St. Louis has the Blues, and fans can't get enough of them.
In its 52nd season in the National Hockey League, the hockey team — the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues — hoisted the prized trophy for the first time after defeating the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night, 4-1, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston.
It was history. The kind of put-down-your-phone-and-yell history that fans — old and new — will remember for the rest of their lives.
Where were you when the Blues won the Stanley Cup?
Clavin Hadley was at the Enterprise Center with 19,000 other fans watching the game on the video board.
“It was amazing — the best ever,’’ said Hadley, who has been a Blues fan for 25 years. “We finally did it. We finally climbed that mountain.’’
Fans gathered at watch parties, big and small, across the city, around the region and into the blue yonder. Thousands accepted the St. Louis Cardinals’ challenge to “turn Busch Stadium blue’’ at a hockey watch party in “baseball heaven.’’
After the game, fans poured into the streets around the stadium and hockey arena chanting “Let’s go Blues” and “We won the Cup.” Some hoisted cardboard versions of Stanley Cups over their heads. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on Market Street for several hours, clogged with cars tooting three times — “Let’s go Blues” — on their horns. “Gloria” — the Blues’ victory anthem — streamed from their windows.
“It’s a fantastic night for St. Louis,’’ said Brad Myers, a fan since the Blues franchise joined the National Hockey League in 1967. “The last minute was unbelievable in sound. You couldn’t hear anything except screaming.’’
Myers watched the game at the Enterprise Center. He was 9 in 1970, the last time the Blues reached the Stanley Cup Final. The team was swept by the Bruins that year.
But this time, Myers knew the Blues would win.
“They had determination,’’ he said. “They knew that any setback wasn’t going to keep them down.’’
The team's spirit captured the imagination of fans — and the players embraced the fans.
In an interview after the game, Blues left winger Pat Maroon, a St. Louis native, described the importance of the Stanley Cup win for his city.
“I just can’t wait to party with St. Louis — the community,’’ Maroon said. “We all came together. The city came together. We re-amped this city. The Blues did it. I’m so proud of these guys.’’
The party for the Stanley Cup champions will start at noon Saturday. A half-million fans are expected to line Market Street, from 18th Street to Broadway, for the parade. A rally will be held afterward at the Gateway Arch.
Welcome to the party
This season is proof that St. Louis is a hockey city, fans say, pointing to the thousands of people who have shown up for games, rallies and watch parties to support the team since its playoff run began in April.
The playoffs have been like a surprise party that kept getting bigger and better — thrown by a team that was in last place in January, regrouping under Craig Berube, their interim coach.
According to the National Hockey League, the Blues are the first team since the league expanded to 12 teams in 1967 to win the Stanley Cup after being last in the standings at least a third of the way through the season.
On their way to the Western Conference championship, the Blues defeated the Winnipeg Jets in six games, the Dallas Stars in seven games and the San Jose Sharks in six games.
And there were many made-for-movie moments:
- April 10: Rookie Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington making 24 saves, including a game-winning stop with 12 seconds on the clock, in his first playoff game against the Jets. The Blues won 2-1.
- May 7: The after-game hug between Blues winger Pat Maroon and Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. They’re St. Louis natives and friends who played youth hockey with the Kirkwood Stars. Maroon’s goal against Bishop in double overtime gave the Blues a 2-1 win and sent them to the Western Conference final.
- May 29: The Blues' first victory in a Stanley Cup Final game in franchise history — a thrilling 3-2 overtime win in Game 2 in Boston.
- June 3: The team’s first-ever Stanley Cup Final win at home. As the team celebrated the 4-2 victory on the ice, fans celebrated the historic milestone like they celebrated each and every Blues playoff victory: Loudly. Gloria-sly.
“This is history, and we’re a part of it.”
Despite the often-sticky St. Louis heat, many fans sported their “lucky” long-sleeved Blues jerseys throughout the playoffs.
Others wore new T-shirts with the “Play Gloria” mantra. The backstory — now sports legend — is that Blues players heard the 1980s Laura Branigan hit “Gloria” in a bar in Philadelphia and adopted it as a victory song as they started their climb out of the NHL basement.
Before Game 6 Sunday night, longtime Blues fan David Gerik, 49, stood in the concourse of the Enterprise Center hoisting a hand-lettered sign over his head: “Roses are red, we bleed blue, Lord Stanley’s Cup is in our view.’’
This season’s Blues fever was unlike anything he’d seen, Gerik said.
“You look out there, and you see these crowds. They’re massive,’’ he said. “This is history, and we’re a part of it.”
