Blueline Brothers Rookie Barret Jackman, 21, and veteran Al MacInnis, 39, have formed a defensive pair for the ages in St. Louis

February 03, 2003

Barret Jackman had put on his trademark steely-eyed stare, but Al
MacInnis was determined to make his defensive partner crack. One
recent morning before practice, the two St. Louis Blues
backliners were posing for a photograph when Jackman, standing
right behind MacInnis, flashed a mean mug for the camera,
prompting MacInnis to do some stand-up.

"Garlic last night, eh, Jacks?" said MacInnis. "I took a
picture with a horse in Calgary once. Horse had better breath."

Jackman tried to maintain his scowl but couldn't suppress a
giggle.

MacInnis, who usually leaves opponents speechless with his
stickwork, was getting laughter with his shtickwork instead.

Consider it another rookie moment in a season's worth of them for
the 21-year-old Jackman, who plays alongside the 39-year-old
MacInnis in the Blues' top defense pairing. Their styles are
complementary--the 6'1", 200-pound Jackman is a stay-at-home
bruiser; the 6'2", 208-pound MacInnis is the game's most
dangerous offensive blueliner, a lethal shooter who through
Sunday ranked second among NHL defensemen with 42 points--and
they go together with a distinctly St. Louis flavor, like
Budweiser and toasted ravioli.

They have anchored a Blues defense that was expected to struggle
because captain Chris Pronger, who won the Norris and Hart
trophies in 1999--2000, has been sidelined this season with knee
and wrist injuries. In Pronger's absence the Blues (26-15-6-4)
had vaulted to fourth in the powerful Western Conference. "That
was our biggest concern entering the season, how we'd hold up
without Pronger, knowing there would be a big void," says coach
Joel Quenneville. "But Jacks has been rock solid from the outset,
and Al's experience with Jacks's freshness is a nice mix. They
enjoy playing together."

MacInnis and Jackman first crossed paths at the Blues' training
camp in September 1999. MacInnis, then entering his 19th season,
was the reigning Norris winner, coming off his finest season;
Jackman was a bonus baby, St. Louis's first-round pick in that
summer's draft. They exchanged small talk, and MacInnis was
impressed by Jackman's maturity and respectfulness, his deference
to the veterans around him. Both had been standout juniors, both
were from working-class families in tiny towns, albeit at
opposite ends of Canada. (Jackman grew up in Fruitvale, B.C.,
pop. 2,025; MacInnis in Port Hood, Nova Scotia, pop. 1,000.)
Jackman was in awe of the defenseman whose paint-peeling slap
shot was considered the hardest in hockey. "Just being in the
dressing room with him, I always had an eye on him," Jackman
says. "I watched what he did, the way he tied his skates,
everything."

Both knew Jackman was in camp only for a taste of pro life and
that he would be sent back to his junior team in Regina,
Saskatchewan, before the NHL season began. Over the next couple
of years they kept in touch and were aware of how the other was
doing, but they did not speak at length until two seasons ago.
MacInnis had watched Jackman win a bronze medal with Team Canada
at the world junior championships in Moscow in January 2001 and
had heard television commentators gush about the blueliner who
was playing despite having a separated right shoulder. Impressed
with Jackman's courage and potential, MacInnis called him and
suggested he join the handful of Blues who were working with
Charles Poliquin, the Phoenix-based fitness consultant whose
high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet and specifically tailored
conditioning routines have attracted many NHL disciples. MacInnis
doesn't make a habit of offering such advice to prospects--he had
recommended Poliquin only once before, to a then 21-year-old
Pronger--but he felt Jackman would take full advantage. "I don't
know if it was because he was a defenseman, or came across as a
guy everybody liked, I just felt he had such a big upside, such a
chance to become a great pro, that I wanted to help him,"
MacInnis says. "He was a big part of the franchise's future."

Within a week, Jackman had consulted with Poliquin--"When someone
like Al MacInnis tells you to do something, you do it," Jackman
says--and was on the program, scrapping pasta, bread and beer for
fish, chicken and green vegetables. He stopped training like a
bodybuilder, instead switching to squats and sprints. In two
months his body-fat percentage dropped from 18 to 8.5. Meanwhile,
Jackman and MacInnis kept in touch through Poliquin, checking on
each other's progress and leaving messages for each other. After
Pronger tore his right ACL in a collision with Detroit Red Wings
center Steve Yzerman in Game 4 of the Western Conference
semifinals last May, Jackman was activated and played in the
Blues' season finale (a 4--0 defeat) as MacInnis's partner,
giving a performance that floored his club. "He played
outstanding," says general manager Larry Pleau, "but that was one
game. Everybody said, 'If he plays like that every game, boy,
what a season he's going to have.' But you couldn't expect that.
It just doesn't happen."

