Blue no more: Patrick Maroon’s perfect St. Louis homecoming

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Each morning Anthony Maroon woke up during a visit to see his father, he’d ask his grandmother how many days he had left with him.

Nine? All smiles.

The goodbyes were brutal. Patti Maroon told her grandson she couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t cry, but she’d try.

By the last day, she had to wear sunglasses to keep Anthony from seeing the tears in her eyes. Then they’d pull up to the airport and Anthony would scream, ”I want my daddy!”

”It was heart-wrenching,” Patti said.

Patrick Maroon played his first eight NHL seasons away from his son, who lived with his mother in the St. Louis suburbs. When he was a free agent last summer, he had a more lucrative offer from the New Jersey Devils and a multiyear offer from the San Jose Sharks to weigh against a deal for $1.75 million with the St. Louis Blues for just this season.

He agonized over the decision and ultimately took less, betting on himself to play for his hometown team in front of his son and surrounded by his tightknit family. After a rough start to the season for him, Maroon helped the Blues make the playoffs, scored the double-overtime series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the second round against Dallas and now is in the Stanley Cup Final with the team he always yearned to play for.

”It’s meant the world to me,” Maroon said. ”As a kid, you dream of this your whole life and to come back home and play for your team you grew up watching your whole life, and to actually live out your dream and actually put your skates on and play (in) the Stanley Cup finals, 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 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.”

There was the criticism for taking the No. 7 Keith Tkachuk wore, jeers in the stands his parents had to hear, sessions with a sports psychologist, a franchise-record 11-game winning streak, the death of his grandfather the day before the playoffs began, his game-winning assist in the postseason opener, his overtime heroics and an emotional meeting with his family after making the Cup Final.

Those are some significant highs and lows. Now Maroon is on the ultimate high, playing for the Blues against the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup – a playoff run that has given his family reason to come together to watch his games at an emotionally difficult time, and none of it would’ve happened had Maroon not gone home.

”If it wasn’t for this, I said, I’d probably be home and I’d use any kind of excuse not to come,” aunt Jan Phegley said from the basement of brother Rob Ferrera’s house. ”But my brother keeps calling me and he doesn’t give me any excuse to stay away. And when I get here I’m OK. And (Patrick’s brother) Justin goes: ‘Yeah, Aunt Jan, don’t you think we would be home? But we’re here.’ It’s just made such a big difference in everybody’s life.”

No one more so than Anthony, the 10-year-old center of the family who perhaps like his father growing up doesn’t realize how good of a hockey player he could be. Last July, Patrick was watching his son play at the same Oakville roller hockey rink he played in as a kid the night he had to decide where to sign.

His dad, Phil Maroon, wasn’t sure Patrick should take on the pressure of playing in St. Louis and suggested he take the extra security from San Jose because he’s now in his 30s. He even flipped a coin: heads for the Blues, tails for the Sharks. It came up tails.

”He goes, ‘OK, I’m going to sign with them,”’ Phil said. ”About two hours later, he calls me up and says, ‘Dad, I signed with the Blues.”’

What changed in those two hours? He was with Anthony and fiancee Francesca.

”It’s always been Anthony,” Phil said. ”That was the bottom line. That’s what it came down to.”

New Jersey offered more than $3 million because general manager Ray Shero told Maroon he deserved it. Shero has gotten to know the family well over the years from the world championships and then trading for Maroon at the 2018 deadline and understands perfectly why he left so much money on the table.

”He did it for all the right reasons,” Shero said. ”You can’t script this any better.”

Maroon grew up in Oakville outside St. Louis, once carved out a penalty box in the wall of his parents’ furnished basement for full-contact games with his friends and played minor and high school hockey there. Now there are signs all over Telegraph Road like the one at Dierbergs Market that reads, ”Congrats Oakville Big Rig Pat Maroon.”

”We had that in the back of our mind, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be neat if he was able to go all the way, and who knows what team he would be on?” said Mick O’Halloran of the Oakville Hockey Club that Maroon played two seasons with as a high school freshman and sophomore. ”It was meant to be for him to skate here at this time.”

This isn’t the first time hockey brought Maroon home. He played for now-Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper with the North American Hockey League’s Texarkana Bandits in 2005-06 and the team moved to St. Louis the next season. Maroon had 95 points, was league MVP and led the St. Louis Bandits to the national championship – and is now looking to do that again with another hometown team and his son watching.

”He always missed being away from his boy,” Cooper said. ”He wanted to be close to him and just the way it’s all worked out, it’s been awesome.”

It wasn’t always awesome. Phil said Patrick hit a low point in December when his game wasn’t right and the Blues were in the aftermath of a coaching change and the losses piling up. New teammate Ryan O'Reilly saw what Maroon was going through and set him up with his dad, Brian, a sports psychologist, for a chat around the holidays that got him on track mentally.

Phil believes that’s when everything turned around for his youngest son, who appreciated the assistance.

”Ryan, he’s one of my best friends on the team and he was just looking out for me, looking to see if I needed help,” