Once upon a time, players from St. Louis and the NHL weren’t really a thing. At least, not ones who were born and bred in this town, sticking around long after their childhood expired and manhood began. There were imports, though: Players who started in another place, but nurtured their skills under The Arch.
On Tuesday night, during a thrilling Game 7 between the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars that entered a second overtime, St. Louis hockey players dominated the night. Ben Bishop, born in Colorado yet spending many years in St. Louis, including school at Chaminade, stopped 52 shots in net. He did everything he could to propel Dallas to the Western Conference finals, but another neighborhood kid, Pat Maroon, tapped home the puck home to help the Blues win 2-1.
Both have experienced interesting careers. Bishop, drafted 85th overall in 2006 by the Blues, only played in 13 games for St. Louis before being traded, spending the rest of his career in Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and now Dallas. He won a Stanley Cup Final game with the Lightning, and was a rock for Dallas during their second half run this season. Bishop was the reason the series went seven games, robbing the Blues blind in Game 5 and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at their sticks in Game 7. He was great, but not perfect, thanks to Maroon.
The Oakville High School alum was drafted 161st overall by Anaheim a year after Bishop in 2007. Like the goaltender, Maroon didn’t exactly blow the league away early on. While Bishop found footing in his sixth season, the first full one in Tampa Bay, Maroon found his firm footing in season #7 when he was paired up with a kid called Connor McDavid. After bouncing to New Jersey last season, Maroon signed a risky one year deal with St. Louis last summer.
I say risky, because other teams offered more money and more insurance in years than St. Louis. Maroon wanted to come home, though, choosing family over fortune after a long time on the road. If you needed a reminder of why he made the choice, check out the video of his son, Anthony, crying in the stands last night after his dad scored the heroic series-clinching goal. Look at Anthony and Pat in the locker room sitting next to each other, where the elder Maroon was the recipient of many ovations from his own team in the locker room. Maroon hockey is a family affair in this town.
Last night, around St. Louis, during a blaring array of horns and screams, Maroon’s name was uttered all over town. If people didn’t know his entire story, their brains downloaded it by morning. If you missed Frank Cusumano’s tweets about the Maroon vs. Bishop/Oakville versus Chaminade series battle, you knew it by sunrise. Last night, Maroon etched his name in St. Louis sports history for good, acquiring legendary status.
No, it wasn’t a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 or a World Series Game 6 home run, but it was the SECOND game Maroon won against Dallas during the series. He flipped a puck over Bishop’s shoulder in Game 3 in Dallas with the clock running out, showing the wicked combination of soft hands and big body force he’s known for in this league.
On May 7, in the seventh game of the playoffs at Enterprise Center, in Game 7 of the series, #7 scored the game-winning goal. I hope Jon Hamm, who was in attendance, brought a screenwriter with him to the game, because this was cinematic. Earlier in the season, Maroon was nearly placed on waivers, finding no way to break through. Then, as the Blues heated up, so did “The Big Rig,” and the rest is becoming rich history, forming as I type.
It is believed that Eureka native Cam Janssen, who bashed faces in during a nine year NHL career, was the first born and bred St. Louisan to actually break into the league in the 2005-06 season. He spent four of those seasons in St. Louis, and still resides here as a radio host at 590 The Fan KFNS.
Paul Stastny, like Bishop, migrated here due to his father’s playing career. Pat LaFontaine was born in the Lou, but moved to Michigan when he was seven years old. Paul Ranheim was born in St. Louis, moved to Minnesota as a kid, and played over 1,000 games in the NHL. Landon Wilson, son of Rick Wilson, was born in St. Louis in 1975, but moved several times due to his dad’s pro career. He played 449 games in the NHL. Chris Wideman, Chris Butler, and Mike McKenna all have scattered their careers around the league, but were born and spent a portion of their younger years in St. Louis.
Joey Vitale, color analyst with the esteemed Chris Kerber on KMOX Radio, graduated from the Christian Brothers College High School and Northeastern University in St. Louis before moving onto the NHL.
In the NHL draft in 2016, six local kids were selected. Matthew Tkachuk (the son of Keith and older brother of Brady Tkachuk, born in Arizona), Luke Kunin, Clayton Keller, and Trent Frederic have already broken in with their NHL teams while Logan Brown and Joseph Woll are still waiting for their debut.
What was once a rarity is now becoming a populated event in the NHL. St. Louis’ burgeoning youth hockey movement is going to start producing more NHL talents in the next 10-20 years. Local kids making it big on the rink. Homegrown boys who once drove around in their dad’s car, looking up at The Arch and wondering if they would ever become a big time player. Perhaps play for the local team.
Tuesday night was a celebration of St. Louis born and bred hockey players. With Janssen screaming in the stands, Vitale calling it in the booth, and Maroon and Bishop hugging it out at center ice after a hard fought series being decided by two local kids, there was a certain electricity in the air.
It wasn’t just the elation of a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the notice that you are halfway home to Lord Stanley’s trophy. The personal touch made it something extra special. Maroon and Bishop. That made it surreal and all together present for everyone to see and witness. The evolution of St. Louis hockey, taking off before our eyes. Truly the heartland of hockey.
Now, pardon me, because I need to go for a run, because the excitement of more hockey on the horizon, and more Charles Glenn anthems, hasn’t worn off over 15 hours later.