I remember being cramped up on a couch and ready for this game to end.
The St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars were knotted up at a goal apiece, with another round of overtime looming at the Enterprise Center. It had been over two hours since either team scored. The Stars were pulling a page out of their captain, Jamie Benn’s handbook, refusing to go down. Ben Bishop was determined to make 60 saves that night, stopping St. Louis from realizing a dream that had seemed fleeting for over 50 years.
My brother, as silent as an owl until the game dictated he scream as loudly as he possibly could, sat to my left. He was jittery on a normal day, so he gave the couch a steady beacon of electricity with his movements. To my right was a sleepy beagle, Tate, who was ready for the game to be over so his owner, my dad Rich, could stop shouting frequently into the cigar lounge. An emphatic “FUCK!” would permeate the air just about as often as the cigar smoke coming from our overtime stogies. My mom had little clue what the score was, but she could figure out the mood of the room rather quickly.
A room that used to be the garage had turned into the Buffa man hockey escape room. You couldn’t really leave until the final buzzer sounded. We needed a hero, and the hometown kid stepped up.
Pat Maroon wasn’t much of a kid, carrying a beard that most Hollywood movie stars acquire to look weathered and tough in their redemption movies. The Oakville native had only tallied 12 goals total from the start of the season up to that fateful May evening, but he was starting to make them count.
A goal earlier in the series helped the Blues beat Dallas on the road. A nifty score right in front of Bishop that seemed like a magic trick coming off Maroon’s stick. Primed for more magic, there was the Big Rig posting up in the Stars zone as the second overtime started to crumble into mere minutes. Midnight was barking and the possibility of more hockey was only good if you liked hair-raising tension in your chest. Blues fans are trained to prepare for the bad and expect worse, so it wasn’t a good feeling.
Maybe it was the fact that Bishop’s story line was about as potent as anyone on the ice. The guy who once played for Chaminade in St. Louis and went on to join the Blues, but found heroics and glory in Tampa Bay. He garnered a Stanley Cup Final win once upon a time, but wanted more. What better way to get closer to that dream than defeating the hometown team on their own turf. It wasn’t exactly Fredo in “The Godfather II,” but it was shaping up to be a sweet revenge story.
He was stopping everything shot his way: pucks, ice, skates, and players. He had over 50 saves and one would think there was a stunt double inside the net rejecting game-winners. Larger than life at 6 feet 7 inches, the then 32-year-old was hell bent on stopping another 10-15 shots if it meant Dallas would move on and St. Louis would fall.
He almost did.
Robert Thomas took the face-off win and headed for the net, slyly turning loose a shot that forced Bishop to the ice and the puck to glance off a nearby post. Maroon, trailing Thomas, basically had to tap the puck into the net. Game over. Horn initiated. The downtown St. Louis volume turned way up.
I flew off the couch in jubilation. When the local sports team does something miraculous, you don’t know what do with yourself. It’s a feeling of euphoria, a drug surging through your system like a body of water after the levee broke. I high-fived my brother and dad as hard as I could without taking their arm off. I popped open the sliding glass door and screamed into the Richmond Heights night. “WE DID IT!” “SHAKE AND BAKE!” “HOLY SHIT!” All of it and more came out, words that maybe a few neighbors could recall today.
I say he merely tapped it in, but it was a classic Maroon score. The big guy knew where to be, executing a play that Craig Berube and his staff had drawn up. You win the face-off and collapse on the net, giving the goaltender less of a chance to stop the rebound. Maroon was the backup that St. Louis needed. He was never signed to be a 30 goal scorer, but to be more of a disruptive presence who couldn’t be denied on a second chance. Carrying soft hands that could deceive a defenseman, Maroon was in the right place at the right time, ready to strike. No matter how hard Dallas tried, Maroon beat them twice in front of their own net in pivotal moments ... inside a playoff series.
Suddenly, his early season struggles disappeared. They didn’t matter anymore. Once you win two big playoff games against one of the best goaltenders in the league, regular season details become as useful as a crumbled up Taco Bell receipt after a night of drinking. Evidence that can be easily discarded. Maroon had finished the job and became the sports hero that Doug Armstrong had designed upon signing him to a one year deal.
I remember a lot about that night. Maroon, realizing the puck had gotten past Bishop, skating full speed to the center of the ice, where victory dances usually took place. I remember him going over to hug Berube, two men who needed redemption stories to fuel their present and give way to their future.
I remember the post-game handshake line, and Jeff Curry’s picture of Bishop and Maroon embracing with the St. Louis flag waving above their shoulders. Two men who grown up in completely different areas of St. Louis but carried the #314 in their blood. I imagine Bishop gave him a few words of bullshit before wishing him luck. Maroon, all smiles and sweat, probably did the same. “If you hadn’t stopped the first 52, we could have ended this a couple hours ago,” Maroon may have said.
Cigars were being relighted when my mom came in, asking what had happened. We told her and it was as quaint and routine as the mailman dropping off a package. She registered the moment, turned around, and went to bed. I drove my brother home, puffing and blowing smoke into the air of a near-morning that carried more optimism than expected.
Without Maroon, the Blues simply don’t get past Dallas. They just don’t. Make your Maroon/hometown jokes, and I’ll repeat the previous sentence. He cemented two playoff games, which makes him a hero around these parts. One wouldn’t attach David Freese type legend to his name-it wasn’t the Stanley Cup Final after all-but it was close. Game 7’s in the NHL always have a live or die feel to them.
Maroon ended a long game and a long night. He would collect three assists in the San Jose Sharks series and zero points in the Boston series, but he still did his part and played a role in the acquisition of Lord Stanley. He would depart for Tampa Bay the next season after a long free agency period, making the St. Louis miracle a true one stop and shop. Some wanted him to stay, but the Blues had other plans.
It didn’t matter. Maroon had done enough. He won one of the biggest hockey games to take place in St. Louis ever. It was almost like the Stars playoff showdown nearly two decades before, but even sweeter.
A year ago, Pat Maroon became a hometown hero ... baby!