When this season began, Quenneville made MacInnis and Jackman his
top defensive pair, matching them against the opposition's best
line at even strength and keeping them on the ice for half of
each penalty kill. From the outset Jackman was implausibly good.
At week's end he had 11 points, was +12 and had averaged 18:56 of
ice time, third-most among rookies. "Coverage, tying up guys,
clearing guys, body position, controlling plays around the
corner, strength on the puck--those skills aren't acquired right
away," Quenneville says. "Those are areas in which young guys get
exploited. But Jacks is so effective in those areas, it's like
he's been around for years."

Jackman will also fight anybody, a habit he picked up in juniors.
"He was like the new dog on the playground," says Regina general
manager Brent Parker. "He went out and pissed on every tree he
could." Last month Jackman threw three right hands that cracked
an orbital bone below Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jean-Luc
Grand-Pierre's right eye. But on Jan. 9 at San Jose, Jackman
absorbed three punches--one from wing Scott Thornton, two from
wing Owen Nolan--without retaliating, and on the ensuing
five-on-three power play, St. Louis scored the game-winning goal.

Jackman's discipline and dependability have given MacInnis the
freedom to improvise offensively in a way he hasn't been able to
since winning that Norris Trophy. "If I'm playing with a guy who
I'm not sure about, then I have to be safe and stay back,"
MacInnis says. "But knowing that Jacks is capable of handling the
puck or breaking up the two-on-one, as soon as I get a step on a
guy I go."

Jackman often turns to MacInnis for tips. "He will tell me what
guys tend to do," Jackman says. "Like, if a particular guy is
stronger on the puck than he looks, and if you try to hit him,
he'll reverse you with the shoulder and spin you off the puck.
That's information you would probably learn the hard way." Though
MacInnis is reluctant to lecture his protege--"You don't want
somebody pointing things out every time you come off the ice
because that would drive you crazy," MacInnis says--he answers
postgame questions, especially if Jackman has doubts about how he
handled a play.

In St. Louis's 3--2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on
Jan. 16, winger Oleg Kvasha scored the game-winner by skating
around Jackman on the left wing, then backhanding the puck
through the five hole of goalie Brent Johnson. Afterward Jackman
asked MacInnis if he should have tried to deny Kvasha's shot by
leaving his skates and attempting to block the shot with his
body, but MacInnis told him he had played it correctly. "I told
him Johnnie is almost always going to make that save--backhand,
bad angle--and he [Jackman] has to be standing up to handle the
rebound."

Jackman is slouched on a futon in an equipment manager's office
at the Savvis Center, talking about the high expectations that
have surrounded him and the rewards he already has earned. He
admits having used some of his million-dollar signing bonus to,
"uh, purchase a vehicle," and when prodded, he murmurs almost
apologetically that it is a Cadillac Escalade. He quickly adds
that he bought his mother, Mary Jane, a Dodge Durango, paid for
one sister, Danielle, 23, to attend veterinary school and has
bought his other sister, Michelle, 18, plane tickets for an
upcoming trip to Australia. He flushes slightly when some of
MacInnis's praise is relayed to him and concedes that the
amazement he felt upon first meeting MacInnis has not fully
abated.

"I'll be talking to my friends from back home," Jackman says,
"and they'll ask me, 'What's it like to be playing with Al
MacInnis?' And I'll think, Oh, yeah, that's who I play with. Or
I'll see him walking out on the ice, and I'm thinking, Wow,
that's my partner. He's someone I grew up idolizing. It's
something you dream about."

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO COLOR PHOTO: JOHN RUSSELL/AP PASSING HIS BOARDS Jackman (5, bumping Nashville's Jason York) has already earned a reputation as one of the league's top bodycheckers. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO BLASTING AWAY Secure that his young partner will cover for him defensively, MacInnis is free to rush and unleash his ferocious slap shot. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO TWO GOOD With Jackman and MacInnis (right) having stellar seasons, the Blues have not missed a beat without Pronger.

"I'll see [MacInnis] out on the ice, and I'm thinking, Wow,
that's my partner," Jackman says. "He's someone I grew up
idolizing."

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