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Sunday Long Read

Maroon thriving in homecoming with Blues on run to Stanley Cup Final

Forward's move to St. Louis pays off with son, family nearby

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

ST. LOUIS -- Pat Maroon had to make a decision, so he pulled aside his dad, Phil.

"I don't know which way to go," he told him.

Pat had grown up in Oakville, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. He'd sat on his dad's lap at St. Louis Blues games, gone with his mom to get Brett Hull's autograph and played travel hockey for the AAA Blues. He'd even been honored at a Blues game for playing in the 2002 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament.


[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]


Now, after 11 pro seasons away from home, the forward was a free agent for the first time. The Blues had offered him a contract. 

On this day, he was with his dad at All American Sports Mall watching his son, Anthony, play roller hockey. It was the same place where he had played roller hockey as a kid, the same place where his uncle Rob Ferrara owns All American Inline Hockey today.

Pat could play for his hometown team in front of his family and friends. For the first time in his NHL career, he could be at home during the season with his son. Anthony lives with his mom in Oakville.

But it wasn't that simple. There would be pressure playing at home. How often does reality live up to the dream? The Blues had offered a one-year contract while others had offered more term, more money or both. Pat was 30 years old. Was it wise to leave anything on the table?

His dad said if it were him, he would sign elsewhere for more term.

"Are you sure?" Pat asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure," his dad said.

"Are you positive?" Pat said.

His dad pulled out a coin. Heads, Blues. Tails, another team. His dad flipped it.


Pat told his dad he'd sign elsewhere. He went home with his son and his fiancee, Francesca Vangel.

Two hours later, Pat called his dad.

"Dad," he said, "I signed with the Blues."

In the end, being with his son was most important, so Pat signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Blues on July 9.

The family was ecstatic. Pat's grandpa Ernest Ferrara, one of his biggest fans, spoke to Pat via video from the Laclede Groves assisted living community in Webster Groves, Missouri.

"Welcome home, Patrick and Francesca," he said, sitting in an armchair, legs crossed, holding a cigar. "I'm so happy that you're going to be playing next door here. I love you, and the Blues are waiting for you. They're already predicting you're going to win."

With that, Pat's grandpa puffed on his cigar.

WATCH: Maroon's grandpa delivers a welcome home message

Pat's decision has led to an epic season -- for himself, for his son, for his family.

His son, now 10, plays for the same youth team he did, the Meramec Sharks, and for the first time, father and son got to play in the father-son game together in March.

His grandpa died April 9, the day before the Blues played the Winnipeg Jets in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round. But he got to see him and told him he would win the Stanley Cup for him.

Watching Pat in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has tied the tight-knit family even tighter at a tough time. Whoever isn't attending a game watches it on television at Rob's house, which has a Blues sign out front, "LET'S GO BLUES" painted on the front lawn and Pat's memorabilia mixed with other sports memorabilia inside.

After family members kissed his grandpa's prayer card in the stands, Pat scored the winning goal in double overtime of Game 7 of the second round against the Dallas Stars.

Now he's playing against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, in the Blues' first Cup Final appearance since 1970. The Bruins lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 entering Game 4 here Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"It's meant the world to me," Pat said. "It's been amazing. As a kid, you dream of this your whole life. … To actually live out your dream and actually put your skates on and play in the Stanley Cup Final, it's a pretty cool moment for me -- not only a cool moment for me, but my dad that's been a season-ticket holder and a Blues fan, my mom, my family, my son. It's been really cool and very special. A lot of highs, a lot of lows, but we're getting through this together."

* * * * *

You could say Pat would run through a wall to play hockey.

One day when he was 12 or 13, his mom, Pattie, went down to their finished basement while Pat and a bunch of guys were mid-game. Pat was sitting in a wall -- not against a wall, but in a wall on a chair amid pipes and wires.

"Pat, what are you doing in there?" his mom said.

"I'm in the penalty box," Pat said.

"Where's my wall?"

"Well, somebody checked me into the wall. It was broken, anyway. We just made it bigger so we could make a penalty box."

She walked upstairs and told her husband, "Don't go downstairs for about a couple months."

Why put up walls, anyway?

"He always had that dream," she said. "I always told him, 'You've got to shoot for the stars. There's no limits. Go for your dream, no matter what people tell you.' "

Pat's hockey journey has been well-documented. He always had excellent hands and hockey sense, but he had to battle his weight and climb the ranks.

Pat played for the AAA Blues for coach Jeff Brown, the former NHL defenseman who played in St. Louis from 1989-94, but only after Brown initially cut him. Brown nicknamed him "Fat Pat."

"He couldn't get around the ice," Brown said. "I mean, it was something that, you can't skate, you can't play. It's a tribute to him how hard he's worked through the years to catch up."

Pat played on the Oakville High varsity as a freshman and sophomore. Andy Strickland, who covers the Blues as the rinkside reporter for Fox Sports Midwest today, covered him on cable access television then.

