ST. LOUIS — Chris Pronger was one of the most feared players on the ice during his career. That reputation along with his unique skill set that netted him 356 points in his NHL career as well as an MVP Award and Stanley Cup championship, helped him become a Hall of Famer.
He'll have to wait an extra year to see his No. 44 raised to the rafters because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he chatted with 5 On Your Side sports director Frank Cusumano on Sports Plus Sunday night. Pronger looked back on some of the stand-out moments of his career, talked a bit about the current Blues and how he wants to be remembered.
It was well known you didn't keep your head down with Pronger on the ice. The towering defenseman was a physical force and said he was never nice to an opponent on the ice.
"I think it's wired into my DNA. I've always played the same way from a young age all the way up through the NHL," Pronger said. "I remember when I was a kid a lot of times people were always asking why I was a jerk and why I played the way I did. That's just the way I played. Hard and competitive and wanted to win at all costs."
Pronger's imposing play hit a high in the 1999-2000 season where he won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP. He was the first defenseman since Bobby Orr in 1972 to win MVP. No defenseman has done it since.
"I'd have to probably rate that (winning the Hart) as No. 3 in my sports memories," Pronger said. "Winning a gold medal with Canada is certainly up there and winning the Stanley Cup (with Anaheim) I think is No. 1."
In his nine years with the Blues, the team was often a dominating force. But Pronger and company were never able to reach the Stanley Cup Final in St. Louis, much less win it.
"I don't know if it's a regret. I'd say it's a disappointment. I think about the teams we had and players we had and the coaches... and really it's disappointing. You feel like you left something on the table," Pronger said. "But you also got to realize some of the teams we lost to... the Detroit Red Wings in their kind of dynasty phase, the Colorado Avalanche, the Dallas Stars... You understand what it was gonna take. And I like to think a lot of those disappointments helped me as I got to other teams and we had some success and opportunity. You want to close the deal when you can."
One of the most harrowing moments of Pronger's career came on Mothers Day in Detroit in the 1998 playoffs, where he collapsed on the ice after a cardiac incident.
"That was a weird one. I really didn't know what was going on. I blocked a shot and it hit me right in the heart, right between the heartbeats. And it goes to show just how much oxygen is in one beat of your heart. I skipped that one beat and that was all it took for me to collapse on the ice," Pronger said. "I didn't really realize the magnitude of what had happened... after a while. You're in the playoffs kind of immersed in the moment. I was in the hospital having the heart monitor on me and realized what was going on and flew home the next morning, had a heart test done and heart monitor the rest of the day... Went in the next morning the day of the game, and they gave me the clear bill of health and I was like, 'What else am I gonna do? I hate watching'. So I made the decision to play."
Pronger was one of the most intimidating players in his day, but so was current Blues head coach Craig Berube. Pronger recalled facing Chief on the ice over the years.
"As you can tell he's very funny, very witty. Played with quite a large chip on his shoulder and an edge. And obviously one of the toughest guys in the league in his era," Pronger said. "You were always on your toes, you were always aware of where Chief was on the ice."
The Blues Alumni group is one of the strongest in professional sports, and has made an impact in the community long after their members stopped playing. Pronger took some time to talk about the group's newest effort, which seeks to help businesses get through tough times during the pandemic.
"I think with everything that's gone on with COVID and the pandemic, and obviously small business, we wanted to start a fund that would raise awareness and raise money to help those who desperately need a little help," Pronger said. "Certainly not gonna take the full burden or load off, but it's gonna help keep businesses alive, help keep them viable."
On the ice the Hall of Famer will be remembered for his imposing figure, unique skillset and impressive hockey legacy. But how does Chris Pronger want Chris Pronger to be remembered?
"He was a mean SOB and he left it all on the ice every night," Pronger said.