Bob Plager, Red Berenson, Gary Unger, Brian Sutter, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Bernie Federko, Adam Oates, Pierre Turgeon, Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Barrett Jackman and Keith Tkachuk couldn’t do it. Mike Liut, Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Curtis Joseph and Grant Fuhr couldn’t do it either.
Some of the world’s greatest hockey players have graced the St. Louis Blues with their presence over the years, but none of them could give the city’s fans what they desired most — a Stanley Cup.
Until Wednesday night.
For my entire life, all I’ve ever known from the St. Louis Blues is disappointment. I was born into a family of die-hard Blues fans. The first memory I have of going to a Blues game with my dad, the Blues were playing to see who would be the worst team in the NHL. They lost.
The very first season I decided to watch every game and invest my time in them, the Blues were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Vancouver Canucks. After that, they missed the playoffs for two seasons.
The next year, just making it to the second round felt like Christmas ... until they lost. Then it felt like the end of my world.
They lost in the first round for the next three seasons and my favorite player, T.J. Oshie, was traded. Finally, in 2015-16, the Blues made the Conference Finals, but when they lost, they lost David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott. Backes and Brouwer were free agents who signed with the Boston Bruins and the Calgary Flames, respectively. Elliott was traded to the Calgary Flames. The next season, the Blues lost in the second round.
And last year, they didn’t make the playoffs at all.
Injuries, coaching changes, trades, losing free agents and watching former Blues players win the Cup all happened regularly. I shed so many tears over this team.
Yet against all logic, I never gave up. Every season felt like a new chance for the Blues to make magic, to make history and to prove all the doubters wrong. I always got my hopes up that something better was was coming along.
The pieces have been coming together for years: Vladimir Tarasenko becoming a young superstar, the Blues trading for Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz finding his groove.
On July 1, 2018, three of the biggest pieces fell into place. Tyler Bozak signed a three-year contract, giving the Blues more depth at center. David Perron came back to the Blues for the third time. (The third time is the charm after all.) The most exciting part of the day was the Ryan O’Reilly trade. The Blues finally got a center worthy of being on the first line with Tarasenko. They gave up Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson and two draft picks, and it only took one season to prove that was worth it.
Nine days later, the Blues continued to add to their depth as hometown kid Patrick Maroon signed a one-year deal.
My hopes were up again and I thought that this might finally be the year. But once the season started, it looked like just another year of disappointment. The Blues were playing so badly that head coach Mike Yeo got fired. Then, Zach Sanford and Robert Bortuzzo traded blows during practice. I thought general manager Doug Armstrong might blow up the team with trades just to change the momentum. Thankfully, he believed in the players he’d assembled.
Things finally started to turn around in January on a road trip to Philadelphia, where most of the team heard “Gloria” by Laura Branigan for the first time. They got to celebrate to it the next night after Jordan Binnington recorded a shutout in his first NHL start. The Blues went on to win 11 straight games and Binnington became the starting goaltender. They became an incredible road team. They clinched a playoff spot. They beat the Winnipeg Jets, the Dallas Stars, the San Jose Sharks and – finally! –the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. Hey buddy, my Blues are Stanley Cup champions against every odd. I don’t think my jaw will ever come off the ground.
Out of all the Hall of Fame talent Blues fans have witnessed over the years, it wasn’t The Great One who got to lift the Cup for St. Louis the first time. It wasn’t The Golden Brett. It wasn’t any of the obvious best players, coaches and staff in franchise history.
It was O’Reilly, Perron, Binnington, Tarasenko, Schenn, Maroon, Bozak, Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo, Robert Thomas, Oskar Sundqvist, Jake Allen, Vince Dunn, Colton Parayko, Alexander Steen, Ivan Barbashev, Jay Bouwmeester, Robby Fabbri, Bortuzzo, Sammy Blais and Sanford. It was Craig Berube, Steve Ott and Larry Robinson. It was Doug Armstrong, the man who traded away my favorite players time and time again. It was Tom Stillman.
When I was a kid, there was a display case in Enterprise Center that listed every Blues hat trick in franchise history and had hats collected from the ice in it. Brett Hull’s name was on that board 27 times. That was the moment I began to think that if the Blues could not win a Cup with a player like Hull, there’s no way they would ever win one with anyone else.
I’ve never been so happy to be wrong in my life.
Move over Brett Hull, there’s a new fan favorite in town who did what you couldn’t do and his name is Ryan O’Reilly. The player who Buffalo Sabres fans were happy to get rid of. The player who played through a cracked rib and still won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and broke the franchise record for most points in a single postseason. I can’t forget the honorable mention for MVP, the never-nervous Jordan Binnington, who now has more playoff wins than every other rookie goalie in history, including: Patrick Roy, Matt Murray and Ron Hextall.
This team is going down in history as the best Blues team ever, despite being in last place in the league in January, despite depending on a rookie goaltender, despite injuries, despite suspensions and despite missed calls.
I couldn’t be with my family to watch the historic moment in person, but I did get to Skype with my dad in St. Louis and my aunt in Michigan during the game. Seeing their reactions as the seconds wound down in the third period is a moment I will cherish forever. I also got to freak out with my brother on the phone after the win. I’m so glad I was able to share all of this with the people who made me the hockey fan I am today.
This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is what I’ve been praying for. This is what I’ve been dreaming about — and it actually happened. The sun seems brighter, the air seems lighter and the world seems better. Everything suddenly feels possible. I don’t think I will ever have a bad day again.
Over the years, I’ve given this team so much of my time. I’ve smiled, I’ve laughed, I’ve screamed expletives and I’ve cried. Now, I’m going to play “Gloria” and get ready for the parade down Market Street, even if I do it through happy tear-stained eyes. I’m going to tell that person who always asked me what I drink out of in St. Louis that I’m drinking out the best cup of all — the Stanley Cup. I’m going to enjoy it for the people who can’t be here with us: Ari Dougan, Barclay Plager, Doug Wickenheiser, Pavol Demitra and Michael Sanford. I’m going to enjoy it with Charles Glenn, Laila Anderson, Bob Plager ... and I’m going to enjoy it with my family.
I’m going to enjoy it for myself. I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen again.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.