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Stanley Cup Final

St. Louis has huge love affair with Blues, McKenna says

Primed to host first Cup Final game since 1970, according to longtime NHL goalie, who is from city

by Mike McKenna / Special to NHL.com

Mike McKenna has been a professional goalie for the past 14 seasons and has played for seven NHL teams and 13 minor league teams. Most recently he played in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing one NHL game with them this season. He also played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19.

He knows about the most important position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a lot about the men who play it and those trying to score goals against them. So NHL.com asked him to share his insights during the postseason.

In his most recent column, McKenna talks about his hometown of St. Louis as a premier hockey town and how this trip to the Final, the first for the St. Louis Blues in 49 years, has stirred the passion for hockey throughout the area, especially with the Blues hosting Game 3 of the best-of-7 series, which is tied, against the Boston Bruins on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

So St. Louis is a baseball town, right?

That seems to be the perception everywhere else. People tend to ask two things when they find out you're from the Gateway to the West. First, do you visit the Arch often? Second, do you go to a lot of Cardinals games?

 

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Well, yeah, we do both of those. Anytime a friend visits our city, it's pretty much a given you're going to the top of the Arch for the best look over downtown St. Louis. And you won't find many people in our town that don't catch at least one Cardinals game every summer.

But once the ice goes down at Enterprise Center in October, St. Louis turns into a rabid hockey town. If you grew up here, you know it, but if you travel anywhere outside the metro area, people are surprised to find out we have more than 20 sheets of ice and 40-something varsity high school teams.

It took a long time for the world to find out about the best kept secret in hockey. Maybe it was the NHL Winter Classic in 2017. Or the fact five alumni from the St. Louis AAA Blues program were drafted in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft (Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller, Ottawa Senators center Logan Brown, Minnesota Wild center Luke Kunin, Boston Bruins center Trent Frederic).

People love hockey in St. Louis, but they bleed blue. I can't imagine the celebration that would ensue if the Blues won the Stanley Cup. I honestly think the economy in St. Louis would crash for a solid week; no one would be going to work. 

Fans here know what it's like to celebrate a World Series. The Cardinals have done it enough with four titles since 1967 that it's become an expectation. Mediocrity isn't accepted. In an odd way, it has become somewhat old hat. Been there, done that.

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But the Blues?

I mean, people are painting their lawns with gigantic Blue Notes around town. Forward Pat Maroon went from the hometown guy to a folk hero when he scored the winning goal in the second overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Dallas Stars. I can't go to the grocery store without seeing a horde of Blues apparel and overhearing conversation about the playoffs.

And "Gloria." My word. That song is being played everywhere.

For myself, it's an odd feeling. I grew up here enamored with the Blues and was lucky to attend every home game because my grandpa was an off-ice official. My dad still is. But somewhere along the way, after 14 years of professional hockey and 15 NHL organizations, I've lost the feeling of being a fan.

It's a weird phenomenon to explain. I'm happy to see my friends so excited and energized by the sport I love so much. But I am a little crestfallen that the buzz St. Louis is currently experiencing doesn't really resonate with me. There's no way I could explain that to the 7-year-old version of myself.

Blues fans have been waiting a long time for this. They've been tortured by the famous photo of Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the Cup-clinching goal against the Blues in the 1970 Cup Final for 49 years. Forty-nine.

The Blues have made the playoffs most of those seasons since, qualifying for 40 of 49 postseasons. At one point, they had the longest playoff streak in professional sports at 25. They've had great teams, but for whatever reason, haven't been able to advance to the Final.

Until now.

This season saw them dead last in the NHL at the beginning on January. It has been quite a ride.

More than anything though, I can't help but think of my grandpa Bill. During his youth in the '30s and '40s in St. Louis, only a few sheets of ice existed. None had boards. He was one of the founding fathers of hockey in our town and is a member of the St. Louis Amateur Hockey Hall of Fame. If he were alive today to see the dozens of young men who have had the privilege of playing in the NHL -- myself included -- he'd be speechless.

But if the Blues were to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, he'd be in tears. Outsiders may not have known about St. Louis as a hockey town until recently, but they most certainly do now.

We are the Heartland of Hockey. And if the Blues win, this city is going to party like never before.

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