From the moment he became chairman and governor of the St. Louis Blues seven years ago, Tom Stillman dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup.
Naturally, but his imagination never quite made it to Saturday.
“I really didn’t allow myself to get that far in the dream,” the Blues’ owner told the Post-Dispatch. “It was a goal to win a Cup and to have a parade. But I would stop my thinking; I didn’t want to go there. Didn’t want to jinx it. ‘No, no. I’m not going to picture that.’ ... I wouldn’t quite let myself imagine the day itself.”
Well, picture this:
Maybe 20 minutes before noon Saturday, Stillman and Blues president and CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman stepped out of a side entrance at Enterprise Center and worked their way towards a vintage 1978 red fire engine with their names on it.
It took a while to get there. While fans applauded, Stillman shook hands and posed for selfies. Then he made his way across Clark Avenue for more of the same.
When he finally made his way over to the fire engine, he asked a reporter: “Is everybody soaked? Are they uncomfortable?” He was wondering about the fans - thousands upon thousands of them - who came out on a rainy morning.
Just minutes before Stillman came out, a fan walked by wearing a “Kroenke Sucks” T-shirt.
When it comes to sports, St. Louisans have long memories and deep loyalty. They will never forget how one owner trashed the city on his way out of town with the Rams.
And they will never, ever forget how another owner brought a parade to town with the Stanley Cup they had been desiring for 52 years.
“Sitting next to him in that team picture with the Cup in front of us at center ice, that was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Zimmerman said. “I know what Tom has put into it to get us here. And it’s just exceptional.”
Almost as exceptional as that parade down Market Street on Saturday afternoon, capped by a rally under the Gateway Arch. It was a parade unlike anything St. Louis has ever seen.
There was Jordan Binnington temporarily joining the Oakville High marching band much to the delight and astonishment of band members. Clean-shaven Pat Maroon didn’t kiss babies, the pride of Oakville just placed them inside the Cup for photo opps.
Brayden Schenn and Ivan Barbashev dancing in the street. Vladimir Tarasenko signing a fan’s Tarasenko jersey. Ryan O’Reilly wearing a hat from the Clint Eastwood collection (western movie division), and getting beers from fans for a quick swig as he walked down the parade route.
Yes, the Blues have had a lot of malted beverages since defeating the Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the Cup Final on Wednesday at TD Garden in Boston. Anyone who was on Market Street on Saturday or with access to social media in recent days could see that was the case. (To the point where one Blues player - who shall remain nameless - vomited BEFORE the parade.)
As for Stillman, he took a more low-key approach. He was still working on a cup of coffee as he hopped on the back of the fire truck with Zimmerman. As he rode down Market, he did a lot of smiling and pointing at the fans lining the streets, as if to say: “You deserve this. This is for you.”
There was lots of applause as he rode by. However appreciative, the fans were here to see the players. This was never more apparent than when Stillman began to address the crowd on the stage underneath the Arch. He had just begun his remarks, when there were chants of “Vladi! Vladi!” from the crowd.
Tarasenko wasn’t among several Blues stars introduced before Stillman took the stage. The fans wanted to see No. 91 holding up the Cup. Stillman laughed, and after Tarasenko’s curtain call, finally got his chance to speak.
He talked about the storybook season, and how players and coaches showed what can be accomplished with persistence, resilience and character. He used those same words to describe Blues fans.
“Really the most important people in this effort were all of you,” Stillman said looking out at a sea of blue. “Blues fans throughout the St. Louis area, you’ve supported us since 1967 through the ups and downs, through the victories and the disappointments.
“You’ve shown us and the country what real persistence, resilience and character are. What we did is we fed off you. We followed your example. We saw how the whole city, the whole region came together behind the Blues. We had one common effort. ... This Cup is here because of you.”
Prior to the parade, Stillman praised general manager Doug Armstrong and the front office staff for putting together “a fantastic roster of not only ability, but guys chosen for character.”
He saluted coach Craig Berube and his staff for being “masterful in their leadership.”
“You also can’t forget the business side,” he continued. “Chris Zimmerman and 100-plus people on that side that are making sure we can do this by selling the tickets and marketing the team, and all those things.”
Even in the darkest days of the season, with the team floundering in last place after the firing of Mike Yeo, Stillman never lost faith.
“We weren’t gonna give up, right?,” Stillman said. “We had to keep going. I’m so proud of the guys. They dug deep. They faced a steep climb.”
And they climbed the mountain. All of which made Saturday one of the best days in St. Louis sports history.
“It’s a big day,” Stillman said. “And it’s a story that we’ll be talking about for generations.”
The day Tom Stillman and the Blues brought a parade - and the Stanley Cup - to St. Louis.
“It was beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said.
How best to sum up the Blues’ victory parade and celebration on Saturday? Ryan O’Reilly has done everything for the team this season, so we’ll…