Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bob Gassoff

Bob Gassoff was a tough, hard-nosed, rough and ready defenseman who played for the St. Louis Blues in the 1970s. Although he only played 4 years in the NHL, he established himself as one of the elite enforcers during the "anything goes era" including bench clearing brawls and all-out fighting on a regular basis.

During his brief time with the Blues, Gassoff was not only the Blues’ chief enforcer, but was evolving into a fine all-around defenseman and leader. Standing only 5-foot-10, and weighing 195 pounds, Gassoff was never going to be a true league heavy weight like Clark Gillies or Willi Plett, but he was fearless and possessed with a drive and determination to succeed. He earned the respect of teammates and the entire league.

The Quesnel, British Columbia native was selected the 48th pick in round #3 of the 1973 amateur draft by St. Louis. Breaking in with the in with the Blues in 1973-74 with a 28 game stint, he had no goals, three assists and 84 penalty minutes. A left-handed shooter, he played 60, 80 and 77 games the next three seasons and established himself as one of the most rugged players in a brutally physical game. In 1975-76, Gassoff had a career high 306 penalty minutes. In his final season, 1976-77 he had a career-high six goals and 24 points, with another 254 minutes in penalties.

But most people will remember Gassoff as a roughian. Gassoff's most celebrated fight was with Dave "Tiger" Williams in 1974-75 in which he bloodied the Tiger and received a match penalty.

Gassoff never shied from dropping the gloves in but began to feel frustrated by NHL referees.

"They figure that anything that happens to me, I deserve it," Gassoff once said of the referees. "But I don’t think I play that dirty. When I go to take out a big guy — and I’m not big — they see me coming and they get their stick up. If I bring my stick up, even though I don’t hit them with it, the ref thinks so.

"I’m proud that I’m known as being tough, but I’d like to have people recognize my hockey skills. I’ve proved that I can fight. Now I have to work on the rest of my game. I don’t want to be known as a goon. I’ll fight anytime someone tries to push me or one of teammates around, but I don’t go out on the ice looking for fights."

Gassoff fought all comers, once challenging the entire Philadelphia Flyers bench. Former Teammate Gary Unger once said of him, "I remember playing against the Flyers, and Don Saleski and Dave Schultz kept taking runs at our smaller players. Bobby came on the ice and blasted Saleski with a hit at mid-ice, and as Saleski laid there, Bobby just looked down at him, daring him to get up. Saleski never did."

Gassoff was a big part of the Blues' building puzzle in the 1970s, a piece they would have to deal with losing. Tragedy claimed the life of Bob Gassoff much too young.

On Memorial Day weekend, 1977, the Blues team gathered for a post-season party at Garry Unger’s farm near Gray Summit, Missouri. Gassoff was riding one of the farm's motorcycles and collided with a vehicle on a road near the far. Not wearing a helmet, Gassoff died instantly.

Gassoff’s death stunned the Blues, who did not recover from the death of their leader. The Blues failed to reach the playoffs the next two seasons and in 1978-79, they managed only 48 points which was a franchise low.

Teammate Bernie Federko once said that "Bobby was irreplaceable" and former defense partner Bruce Affleck stated that Gassoff was without peer as an enforcer. "He was the toughest player I’ve ever seen," said Affleck.

The Bob Gassoff Trophy was established in 1978 in his honor and was given to the most improved defenseman of the Central Hockey League. His #3 jersey was retired by the Blues in 1977.

Two months after Bob Gassoff's death, wife Diane gave birth to the couples' only child, Bob Gassoff Jr. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently profiled Gassoff Jr., a former hockey star at the University of Michigan who is now a Navy SEAL, an elite commando unit, in the United States military. He is operating somewhere in the middle east, although his exact whereabouts is classified.

5 comments:

Russ1957 March 30, 2009 at 9:26 AM  

I am a huge Bobby Gassoff fan. I grew up in Kirkwood and and my father A.L. Tidlund (pronounced Teedlund was a attorney there for over 35 years. We were huge Blues fans. Bobby was the toughest there ever was. I still have a jeresey with his name andnumber on it. He was my all time favorite. I was on a mission for my church the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints in 1977 when Bobby was killed my parents sent me the article. Wow I was devasted as well. My good wishes go out to Diana and their son Bobby Jr. May he serve with honor and pride in the Seals Thank you for your service as i too served in Desert storm God bless you and your family
Russ Tidlund

Anonymous,  April 16, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

Wow what great memories. I think that was a point in my life I realized I was mortal. If Someone like Bob Gassoff could die, I was just human. That was the year i graduated Parkway Central.

Steven T.,  February 1, 2011 at 6:00 PM  

I met Bob Gassoff and his wife Diana one week before he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. Bob and Diana were at a restaurant(the name escapes me,as its has been 30 years ago)in Mehlville, Mo. I immediately noticed Bob when I came in with my girlfriend from college (an Ohio resident) who was visiting me and a high school friend(oddly his last name was Hitler) and his girlfriend. I went over to his table and talked with him. I told him how much I appreciated his tougness and hard work and how he was my favorite Blues hockey player. His wife Diana was gorgeous(I remember wishing I was him ). We shook hands before I went to my table to eat. The waitress came over and said before she asked for our orders that Bob Gassoff would like to buy our table drinks. What a classy guy. Then I heard the tragic news one week later. I was devastated and shocked at the same time. I recently purchased an early late 1960's-early 1970's throwback St. Louis Blues jersey with no number on it. I am going to dedicate it to Bob Gassoff and have it made up with # 3 and
" Gassoff " on the back. I will wear it at the next Blues game I go to after I have it made up. I am a huge Bobby Gassoff fan. I know they had a toughest Blues bracket on Fox Sports Midwest last year, and I saw Bob Gassoff was seeded only # 3 behind Tony Twist(# 1) and Kelly Chase (# 2). Since I live 200 miles from St. Louis now in Springfield, Mo., I don't know how that " toughest Blue ever " tournament turned out as I've never ever been able to get any further information on how it turned out. I appreciated those two(Chase & Twist) guys' toughness too, but I don't think either was as tough as Bob Gassoff or as good a fighter. He was the toughest St. Louis Blue ever. I read with interest about his son's duty to our country as a Seal and I am proud of him. I once saw him when he was at a Blues games when he was 4 or 5 years old when he was with his mom and Bob's family who came down to St. Louis when they were retiring Bob's number some years ago.

Anonymous,  March 19, 2012 at 7:03 PM  

Chase please! Twist was tough, yes but neither one is a Bobby Gassoff!!!!!!!!!!! Hands down, he was the best. He took on all the toughest players and put them down. They didn't want to fight him anymore. So, with all due respect.......Bobby Gassoff is No.#1.

Anonymous,  August 20, 2012 at 7:56 PM  

Bob Gassoff was absolutely the toughest hockey player ever to play the game. He wore the Blue Note with pride, and would defend it to the end. I've watched a lot of spirited hockey players over the years who played the game hard, played the game right....but no one played with the intensity and heart of Gassoff! Toughest ever, and proud to be be a Blue.

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