ST. LOUIS -- One by one, as players from each of the youth hockey programs stepped onto the ice at Enterprise Center on Saturday, Tom Stillman could hardly contain his smile.
The St. Louis Blues chairman hosted 48 youth hockey clubs and their coaches for a team photo opportunity with the Stanley Cup and a chance to skate on the same ice surface as their favorite players.
Programs represented included the Twin Bridges Lightning, St. Peters Spirit, Southern Illinois Icehawks, Meramec Sharks, Northwest Arkansas Ice Hogs, Affton Americans, Lady Liberty, Affton Central States, Lady Cyclones, Chesterfield Falcons and Lady Falcons, St. Louis Rockets and Kirkwood Stars.
Needless to say, the kids were in awe of the Cup and coaches thanked Stillman for helping bring a sport, and city, together.
"It's hard to imagine something more fun than this, hanging around with the Stanley Cup and seeing the reaction of fans, especially young ones," Stillman said. "To watch people, in this case, young kids, seeing it for the first time, the reaction every time, it never disappoints."
Stillman, whose ownership group took over the Blues on May 9, 2012, has been on an all-time high since the Blues won their first championship on June 12 with a 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 7. Kids flocking to the Cup for selfies helped Stillman get even more of an appreciation for what winning it has meant for this city.
"This is something that's typical of St. Louis and St. Louis sports fans is just about everyone says, 'Thank you,'" Stillman said. "People here appreciate when good things happen in the city and they're not entitled, they're not spoiled. They're appreciative and they're very happy."
Youth hockey in St. Louis continues to be on the rise. Those skating Saturday hope to one day be the next Ben Bishop, Paul Stastny, Pat Maroon, Matthew or Brady Tkachuk, Luke Kunin, Logan Brown or other NHL players to come from St. Louis.
"What we're hearing from the youth organizations from the area is that there are Learn to Play programs, they're younger and they're having big interests, very big interests," Stillman said.
Stillman had the Cup at his residence on Thursday. It was the first time he's seen it since the names were engraved on it.
"It kind of takes your breath away and you feel that thump in your chest because I never really let myself think about anything beyond the goal of winning," Stillman said. "I believed we would win one of these years, but never let myself think about what happens afterwards.
"If you're someone who hockey's meant a lot to, and you think it's going to be there, for all the guys on the team and others in the organization, those names will be there, whether the Cup is traveling or in the Hall of Fame. It's pretty compelling."
Three months after winning the Cup, Stillman said the city is still abuzz from and he's amazed what it's done to the region.
"It's just been so great to see the reaction of St. Louis and the whole area," Stillman said. "It was excitement, joy and the area's energized. It just felt like people came together. I probably have said this too many times, but when sports are at their best, that's what they're doing, bringing people together behind a team, behind a city, pulling together, people from all different parts of the city, walks of life, and that's what we saw. I still feel a lot of that in town. I'm hoping it will have a longer-lasting affect."
With opening night less than two weeks away on Oct. 2, Stillman said doing it all over again is the focus.
"That's our next goal," he said.