- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
If it had happened in Montreal or Boston or New York or Philadelphia or Pittsburgh—places where the Plager Brothers have cracked a few rival skulls—the crowd would have cheered for more blood and a lone bugler would have sounded taps. But this was Vancouver, a city new to the National Hockey League and the Plager Gang from St. Louis, and the crowd responded to the sight of a Plager stretched out cold on the ice with silent sympathy.
Barclay Plager and Bob Plager were kneeling on the ice alongside their kid brother Billy, who was dreaming sweet dreams and squirting blood from a gash over his left ear. Moments before, Billy had caught Ray Cullen of the Vancouver Canucks skating with his head down just inside the St. Louis blue line and, like a good Plager, had upended Cullen with a solid body check. But as Cullen somersaulted back to ice level, the blade of his skate sliced into Billy's skull. Billy immediately jumped up. Then he noticed he was bleeding and crumpled back onto the ice.
"When I saw the blood pouring from the kid's head, I knew he was all right." Bob Plager said later. "It was really sawdust that he was losing, not blood. And hey, no Plager is hurt when he gets hit on the head. What have we got up there to hurt?" Although Billy was wheeled from the ice on a stretcher, which, he admitted, "was not good for the family image," he upheld another family tradition by returning to the St. Louis bench 14 stitches later. "It was nothing," he said.
When they are not getting hit on the head, or hitting other players on the head, the three wild Plagers play defense for the St. Louis Blues, an accomplishment that is unique among the numerous brother acts in pro sports this year. There are other brothers who play for the same team, like Henry and Tommie Aaron, Bobby and Dennis Hull, Larry and Wayne Hillman and Ernie and Billy Hicke. Then there are the Conigliaro brothers, Tony and Billy, who played in the same outfield until the Boston Red Sox management decided the act was a "liability" and shipped Tony to California.
The three Alous all played the outfield, but for different teams, in the National League, and the three Richardsons play for different clubs in the American Football Conference. Some brothers are rivals, like Tom Van Arsdale, who guards his twin brother Dick; Phil Esposito, who shoots pucks at his brother Tony; and Miller Farr, who tackles his brother Mel (and also his cousin, Jerry Levias). Some brothers are in different leagues, like Jim and Gaylord Perry, who each won more than 20 games this year, Richie and Hank Allen, Joe and Phil Niekro and Carlos and Lee May. Some brothers play different sports, like Alex Johnson, who won the American League batting championship, and brother Ron, who is one of the National Football League's leading rushers. Finally, there is Umpire Bill Haller, who someday may have to call his brother, Catcher Tom Haller, out on strikes.
Barclay Plager, 29, and Bob, 27, are a regular pair in the Blues' blue line while Billy, 25, is a swing defenseman. They all arrived in St. Louis courtesy of the New York Rangers, and they play the game only one way—rough. Wherever they have played, they always have been among the leaders in penalty minutes. Last year, for instance, Barclay and Bob accounted for half the Blues' major penalties, and major penalties generally are fighting penalties. Never has a Plager been accused of playing defense with finesse; indeed, the Plagers believe the only way to take the puck from someone is to slam that person onto the ice or into the boards. "Is there any other way?" Billy asks.
"Some people call our dad 'Squirrel,' because they think he raised three nuts," Billy adds. "Dad never let us come crying to him. If we had something going, either with each other or with some other kids on the street, we had to go out back and settle it." Some of the best fights in Ontario were private brawls between Barclay and Bob.
"One time we were playing amateur hockey—Barclay in Peterborough and me in Guelph," Bob says, "and we really squared away. One of my teammates, Al Lebrun, tried to break us up but the referee wisely pulled him off. We were still feuding at the end of the game, and we both said we'd get the other one soon. Well, that night Barclay came into a restaurant where I was eating and walked over to my table. The whole place anticipated another brawl. Huh—Barclay just wanted to borrow $5."
Bob was the first Plager to arrive in the NHL, joining the Rangers during the 1964-65 season. "I was supposed to be the tough guy they needed," he says. Instead of a muscleman, though, Bobby became a comedian—which he still is—and soon was back in the minor leagues. "I used to get mad at people because they thought Canada was an uncivilized place," he says, "and I was always making up pretty good stories to tell them." One time someone asked Bob how old he was. "I don't know," he said. " Indians attacked the settlement where my family lived, killed my parents and burned down the general store where all the records were."
Barclay, meanwhile, was playing for Eddie Shore in Springfield, easily the worst place for a hockey player during the mid-'60s. "Eddie suspended you if he didn't like the way you sneezed," Barclay says. "He used to tie rope around the players' legs so they would not skate with too wide a gap. It got so bad that we all went on strike and forced Eddie to give up running the club."