ST. LOUIS - Will Bartold has been through a lot lately.
The 10-year-old has spent more time at St. Louis Children's Hospital over the past six months than he has at home after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that occurs primarily in children. In August, a bone with a 7-inch tumor was removed from his arm. Doctors replaced that bone with one from his leg, and he faces several more chemotherapy sessions before the end of the year.
On Saturday afternoon, though, none of that mattered.
That's because Will was invited to Hardee's IcePlex in Chesterfield, where he was named an honorary member of the Blues Alumni during the Fantasy Camp. He was greeted at the door by former Blues Bruce Affleck, Larry Patey and Jamal Mayers, who led him to the locker room to meet all of the Blues Alumni playing in the three-day camp - plus current Blues Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund, Robert Bortuzzo, Joel Edmundson and Magnus Paajarvi.
"Absolutely everything from the point that we walked in the door until now has been complete blur," said Will's father, Mike Bartold. "He's a huge Blues fan, and it's been his dream to meet guys like Stastny, Steen, Bortuzzo and everybody in there. It's just been incredible. He is on cloud nine."
The meet and greets were just the beginning. Nothing, not even meeting many of his Blues heroes, could top the moment that was still to come.
Steen and Stastny led Will onto the ice, where all 200 of the former Blues, current Blues and amateur hockey players participating in camp greeted him by slapping their sticks on the ice as a show of support and encouragement.
It was a moment that could bring nearly anyone to tears - even tough guys like Will.
"That's where we are lately, as far as our emotions," Mike said. "Ever since he was diagnosed with cancer, it's become a thing we wear on our sleeves. We're very emotional. We know not to take anything for granted, especially opportunities like this."
Will left Hardee's IcePlex with a new Blues Alumni jersey, Steen's game-used stick and what he called the best moment of his life.
"Even my favorite (Blues) hat is autographed," Will said. "It used to have nothing, and now it's completely filled."
"This is something he'll never forget," Mike added. "That's a fact."