"I just remember saying this is the best 15-year-old I've ever seen and called him a manchild, because he was 15 and you couldn't get the puck away from him," Strickland said. "He was talking trash to everybody. He was just running guys over. He was so skilled."

Pat played for Texarkana of the North American Hockey League in 2005-06 and moved with the team to, of all places, St. Louis the following season. His coach? The same Jon Cooper who coaches the Tampa Bay Lightning today. Pat was part of Cooper's "Chub Club" for players who needed extra conditioning in the morning.

"He started getting in shape, and he started playing," Cooper said. "He was great for us."

The Philadelphia Flyers selected Pat in the sixth round (No. 161) of the 2007 NHL Draft. He spent a season with London of the Ontario Hockey League, then two with the Flyers organization in the American Hockey League. Early in 2010-11, he was traded and reported to Syracuse of the AHL.

Finally, about noon CT on Oct. 25, 2011, Pat called his dad. He was going to make his NHL debut for the Anaheim Ducks against the Chicago Blackhawks that night at United Center.

Pat's dad and uncle Rob jumped in a car. So did Pat's brothers, Phil and Justin, and two of his friends. So did so many others. A caravan of cars sped north to make it in time for the game. For Rob, it hit home during the national anthem, when Pat was standing on the ice, starting on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

"I'm like, 'Pshhh,' " Rob said, making his tears sound like they gushed from a firehose.

A group of family and friends made it to Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 16, 2013, when Pat scored his first NHL goal in a 3-2 win for the Ducks at the Nashville Predators.

Eventually, Pat established himself in the NHL: three full seasons with the Ducks (2013-16), 154 games with the Edmonton Oilers (2016-18), and 17 games with the New Jersey Devils after the NHL Trade Deadline last season. He set career highs in goals (27) and points (42) playing with center Connor McDavid in 2016-17.

Forward Cam Janssen, who played 336 NHL games from 2005-14, including 165 for the Blues from 2007-11, was the first player born and raised in St. Louis to make it. Pat was the second.

Former NHL forwards Pat LaFontaine and Paul Ranheim were born in St. Louis, but LaFontaine grew up in the Detroit area, Ranheim in the Minneapolis area. Vegas Golden Knights center Paul Stastny grew up in St. Louis, but he was born in Quebec City the son of an NHL player, Peter Stastny. Stars goalie Ben Bishop grew up in St. Louis but was born in Denver.

"I always say Cam and Pat, they're the two biggest success stories in the history of St. Louis hockey," Strickland said.

* * * * *

When Pat played in Edmonton, family members would bring his son to see him whenever possible. Still, it was hard.

Each day when he was with Pat's mom, Anthony would ask how many days he had left in the trip. He'd say he wasn't going to cry and ask if she was. She'd tell him she couldn't guarantee she wouldn't.

"I'd have to wear sunglasses," Pat's mom said. "Everyone was so depressed and melancholy. And then the day we left, we'd pull up to that airport to check our luggage, and he'd be screaming, 'I want my daddy.' It's like, they're going to pull me over, because they think I'm kidnapping this child."

On Dec. 19, 2016, Pat scored the tying goal in the third period, and the Oilers defeated the Blues 3-2 in St. Louis. In a postgame interview, he was shown footage of Anthony, then 8, wearing a replica of his dad's No. 19 Oilers jersey, raising a fist and jumping in the stands in celebration.

Pat, the man known as "Big Rig," who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds, broke down.

"Pretty cool," he said, choking up. "But I don't get to see him as much, and it's pretty special."

Sportsnet reporter Gene Principe put a hand on Pat's shoulder and ended the interview, reminding Pat that Christmas was on the way and he would have more time with Anthony.

"Absolutely," Pat said.

Watch: Pat Maroon's emotional interview on Youtube

So when Pat got to free agency, that's what he chose over more term and more money -- more time with Anthony.

"Money doesn't solve problems in the world anymore," Pat said. "It doesn't really bring you happiness. Living out your dream and being home and being with family and being with a team in that locker room and having those guys fight, sweat and be where we're at right now, that means more to me."

It wasn't easy at first. The Blues were 7-9-3 when they replaced coach Mike Yeo with Craig Berube after a 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 19. Through his first 25 games with the Blues, Pat had one goal and seven assists.

The fears about playing at home started to be realized.

"You'd hear the whispers in the stands -- not even whispers, the yelling in the stands," his dad said. "And then you get on social media, and you see … It was really depressing."

The Blues were last in the NHL the morning of Jan. 3. But then they rallied around the song "Gloria" and rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, and they went on an incredible run, growing closer as a team. Pat had 12 points (six goals, six assists) in his final 19 regular-season games, and the Blues made the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Pat's grandpa loved it. When the Blues played, the family always made sure the game was on for him. If things were going well, his Blues jersey stayed wherever it was -- hanging in the window or on the cabinet above the television. If they weren't, they mixed it up, or he put it on.

