With locker stalls long cleaned out, good-byes having been shared between players and billet families, and the 2017-18 junior hockey season officially coming to a close, it’s time to look back and take stock of the year that was. And for the St. Louis Jr. Blues, it was a campaign that saw them come within touching distance of the Fraser Cup, but more importantly saw the club cement its status as one of the premier vehicles for advancement in American junior hockey.
“Obviously, us reaching the Fraser Cup Final only to lose in overtime still stings, but there’s an old saying, ‘the journey is the destination’, and this year it really was all about the journey for us at the Jr. Blues,” said head coach Chris Flaugher. “We had a great group of young men who really came together as a unit, went through all the peaks and valleys of a season that stretched from August to April, and bonded together to make a unit that was a great honor for me to coach.”
The year for the Jr. Blues has almost too many great honors to list: a 23-game winning streak, a new NA3HL all time goals champion in Jake Cox, winning their group in the Fraser Cup round-robin stage, and advancing to the Fraser Cup Final for the first time since 2010. But in Flaugher’s mind, what’s more important than any trophy is seeing his players get chances at the next level of college and junior hockey, and 2017-18 saw a banner year in that department as well for St. Louis.
“This year 24 NA3HL players signed tender agreements with NAHL clubs, and I’m proud to say that St. Louis players accounted for one-sixth of that total,” he noted. “Each and every one of them deserved it and are going to stand-out programs in a premier league: Mark Capkovic signed with the Robertson Cup champions, the Shreveport Mudbugs, Bud Winter tendered with a great club in Corpus Christi, Dante Jones capped off a breakout year by signing with Bismarck, and John Shively just recently agreed to a tender with the Topeka Pilots, who have a committed new leadership group.”
Beyond just tendering with NAHL clubs, St. Louis took full advantage of being in the NAHL family and the interaction that exists between the NAHL and NA3HL. Flaugher adds that “over the past four seasons approximately 250 players have gotten promoted to the NAHL from an NA3HL club, and this year several of our players, including Ben Jones, Will Baginski, and Bud Winter, all got promoted and spent valuable time not only playing for NAHL clubs, but learning about what it takes to make it at a higher level and being able to apply it both on the ice and off the ice as dressing-room leaders.”
At the end of the season, the Jr. Blues can also boast six players committed to playing college hockey at some of the best programs in the country. “Jack Hatton’s going to play for St Mary’s University up in Minnesota, which is a phenomenal program in a tough league,” said Flaugher, himself an SMU alumnus. “Jake Cox is heading up to Southern New Hampshire, and we’re confident he can continue his great scoring form up East. On the ACHA side, we’ve also got three guys going to Arizona, one of the top college club programs around both on and off the ice, and another committed to Louisville, which is really building a good program down in Kentucky. Plus, we foresee more college commitments coming as the summer progresses. Each and every one of these guys can honestly say that the Jr. Blues did a lot in giving them the tools to succeed at this next level, and we’re proud of all of our players moving on.”
However, there is no time for the Jr. Blues to rest on their laurels, as Flaugher knows that 2018-19 will be an even tougher year, and one he hopes will be even better in terms of results and advancement. “We’re always working on recruitment and building the next generation of Jr. Blues, and I’m confident that we’re building a team strong enough to take on a very tough new Central Division next season and continue the great tradition we have here in St. Louis.”