ST. LOUIS – Interview Jay Bouwmeester and you better have your recorder pressed up against his lips, or you’ve got no chance of discerning what the soft-spoken St. Louis Blues defenseman is saying.
He’s like the “Low Talker” from Seinfeld.
“He’s the quietest man on the face of the earth. Absolutely the quietest man,” said Wild assistant coach John Anderson, who coached Bouwmeester for a few months 12 years ago during the Chicago Wolves’ run to the 2005 Calder Cup Final.
Bouwmeester’s quiet nature doesn’t affect his defense partner, Alex Pietrangelo.
“I can hear him,” the Blues captain said. “Guys don’t know how.”
In a best-of-seven first-round series that could potentially end in four Wednesday night, Bouwmeester’s game has spoken loudly against the Wild. In his 14th season, the 33-year-old is still one of the NHL’s most mobile defensemen and has done a terrific job using his 6-foot-4 frame to box Wild players out, win board battles and, oddly for not the most physical player, punish opposing forwards.
“He’s a competitor. He wants to win,” Anderson said.
In 2002, after already playing in three world junior championships and scoring 62 points in 61 games for Medicine Hat, Bouwmeester was supposed to go first overall to the Panthers.
But then-GM Rick Dudley, knowing Columbus wanted Rick Nash, flipped 2003 picks with the Blue Jackets and gave a pick to Atlanta at second overall not to take Bouwmeester. The Panthers took “Bo” third, and ironically, the Panthers won the lottery the following year, so they never actually received anything from Columbus for moving down.
The shame? Bouwmeester never felt the pride of being the No. 1 pick.
“Looking back, would you want to be the No. 1? Sure,” Bouwmeester said. “Everybody wants to because down the road somebody looks at the list and you’re at the top of the list. But I was like 99 percent sure going into that draft with the interactions I had with Florida I was going to go there. You get over it pretty quickly.”
Bouwmeester was thrust right into the NHL, always seemed nervous and barely strung 10 words together during media interviews.
“I’m still probably not the best in the big situations,” he said, smiling. “But, there’s a lot you have to learn. When I came in, I was 19, it’s a big transition. You’re moving away from home, you’re on your own for the first time. I was a pretty shy kid. I’ve always been not that way with people that I know and am comfortable with. As a younger guy, I didn’t like the attention.”
Bouwmeester played two years in the NHL. Then, the 2004-05 NHL lockout came. Since Bouwmeester and teammate Stephen Weiss were still on entry-level contracts, then-GM Mike Keenan was allowed to send them to AHL San Antonio.
The Rampage was horrible, so “Iron Mike” peculiarly loaned his prized prospects to the Wolves hoping they’d go on a long run. At first, Bouwmeester and Weiss “didn’t have the best attitude about it,” Bouwmeester said. “You just wanted the year to be over with. But in the long run, it was probably good for us to go play.”
Bouwmeester had never played in the playoffs even in junior and the Wolves were dominant running into a Philadelphia Phantoms’ buzz-saw in the championship. The Wolves were swept.
“[Anderson] was good. He was funny,” Bouwmeester said. “The tougher practices would be optional skates. It seemed like Johnny just wanted to play 3-on-3 and wheel around.”
Anderson said, “I just loved coaching him. You could see he was going to be what he’s become.”
It’s amazing the solid career Bouwmeester has carved out after many early in his career began to label him as a bust.
The versatile Bouwmeester had a 737 consecutive games-played streak end, the fifth-longest in NHL history, in 2015. In 2013, after being traded from Calgary to St. Louis, he made the playoffs for the first time in 10 NHL seasons.
“That’s why you play. You want to ultimately win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “It’s the funnest time of year. It’s funnest for fans, it’s funnest for players, it’s the competition, it’s the atmosphere around it, it’s everything.”
Decorated with gold medals from the world championships, Olympics and World Cup of Hockey, Bouwmeester has defended the world’s best players at the world’s highest levels and has transformed himself into a terrific defender despite not being flashy and not piling up points one would think he would with his skating ability (82 goals and 391 points in 1,071 regular-season games, no goals and six assists in 38 playoff games).
“When I was younger, thinking back, I probably did a lot of needless skating, wasted a lot of energy in areas and wanted to be a part of everything all the time,” Bouwmeester said. “When I was young, everyone wants to score points. But I knew defensemen that can play a long time are usually guys that are pretty solid at both ends of ice. That was something I wanted to develop from an early age.
“Playing on winning teams and different teams, there’s different roles that you have to take on. When I got here, there are guys who can play on the power play and provide that offense. You have to find, ‘Where do you fit in?’ For me, it’s been accepting a role of killing penalties and playing against other team’s top players. I enjoy it because when you play that role on a team that has success, it’s I think a lot more meaningful.”