Champions: Blues provide a hockey season to remember

The hockey fans of Missouri are celebrating the Blues, not singing them.

Thousands upon thousands of fans filled the streets of St. Louis on Saturday as Blues players, coaches and fans lifted the Stanley Cup in celebration.

The championship, won with a 4-1 victory in Game 7 over the Boston Bruins, was the first in the franchise’s 52-year history, a history that has brought many heartbreaks to loyal fans.

But the championship has created new generations of followers, who fell in love with the team and the sport, because of the way this Blues team did it.

There were storylines everywhere:

* The team went from worst to first, having found itself in last place in early January. This team showed the world what perseverance means.

* The tremendous rookie goalkeeper, Jordan Binnington, who joined the team mid-season, caught fire and played the game of his life in Game 7. His story is being compared to that of former out-of-nowhere quarterback Kurt Warner. Binnington was once considered fourth on the depth chart on his own team. He is an example of what a cool head can do, when given an opportunity to show what you can do.

* Pat Maroon, one of the key players in the Blues’ playoff run, is a hometown boy, who passed on a larger contract for a one-year deal with St. Louis in part to be closer to his son, who plays in a roller hockey league. They celebrated the title together.

* The team’s best player through the postseason, Ryan O’Reilly, was brought over in a trade and set the tone. He was traded from a horrible team in Buffalo, New York, and said he was tired of losing. He set the tone with his work ethic, which the rest of the team got behind, and celebrated the victory with his 99-year-old grandmother.

* The coach, Craig Berube, is an interim coach, brought on halfway through the season as the team struggled. He made brilliant, strategic moves, pairing certain players on certain lines, understanding how one player’s strength could blend with another, moving certain players to different positions, based on what the team needed. Like his new goaltender, Berube’s cool head translated on the ice. The Blues, painted in a corner many times, never panicked.

* All of these storylines are awesome, but none are greater than how the team rallied behind an 11-year-old girl named Laila Anderson, recipient of a bone-marrow transplant due to a rare autoimmune disease that left her without hair. Laila’s fight and spirit lifted the Blues, and inspired them. She befriended several Blues players, who heard of her story and her passion for the hockey team, and she became the face of the franchise. Laila reminded us of our own girls who have fought battles here in Cape Girardeau, and we fell in love with the Blues superfan, who broke down crying when told she would be traveling to Boston with the team for Game 7. Folks, sports just doesn’t get any better than that.

It was a historic and fairy-tale run. One day, we hope there is a movie made about this Blues season, or at least a documentary. It’s the stuff of legends, and many of us, not hockey fans before, are hooked on this beautiful and gritty game, and the players who showed us in so many different ways what winning truly looks like.

Let’s go Blues!