Bob Plager, the hard-hitting NHL defenseman who spent more than 50 years with the Blues as a player, coach, scout and ambassador, died Wednesday following a two-vehicle crash on a St. Louis highway, according to multiple reports. He was 78.
An unidentified woman in the other car involved in the accident on Interstate 64 was being treated in a hospital for minor injuries, police told CBS affiliate KMOV.
Details surrounding the crash were scarce.
“It is unimaginable to imagine the St. Louis Blues without Bobby Plager,” the Blues said in a statement.
Known for his trademark hip check and pranks off the ice, which once included mailing a teammate’s false teeth home during a long road trip, the one they called “Mr. Blue” grew up in Ontario, Canada and got his career started with the Rangers in 1964.
In his first game with the Rangers, at the old Madison Square Garden, Plager endeared himself to fans after delivering a crushing hit on Hall of Famer Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“For the next game, the fans have Bob Plager banners hanging from the balcony,” Plager recalled to PuckStruck.com in 2017.
But his time in New York lasted just 29 games before he was traded to the Blues as part of the 1967 NHL expansion draft, which saw St. Louis and five other franchises join what had been a six-team league.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound bruiser immediately became a key part of a Blues team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final its first three seasons, losing each time.
He also played four of his 11 seasons in St. Louis with brothers Bill and Barclay — in 1972, the three leaped into the stands in Philadelphia after Flyers fans doused their head coach, the legendary Al Arbour, with beer.
Plager, whose No. 5 was raised to the rafters in 2017, retired from the NHL in 1977 after 645 NHL games, including 20 goals, 126 assists and 800 penalty minutes.
He toiled in a lower professional hockey league for a couple years and joined the Blues front office, where he would work the rest of his life.
After years of success as a scout, he became a minor league coach and was named the head coach of the Blues in 1992, but resigned after just 11 games because he wasn’t happy in his new role. He returned to his post as vice president of player development.
Plager has since served as a team ambassador, and saw the Blues win their first Stanley Cup in 2019.