briefly after signing with the North Stars organization, Blue got to play for the US National team, and was used as the backup for the Olympics...but he only saw action in the exhibition games before the Calgary Olympics.
"I ended up being behind a great goalie, young Mike Richter, and Chris Terreri. But I had a great time there," said the American goalie whose team finished 7th at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
Between 1988 and 1991, Blue would play in the ECHL and the IHL before signing with the Bruins organization in the summer of ’91. He played for six teams during that those three years...Kalamazoo, Virginia, Phoenix, Peoria, Knoxville and Albany.
"It was very difficult to be travelling that much. I remember waking up in Peoria one morning and wondering where the heck I was. I just lived with a suitcase and a hockey bag...I came from California, not playing a lot, and I had to adapt my game. I had a lot of people telling me I was no good, I had friends quitting, but I knew I was not gonna quit, that they would have to kick me out. I was gonna give it my best and play until I couldn’t anymore...that was my motto. I believe some of that is connected to my faith...God gave me a gift to play hockey and I wasn’t a quitter. Good thing I wasn’t married at the time, because it would’ve made things a lot tougher."
DAYS IN THE NHL
After signing with the Bruins, he played with Maine and Providence, which were the Bruins farm team. He got his first shot at the NHL during the 1992-93 season.
"I was the third goalie in Providence behind Matt Delguidice and Mike Bales, and I remember sitting in the stands for the first 14 games of the season. Mike Milbury came down and he was not happy, and before a game I was told that I was playing that night. I had a 14-4 run, and was called up by the Bruins in January. Andy Moog was injured and they didn’t want Reggie Lemelin anymore. In fact, they threw him out by putting his equipment out of the locker room. I felt bad for him, he was such a nice guy and fans loved him. I remember losing my first game 3-2 in overtime to Quebec and then being pulled in the second period of my second game against the Devils at the Gardens. At 4- 0 Devils, people where shouting for Lemelin...I felt like a complete idiot. I got pulled in that game...and got cheered when I was pulled. I remember praying ‘’ It’s a tough night, God help me! ‘’ But we had a nice run after. Brian Sutter put me in net for the next game against Buffalo, everybody was shaking their heads in disbelief, but it was the start of an interesting career," said the goalie who stopped Denis Savard on a penalty shot in his first stint with the Bruins.
After dividing his time between the AHL and the NHL (18 games) in 1993-94 and playing a couple of games in Providence the season after, Blue had short stints in Phoenix and Fort Wayne of the IHL before being signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Sabres in December of 1995. He played with their AHL affiliate Rochester Americans and would play also his last five games in the NHL with the Sabres.
"I signed with the Kings for a 25 games contract at first with their IHL affiliate, the Phoenix Roadrunners. After the contract expired, I ended up in Fort Wayne and few games after, I was signed by the Sabres and ended up in Rochester in the AHL. It was a tough time for the team (Buffalo)...and I didn’t play a lot because the other goalie was Dominik Hasek. He was such an amazing competitor and goaltender...but we missed the playoffs and I was sent back down to the AHL along with Brian Holzinger and Dixon Ward and we finished the season there. Playing with guys like Pat LaFontaine and Hasek...it was a great experience. John Muckler just told me I was there to back up Hasek and not try to be like him...’’ Just don’t lose any games! ‘’ he said. It was good pep talk," says the father of five.
Days after the NHL and Christian life
Blue retired from the NHL after playing the 1995-96, but he would play one season for Austin in the Western Pro Hockey League.
"I had two hip replacements. The last couple of years were painful and I just got married...It was time to move on. I got a called by the Bruins organization to do color commentary for their games...at the same time, I got a call from Greg Ball, who had a sports Ministry called Champions for Christ, and he asked me if I wanted to go work there in Austin, Texas, and I accepted. I really felt like I wanted to be a part of helping other people find God and find out who they are. I noticed they had a hockey team there, the Austin Ice Bats and I just called them to play for them just for fun, and that’s why I played one last season."
While with Champions for Christ, from 1996 to 2007, John Blue led bible studies with players such as Curtis Brown, Mike Peca and Brian Pothier.
It was in 1991 that John met Champions for Christ founder, Greg Ball, for the first time. He questioned Blue’s commitment to Christianity. The former Bruins goalie admitted years later that Ball was right and he was living like a hypocrite. I asked him what he meant by that, and he replied honestly.
"Greg told me that if I was to proclaim myself a Christian, I’d have to act like one. You know, I was young. Fooling around, drinking...I realized that he was right. When I received my first paycheck with the Bruins, it was a big moment that I had waited for twenty years, but I remember thinking ‘’ There’s gotta be more to life than just this! ‘’...it all comes and goes! We get old and only last for a season, but there’s gotta something more that sustains for a lifetime. And that’s when my relationship with God really started to change."
Former Rochester teammate Curtis Brown would probably tell you that Blue did change. "There was something appealing, he had this peace around him that I'd never seen before," said Brown about his former goalie.
"That’s what I try to convey," said a determined Blue about his good friend’s comment.
Blue is now the lead Pastor at Pacific Point Church in Orange County, California. He has been working there with the community for the last four years now.
"I am married to a great wife and I have five children, McKennah (13), Jack (11), TJ (8), Hudson (6) and Georgia (2). "None of my boys play hockey!" he laughs. "I still play twice a week with like JF Jomphe, Randy Burridge...I don’t play goalie anymore, because of the hips," said the very calm and relaxed Blue, who
now makes a ‘’career’’ out of playing forward with his friends.
"If you ever come by, you know you have a friend here. If you come to Disneyland or Orange County..."
This little guy here will keep that in mind.
Frederick LaVallee is a 30 year-old Quebecer from Montreal who has loved hockey since the 1988-89 season. He is a Habs fan, but a hockey fan first and foremost. Most of his work is written in French, but he wanted to share his passion with more English readers. One day he hopes to become a hockey historian/journalist and travel around the world to write about the coolest sport on earth!