Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

DEFENSEMAN'S DEATH WAS `A BIG CRUSH' FOR BLUES Series: BLUES HOCKEY: PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE ST. LOUIS BLUES FIRST OF THREE PARTS SIDEBAR STORY

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

DEFENSEMAN'S DEATH WAS `A BIG CRUSH' FOR BLUES Series: BLUES HOCKEY: PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE ST. LOUIS BLUES FIRST OF THREE PARTS SIDEBAR STORY

Article excerpt

The most devastating moment in Blues history had nothing to do with wins or losses, trades, draft choices or management. It had nothing to do with hockey it all.

It was the death of defenseman Bob Gassoff, who died at age 24 after a motorcycle accident on Memorial Day weekend in 1977.

"It's tough to explain how bad it was," said Bruce Affleck, who was Gassoff's friend and defensive partner and is now the Blues' director of sales. "It was just a big crush. It's no coincidence that we had a huge drop the next year. "We got off to a terrible start and never recovered." Although the Blues were in a rebuilding phase under general manager Emile Francis and the new Ralston Purina ownership, and were breaking in top 1976 draft choices Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter, they were expected to do much better than their 20-47-13 record. They dropped to fourth from first in the Smythe Division standings, finishing with 53 points and missed the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history. They also missed the playoffs the following season, with a franchise-low record of 18-50-12. "Gasser's death really hurt," Affleck said. The Blues lost a good friend and popular teammate off the ice. On the ice, they lost their heart and soul. "He was irreplaceable," said Federko, who played one season with Gassoff. Although Gassoff wasn't a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman, he was rock-solid and tough and improving every year. The last selection in the fourth round of the 1973 draft, Gassoff earned respect as a fighter early in his career, then improved all-around as a player after opponents stayed out of his way. …

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