With the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals Sunday night, this could be your last chance to jump on the St. Louis Blues bandwagon. Lord Stanley’s Cup will be in the building to be given to the series winner, or it could make the trip back to Boston for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Have no clue what I’m talking about? Perfect. This is for you. (Everyone else just head on back to the sports page for a preview).
This won’t be hockey for dummies — there are plenty of those on the internet if needed — but here’s a quick Hockey 101:
Think soccer on ice. Figure skating with sticks. Instead of a ball there’s a puck made of rubber that’s one inch thick and three inches diameter. It’s frozen before the game and in this series it has broken a player’s jaw (he still played the next game).
The winner of the series claims the Stanley Cup, named after Lord Stanley of Preston who donated the prize in 1892 to Canada’s top amateur club. Every player gets their name engraved on the side of the trophy and gets to spend one day with it during the offseason.
Now even if you care nothing about grown men crying over a silver bowl or sports in general, the Blues have something for you to root for.
Dog lover? The Blues have an office puppy named Barclay, named after former player Barclay Plager, who died in 1988. He joined the team in December and has his own Instagram (@stlouisbluespup). He is also training to become a service dog.
Family bonds? Barclay Plager and his brother Bob both have their numbers retired by the Blues. Bob, who is an ambassador for the Blues and has visited Poplar Bluff in the past to promote the game, will be pacing around the arena Sunday night, too nervous to watch.
Emotional endings? Charles Glenn, who has been singing the national anthem prior to Blues games since 2000, is retiring because his multiple sclerosis has progressed. Sunday night will be his last performance.
Emotional fans? Laila Anderson is an 11-year-old Blues fan with a rare disease, HLH, that can be fatal. She met her favorite player Colton Parayko at St. Louis Children’s Hospital last fall and now he wears a “Laila Strong” bracelet. The players’ wives made her a custom blue jean jacket to match theirs and she’s going to have her own bobblehead with proceeds to benefit the hospital.
Famous fans? Jon Hamm took the team out to celebrate after winning the conference finals. John Goodman, Nelly, Andy Cohen, Jenna Fischer, Jackie Joyner Kersee and the entire St. Louis Cardinals roster have been following the Blues.
Fun catchphrase? “Play Gloria!” has become a rally cry because after wins the team will play the 1982 song “Gloria” in the locker room. It’s caught on around the city with a radio station playing it repeatedly for a full day and fans wearing “Play Gloria!” T-shirts.
Bad guys to root against? It’s Boston. In the last eight months Boston fans have celebrated a championship in baseball and football after their NBA team reached the conference finals last year. The Bruins swept St. Louis in 1970, the last time the Blues reached the finals, and have won six Cup titles, most recently in 2011. Boston also beat St. Louis in the last Super Bowl and World Series in which their teams met.
Too good to be true story? Sit back.
Anderson, the young fan, met Parayko in the hospital during a Halloween visit. She needed a bone marrow transplant. A defenseman, Parayko scored on his only shot in the next game for a game-winning goal — and finished the season with a career-best 10 goals.
The Blues had gotten off to a 2-7 start and fired coach Mike Yeo after 19 games. By early January, St. Louis was 16-19-4 and in last place with the fewest points in the entire league.
Glenn, the singer, told the team he was going to retire at the end of the season on Jan. 6, his 64th birthday.
That night the team was in Philadelphia and a group of players went to a private social club to watch the NFL playoffs. During commercial breaks, the rowdy Eagles fans kept yelling to the DJ, “play Gloria.” The next night after the Blues beat the Flyers 3-0, the team played the song by Laura Branigan in the locker room.
That was the first career win for goalie Jordan Binnington. The rookie won his next two starts and the Blues put together an 11-game winning streak in February with Binnington in net for nine wins, each time playing “Gloria” after the game.
Like Kurt Warner for the Super Bowl champion Rams, Binnington came out of nowhere to give the Blues a boost.
They finished the season 38-19-6 under interim coach Craig Berube and had a chance in the final game to win the division title. The Blues won but ended up a point behind Nashville, tied with the Winnipeg Jets for second place.
After getting past the Jets in six games, the Blues avoided elimination in Game 6 at Dallas then took Game 7 in double-overtime when Pat Maroon, who grew up a Blues fan in nearby Oakville, scored.
In the conference finals against the San Jose Sharks, Binnington gave up six goals in a loss to open the series and the Sharks took a 2-1 series lead with a controversial overtime goal.
Anderson, who got her transplant in January just as the Blues started to turn things around, got a surprise from her mom the night before Game 3. Having been confined to the hospital or her home, she was given permission to see her first game of the season in person. She brought a sign that read “I’m here boys… Let’s do this (heart) Laila.”
The Blues bounced back with a 2-1 home win in the next game then outscored San Jose 10-1 to close out the series with two wins.
Even though they had been to three finals during their first three seasons, the Blues had never won a game. It took an overtime goal by Carl Gunnarsson, his first career postseason goal in 50 games, to give the Blues their first finals win.
The Bruins then won 7-2 in Game 3 as Binnington got replaced for the first time in his career, but he and the Blues bounce back with consecutive wins to move within a win of claiming the Cup.
The too-good-to-be-true storyline continues Sunday night with the Blues trying to close out their first championship at home. Last year they didn’t even make the playoffs for only the ninth time in 51 years.
St. Louis almost lost the Blues to Saskatchewan. The best players were traded away (and in one case, taken by the league) or left to win elsewhere. There was a blown 3-1 series lead, early playoff exits after dominating the regular season and disappointment with “The Great One” on the roster.
Growing up, we played hockey in the street or the basement and made a Cup out of tin cans. We watched games on TV with our dads, the movie “Slap Shot” with our friends and got an autograph from Adam Oates in a drugstore.
St. Louis will be on the edge of its seat Sunday night.
Brian Rosener wrote this during Game 5, too nervous to watch.