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Local group completes purchase of Blues

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The final hurdle of the sale of the St. Louis Blues came to fruition Thursday when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman introduced Tom Stillman and a group of local partners as the new majority owners of the franchise.

Stillman, who is the chairman and CEO of Summit Distributing in St. Louis and has been a minority partner of the outgoing group led by Dave Checketts and SCP Worldwide since 1997, is the eighth owner in franchise history dating back to the Blues' entry into the NHL for the 1967-68 season.

Stillman, a Minneapolis native who played college hockey at Middlebury (Vt.) College, completed a lengthy sale process Wednesday and was formally introduced -- along with 15 partners as part of the ownership group. The purchase included the Blues, the lease to Scottrade Center, the team's American Hockey League affiliate Peoria Rivermen and interest in the adjacent Peabody Opera House.

"We think this is a monumental, historic and really terrific day for St. Louis and for the Blues," said Bettman, who referred to the Blues as a member of the "Original 12."

"We know how important St. Louis is to the NHL as a hockey market and we also know how important the Blues are to St. Louis as evidenced by the fact that there are so many active alumni from the Blues who choose to stay here and live in retirement here.

"To have the opportunity to lead this organization, to be stewards of its present and future, is way beyond my wildest dreams. It's an honor that I take very seriously, as will the rest of our group."
-- New Blues' owner Tom Stillman

"[Stillman] bleeds blue-note blue, and he has been somebody that has been in dogged pursuit of controlling and operating and running this franchise for at least the last two or three years. … This fulfills, I believe, a dream for the Blues and for the city of St. Louis because the future is bright, bright, bright. I know that this is somebody who is committed as anybody to running this franchise in a first-class way. … I know he won't rest until the players are hoisting the Stanley Cup."

Still man is excited about the challenges that await him in his new role.

"To have the opportunity to lead this organization, to be stewards of its present and future, is way beyond my wildest dreams," Stillman said. "It's an honor that I take very seriously, as will the rest of our group.

"A lot of times I didn't think it was going to happen. It was something I thought, and the members of our group thought, was the right outcome. I said to some people if there was another strong local option, I'd have been OK with that, too. I thought it [was] best to have the Blues franchise in the hands of local owners. That's the best outcome for the Blues."

The sale of the team comes days after the Blues were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a sweep by the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Stillman is a passionate hockey fan who is known to lace up the skates often with Blues alumni.

"These are dedicated St. Louisans who've shown long-time commitment to our community," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said of Stillman and the new owners. "We know they will continue to lead the Blues in success in the future, and we appreciate that.

"The Blues have been a mainstay in our community for so many years. Not only are they a great and exciting team to watch on the ice, but they give back to our community in so many different ways as an organization and individually as players. We can only expect that their work and their commitment to grow and to get even stronger in the future."

In December 2010, Checketts felt like that he had an investment group "95 percent" assembled to purchase the team, but in March 2011, announced that he was selling all interests.

"It has truly been an honor to have been the principal owner of the St. Louis Blues for the last six seasons," Checketts said in a statement released Thursday. "I take a tremendous amount of pride in what we have accomplished on and off the ice over that time and believe the organization is in a much better place now than when we arrived. There are no better fans in the National Hockey League than in St. Louis and I would like to thank them for their continued support, encouragement and patronage.

"… We are happy that [the Blues] are now in the hands of local ownership and wish them well. We will continue to be Blues fans and enjoy what is a promising future."

Stillman entered the picture immediately once it became known that there was an opportunity for local investors to step in to the process. He signed a purchase agreement in January.

"We aim to put the Blues on solid financial footing," Stillman said. "We need to make the franchise stable and sustainable. On the ice, we're now one of the elite teams in the NHL. We're strong, talented, with a mostly young core. This team accomplished a lot this year.

"On the financial side, we have work to do. It won't be easy, but with the support of fans, businesses large and small, and with everyone's help we'll get that done to assure the Blues franchise is strong and successful in St. Louis for generations to come and ensure the long-term health of the St. Louis Blues."

Stillman's investment group includes the Taylor family, which owns St. Louis-based Enterprise Holdings, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, who is Stillman's father-in-law, Donn Lux, CEO of Luxco, and Steve Maritz, CEO of Maritz Inc.

Checketts purchased the Blues in 2006 from Bill and Nancy Laurie.

Stillman is also currently in talks with former Blue and Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull to become a part of the new management team.

"I'm hopeful that Brett will be joining us in a substantive management role," Stillman said. "I'm actively talking to him. I'm hopeful that we'll work something out there."

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