The Central Division for the past several seasons has been one of the hardest in hockey; at the very least, it's been the toughest in the Western Conference. With the exception of the Columbus Blue Jackets, all of the teams in the division made the playoffs last season, and all of them were some of the toughest opponents in the NHL. Do all of the teams flat out hate each other? Not really -- I've never gotten the feeling of hatred between the Nashville Predators and the Blues -- but there are a few who have been facing off against each other for years. And of course, repeated face offs have led to repeated dislike.
The Blues and Red Wings always have a rough game between them, and the fans of the two teams, well, let's just say that you probably won't be seeing fans sharing a pitcher of beer any time soon. It's not exactly a new phenomenon; it's been around as long as the playoff matchups of the 90s, let's say. But there's a rivalry that stretches back even farther. Way back to the St. Louis Arena and nickel beer nights. It's those damn Blackhawks.
I hate the Chicago Blackhawks. Sure, I respect how good they were in 2010, and I absolutely do still love Marian Hossa (which is a fetish left over from his time with the Atlanta Thrashers). But you can recognize the strengths of a team and not be a fan, and "not a fan" is being polite when it comes to how I -- and most Blues fans -- feel about the Blackhawks. The most entertaining part of the rivalry would be the games, not necessarily anything more complicated. That dislike that fans feel towards the opposing team, that carries over to the players. You can tell the teams don't like each other. They've never liked each other. They never will like each other. It's not like with the Red Wings, where there's dislike but a recognition of accomplishment. No, there's just pure and unadulterated hatred. And it's a blast.
"Beeeeelllllllfooouuuurrrr...." That chant was music to my ears as a kid. The reaction of Blues fans when they heard that Ed Belfour was hired as the Peoria Rivermen's goalie coach? It was oddly similar to their reaction whenever they saw him on the ice during a game: boos, catcalls, you name it. When you have a player for an opposition team that inspires hatred when he's hired in a minor league position, you know there's bad blood that runs deep.
The most outstanding part of the rivalry, however, is how the fans treat each other. Not the new bandwagon fans of each teams -- and yes, the Blues have them too. No, the old school fans. The ones with Doug Gilmour and Jeremy Roenick jerseys in their closets. The ones who grew up wanting to be Belfour and Curtis Joseph, or Garth Butcher or Chris Chelios. There's a mutual respect of the hatred. There's trash talk, but it's not spiteful and nasty; instead, it's sporting trash talk like it should be.
There's comfort in knowing you hate a team and that they hate your team, and it's always going to be that way. Come the end of the world, there will be three things left: cockroaches, Cher, and the Blues and Blackhawks going at it. That's just how it is. Call it symbiosis, call it yin and yang, call it whatever you want. I call it just right.