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Salvador, Bryce

Bryce Salvador

1976

Professional hockey player

By the time the players' strike and owners' lockout silenced the rinks of the National Hockey League (NHL) in 2004 and 2005, Bryce Salvador had become a defensive mainstay of the St. Louis Blues squad. Not a headline-grabbing offensive player, nor a natural talent who immediately shone in what was often a young man's game, Salvador developed his skills slowly but surely. A big, physical player with a straightforward approach to the game, Salvador could look forward to a long NHL career.

Bryce Salvador was born in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, on February 11, 1976. Like many youngsters in Canada's prairie towns, he grew up playing hockey, putting on his first pair of skates at age three. Salvador's parents, though, were unusually devoted to his progress, ferrying their son to early morning practices and weekend tournaments whenever necessary. Off the ice, Salvador excelled in school and was a talented musician, mastering the violin, tuba, clarinet, and saxophone.

Drafted by Tampa Bay

Salvador took to the ice with the Brandon Kings of the Manitoba Hockey Association in 1991, at the age of 15, and the following year he won a defenseman slot with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of Canada's Western Hockey League (WHL). He was a team fixture from the start, playing in 64 games in the 1991-92 season and 61 the following year, when the Hurricanes won the WHL title. That got the attention of scouts from the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, which picked Salvador in the sixth round of the 1994 draft.

That promising beginning to Salvador's NHL career went nowhere, however, as he waited for two years for a summons to the Lightning or one of their minor-league teams. "I still don't know why they weren't interested," Salvador was quoted as saying on the St. Louis Blues Web site. "They had a lot of problems at the time. Maybe they just forgot." Whatever the reason, Salvador spent some time weighing his options. Prestigious McGill University in Montreal was impressed with Salvador's academic and musical accomplishments and wooed him as a student, suggesting that he consider a switch from hockey to football. Salvador also thought about giving up hockey and going into computer science.

Instead, he stuck with the game. He continued to play for Lethbridge, and his game began to solidify. Salvador won Canada's Scholastic Player of the Year award in 1996 and was signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Blues in December of that year. "I watched him stick up for his teammates one night playing for Lethbridge and I liked him right away," Blues scouting director Bob Plager was quoted as saying on the team's Web site. "He was tough in front of his own end and I liked his work ethic."

Developed Skills in AHL

Salvador was dispatched to the Worcester Ice Cats American Hockey League (AHL) team in the Blues' minor-league system and spent three seasons there, playing in 170 games and winning the team's Most Improved Player award in 1998. "Worcester was good for me," Salvador told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. "Some guys say they don't need the minors, but I did. It was important for my career." Salvador and his wife April put down roots in that small Massachusetts city and continued to spend the off-season there after he joined the Blues in St. Louis.

Salvador first took to the ice as an NHL player on October 5, 2000, as the Blues took on Phoenix. It was the first of 75 regular-season games he would play in during his rookie season, and he also appeared in all 14 of the Blues' playoff games in the spring of 2001. He scored his first point, an assist, on October 29 as his father Eugene watched in the stands in St. Louis. But Salvador, although he surprised fans with some sudden goals in Blues playoff games and won the team's hardest shot competition in 2000, was never primarily an offensive threat. At six feet two inches tall and 215 pounds, he was a classic defenseman, strong, rangy, and physical.

In his first year with the Blues he had 142 hits, third-highest on the squad. "Crash and bang" was Salvador's succinct description of his playing philosophy, as quoted by Tom Wheatley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "When the guy comes down to my wall, I've got to be hard to play against. I don't turn away from anyone, but I want to be killing penalties, not putting my team a man down and sitting in the box. There's a difference between being physical and being stupid."

Played Hard Despite Injuries

Indeed, Salvador's physical style of play resulted in a number of small injuries that kept him off the ice for short periods and in the penalty box for a career-high 95 minutes in the 2002-03 season. He was also briefly sidelined that year by whiplash resulting from an auto accident. Nevertheless, he became a key day-to-day component of the Blues' defensive backbone. In his early days with the Blues, noted Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he "soaked up knowledge.... The raw texture has given way to a resilient coating, tough and trustworthy."

"Salvy," as his teammates nicknamed him, played in over 65 games in each of his first four seasons with the team, and his plus-minus rating (a measure of a team's scoring ability when a particular player is on the ice) rose to a career-high plus-seven in 2002-03. He missed ten games due to wrist injuries during the 2003-04 season and was briefly sent to Worcester to recuperate, but he still got into 69 games and notched eight points on three goals and five assists.

Off the ice, Salvador made large donations to and became involved with the United Way organization in the African-American community. And he and fellow Blues player (and former Worcester Ice Cats teammate) Jamal Mayers started an innovative youth group called Jam 'n' Sal's Community Stars Program, which gave a total of 110 students per season the chance to attend a Blues home game for free and to attend a skating party with the two players. Students selected were nominated by teachers or school administrators in recognition of good deeds or acts of kindness toward others. Emerging as one of the NHL's most consistent defensemen as the 2004-05 strike halted play, Salvador seemed likely to have many more years ahead in the NHL after the game resumed.

At a Glance...

Born on February 11, 1976, in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada; married April.

Career: Professional hockey player, 1992. Lethbridge Hurricanes, Western Hockey League, Canada, professional hockey player, 1992-97; Worcester Ice Cats (a minor league team associated with the St. Louis Blues), American Hockey League, professional hockey player, 1997-2000; St. Louis Blues, National Hockey League, professional hockey player, 2000; Jam 'n' Sal's Community Stars Program, co-founder (with Jamal Mayers).

Selected awards: Canadian Hockey League, Scholastic Player of the Year, 1996.

Addresses: Home Worcester, MA. Office St. Louis Blues, Savvis Center, 1401 Clark Ave., St. Louis, MO 63103.

Sources

Periodicals

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 21, 2001, p. Sports-7; September 21, 2000, p. B2; October 29, 2000, p. D11; February 10, 2001, p. 5; January 8, 2003, p. D4.

Standard (St. Catharine's, Ontario, Canada), April 20, 2001, p. C2.

Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA), January 22, 2002, p. D1.

On-line

"Bryce Salvador," St. Louis Blues Hockey Club, http://stlouisblues.com/team/players/salvador.html (March 10, 2005).

"Bryce Salvador," TSN.ca, www.tsn.ca/nhl/teams/player_bio.asp?player_id=1915&hubName=STL (March 10, 2005).

James M. Manheim

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