When he died, the Blues were about to fly to Winnipeg. Pat hadn't had the chance to say goodbye when grandpa Phil Maroon died Aug. 27, 2004, because he was trying out for London of the OHL and his family didn't tell him. When grandma Eleanor Ferrara died on Mother's Day in 2017, he was in Edmonton. This time he drove to the hospital on the way to the airport.

"We were all standing around crying and whatever you do when somebody dies, and then he had to leave," Pat's mom said. "So he's bending down, and he's hugging and kissing my dead dad, and so he's going, 'Grandpa. Grandpa. I love you. I love you. I'm going to win the Stanley Cup for you.'"

The next night, Pat set up center Tyler Bozak's winning goal with 2:05 left in the third period as the Blues defeated the Jets 2-1. The family watched at Pat's uncle Rob's. Pat's brother Justin turned to his aunt Jan Phegley.

"He said, 'Could this story get any better?'" Phegley said. "And I said, 'I don't know, Justin. But I'll tell you, it's bringing the family together. We're here, and we're all together, and it's getting us through the difficult parts.'"

It was just the beginning.

"From that point on is when we didn't stop being together," said Pat's sister, Jen Guetschow. "From that point on is when we spent every game day together as a family, because it brought us closer together."

* * * * *

Turns out, the story could get better.

When Pat arrived in St. Louis, he couldn't wear No. 19 as he had in Edmonton, because it belonged to defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. He asked to wear No. 7, even though some felt he shouldn't because it once had belonged to forward Keith Tkachuk. He had worn No. 7 growing up, because, his mom said, he "always wins with that number."

On May 7, the Blues played the Stars in Game 7 of the second round. Pat's sister and her husband, Paul Guetschow, sat in Row 7 of Section 107 with Pat's uncle Rob. When the game stretched into a second OT, they put rally towels in front of their faces because they couldn't look. They couldn't breathe.

Rob had brought a prayer card, and Jen had put it in her purse. She took it out.

"And I go, 'All right, here's Pop Pop's prayer card. Let's kiss it,' " she said. "I kissed it. I passed it to my husband; he kissed it. He passed it to Rob; he kissed it. And no lie, 3 seconds later, Pat scored the overtime goal. That is the truth. That is what happened."

There is a little disagreement on the details.

"It was about a minute," Rob said.

But this much is certain: Pat scored at 5:50 of the second overtime in Game 7 in St. Louis to send the Blues to the conference final.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm7: Maroon's 2OT goal sends Blues to WCF

Not far away, Pat's mom hadn't seen the play because she'd sat down while others were standing. She didn't know who'd scored. But Pat's brother Phil ran up the aisle to her seat, shouting, "Pat scored! Pat scored!"

"Everybody in my family was crying," Pat's mom said. "I'm a real crier, but I just felt like, 'They're really going to win the Stanley Cup.' Like, this is for real now."

The Blues took another step by eliminating the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the conference final in St. Louis on May 21. The next day, Pat's parents went out for breakfast at Sunny Street Cafe in Arnold, Missouri. Someone picked up the check. They had dinner at Frankie G's Bar & Grill in Oakville. A friend picked up the check.

Along Telegraph Road, the main drag in Oakville, businesses have celebrated the hometown hero. The sign at Dierbergs said, "Congrats Oakville Big Rig Pat Maroon." Celebrity Car Wash offered the "Pat Maroon Special," a $7 car wash. The Oakville Butcher Block offered the "Blue Maroon Bundle" -- seven sausages, seven chicken wings and seven burgers for $27.77.

Seems like everyone is winning with that number.

"Since they made the Final, it's been very surreal," said Pat's dad, a sales rep at Tree Court Builders Supply. "We're getting hundreds of texts, everybody at work. 'What's going on with the team?' "

St. Louis hockey has come a long way over the years. Five players from the area went in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. But Pat's example can help further, even beyond hockey.

On Tuesday, the night before the Blues defeated the Bruins 3-2 in Boston and won the first Cup Final game in their history, Oakville High held a hockey board meeting. The members talked about capitalizing on the excitement in a good way.

"We're talking about maybe opportunities in life," said Mick O'Halloran, the director of hockey operations, who has coached Oakville's developmental program for 19 years and has enough Pat Maroon memorabilia to fill a museum exhibit. "That's what's most important, as we know. Those are the life lessons of team sport.

"Not everyone's going to be blessed with the skills to physically play the game or to be able to endure the rigors. But at the end of the day, you're going to understand how to deal with adversity. You're going to have injury in sport. You're going to go through the dark valleys of this world.

"How are you going to respond to that? Are you going to be a good father, a good husband? Are you going to be a good role model? All that stuff is critically important, and that's what jacks me up about this."

Pat Maroon, the hometown boy, made good.

"You know, good things happen to good people, and he's a kid that signed for less to go home and be a dad and be around his family and friends and everything, and look what's happened to him," Brown said. "He's earned everything he's getting right now. ...

"He's one of the good guys. Real proud of him. He is what you see. He's just a good, humble, down-to-earth kid who has worked extremely hard to make it to where he is today. Geez, I can't wait to see him hopefully raise that Cup. It'd be pretty special."

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