Fans like Jaron Allred of Effingham, who attended Game 4 at Enterprise Center, praised the team’s relentlessness. Like everyone else going to the game that night, he was sure the Blues would overcome their disheartening performance in Game 3 — a 7-2 loss in their first home game of the series — because this was a team that never gave up.
“Win or lose, it’s been a great season,’’ Allred said as he posed for a photo outside the arena. “I’ll still love the Blues — always will. They’ll be fun to watch next year and all the years to come.”
The Blues won Game 4, their only home victory of the series.
Longtime fans: waiting for 49 years
During tributes before the home games, the Blues paid homage to the team’s stars from past eras, like Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, Kelly Chase and Chris Pronger.
A video of Bob Plager, who played with his brother Barclay on the Blues from 1967 to 1977 — and Bill for part of that time — reminded the crowd that the team had been to the Stanley Cup Final before. The Blues made it to the final series in their first three seasons. They faced the Montreal Canadiens in 1968 and 1969 and the Boston Bruins in 1970. They were swept in all three.
“It’s been a long time, but the wait is over,” Plager said on the video. “Hey, buddy, let’s make history.”
Ken Kleban, 69, recalled attending those early Stanley Cup games.
“My God, we’ve been waiting for 49 years,” Kleban said. “I have loved the Blues from the very beginning. Went to tons and tons of their games. Had an awful lot of disappointments along the way.’’
Kleban passed his love of hockey to his son, Robbie, 35. They sat together before Game 6 in a tucked-away corner of Enterprise Center, eating and talking hockey.
Kleban said the Stanley Cup Final was important to the city.
“It gives the city a boost,’’ he said. “St. Louis certainly has been beaten down in the national media, and this certainly puts it in a much better light.”
Actor Jon Hamm reflected that feeling at a news conference at Enterprise Center before Game 3.
“We could use a win,’’ he said. “It’s been a rough run for the city in the last three decades or so, with the odd Cardinals championship here and there and what-not.’’
Hamm, who grew up in St. Louis a Blues fan, said the season had been as unexpected as it was welcome.
“The whole Gloria phenomenon — it’s another thing that is, especially for the guys on the team, but even more so for the people in the city — it’s something to unite,’’ Hamm said. “And to rally around.”
How big a deal was it?
Game 6 was NBC Sports’ highest-rated Blues game ever in the St. Louis market, according to the network. The game had a 33.0 local rating in St. Louis compared to a 27.6 local rating in Boston.
By car, MetroLink and rideshare, thousands of fans made their way Sunday to the streets outside Enterprise Center, where the Blues were on the brink of winning the Stanley Cup on home ice in Game 6.
In addition to the 18,000 fans inside the arena, 40,000 more crammed into an NHL-sponsored party on Market Street to watch the action on three giant TV screens. They had come prepared for victory, their chants alternating between “Let’s go Blues” and “We want the Cup.” They stood in lines for more than an hour to buy a beer or sandwich from food trucks.
Because of the crowd, Matt Vaughn of Fairfield, Illinois, didn’t make it inside the gates of the watch party. Instead, he sat on a folding chair on Market Street watching a TV screen two blocks away.
He brought his own Stanley Cup — a replica several feet tall that he’d handcrafted from plastic buckets and three rolls of silver duct tape. He filled his Stanley Cup with ice and bottles of Budweiser.
Vaughn, a lifelong fan, and his children vowed to stay until the game ended, even as the third period took a turn for the worse and the crowd began to thin. The Blues would leave St. Louis with the series at 3-3, facing a do-or-die Game 7 in Boston.
Vaughn tempered his disappointment by taking a longer view.
“The St. Louis Blues have come a long way for a sport that is Canadian in origin and not native to the Midwest,’’ he said, surveying the crowd.
Vaughn was born in 1967, the year the Blues franchise joined the NHL, and he’s been a fan since he was 10. He recalls going to games with college buddies in the 1980s and paying $9 a ticket. Back then, there were only a handful of Blues fans in his Southern Illinois town. Now, he sees Blues shirts and logos everywhere he looks.
The Stanley Cup run hooked Tiyon Winston, 43, who described herself as an occasional fan before this season.
She watched the Blues victory Wednesday night on a big TV at Center Ice Brewery in Midtown St. Louis, cheering and dancing to “Gloria.”
“This team went through so much,’’ she said. “And then to bring home the Stanley Cup, you can’t do more than appreciate that.”
The Blues have been good for the city, said Winston, who plans to attend more games next season.
“This is amazing. It makes me feel good as an African American woman loving hockey. It brings everybody together, so we are one. And we bleed blue.”
Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard
Rachel Lippmann contributed reporting to this story.
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