CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- No fan has waited longer to see the St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup than John Oefelein. He has had season tickets since 1967-68, when the Blues joined the NHL, and he and a buddy split a pair at St. Louis Arena -- Section 219, Row A, Seats 18-19.
He was there for the Stanley Cup Final in 1968, 1969 and 1970, and he will be at Enterprise Center on Saturday when the Cup Final returns to St. Louis for the first time in 49 years. The Blues and Boston Bruins are tied 1-1 in the best-of-7 series entering Game 3 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
"It's a dream of a lifetime," he said Friday.
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But the Cup isn't what this is about, really. It's not the destination. It's the journey, all the years of joy and heartbreak Oefelein has shared with family, friends and fellow fans, all the memories he cherishes. His story symbolizes the connection between the town and the team.
"Many people have said they hope they live long enough to see the Stanley Cup," the 87-year-old said among the memorabilia in the basement of his suburban home. "I didn't say that, because I'm afraid. I don't want to die next year."
"Win or lose," he said, "I want to enjoy them for many, many more years."
Oefelein was born in St. Louis. He grew up playing hockey on weekends and rooted for the local minor league teams -- the St. Louis Flyers, who played in the American Hockey Association from 1928-1942 and the American Hockey League from 1944-53, and the St. Louis Braves, who played in the Central Professional Hockey League from 1963-67.
When the Blues were born, Oefelein and his late friend Ray McDonald bought two season tickets together. McDonald had to give up his share in the late 1970s. But he kept going to games for years, and Jim McDonald -- Ray's son, Oefelein's godson -- started splitting the tickets with Oefelein in the early 2000s.
They sit in Section 301 at Enterprise Center, which became the home of the Blues in 1994 and has been known as Kiel Center, Savvis Center and Scottrade Center over the years. Their ticket account number has never changed.
"It is a pretty cool little circle that's happened, and my son (Jack), he's playing hockey," Jim said over the phone Friday. "Hockey's a great sport, and there's lots of great fans in St. Louis. It's just awesome to be a part of it, and it's awesome to see my godfather so excited about it."
Oefelein has enough tales to fill a book, from how fans used to dress up for games in the early days, to how the Blues rallied from down 5-2 in the third period to defeat the Calgary Flames 6-5 in overtime in Game 6 of the 1986 Campbell Conference Final in what became known as the "Monday Night Miracle."
"Hockey, to me, it's the No. 1 sport because every player plays in every game, and every player wears themselves out in the 45 seconds he's out on the ice," Oefelein said. "I've never booed at a game."
But his best tales center on family and friends more than hockey. Sometimes he wouldn't have tickets but would take his nephews anyway, standing room only. He took girlfriends to games until he took one to a Blue Note Club banquet in 1980 as a second date. They got married the next year; Susan is still his wife.
In 1993 or '94, their son, James, was about to turn 12 or 13. He was playing hockey and had his own youth hockey cards. Susan sent one to his favorite player, forward Brendan Shanahan, asking Shanahan to sign it as a birthday present. One day, they received a phone call. It was Shanahan, saying he was returning the card and including an autographed photo of himself. Shanahan asked to speak to James.
"Look, if I give you two tickets to the game, do you think you can get somebody to bring you?" Shanahan asked.
"Yeah!" James said.
James hung up.
Shanahan called back and had a laugh with Susan. He gave the Oefeleins the tickets, and John and James sat with the Blues' families. As he came off after warmups, Shanahan handed a puck to James.
On Feb. 9, 2016, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the awarding of the franchise, Oefelein dropped the first puck before a game against the Winnipeg Jets. Out he walked with Bob Plager, one of the original Blues. As he passed the bench, he noticed a player had a glove sticking out, so he gave him a fist-bump. Then the rest of the Blues put their fists out, and he bumped them too. He bumped fists with them again on the way back and got to say a word to his favorite player, defenseman Colton Parayko.
"Every penny I've put into this has been out of my own pocket, and I would spend it all over again," Oefelein said. "And I've spent a lot of extra money because the whole family enjoys it. My wife had never gone to a hockey game before. But when I started dating her and went to that banquet, I took her to one. After that, she'd always say, 'When's the next game?'"
Oefelein is taking their daughter, Ann, and her boyfriend to Game 3. Jim McDonald will be there too.
"I'd say it's the greatest (season in Blues history), because we got this far," Oefelein said. "But the thing is, every season is a great season."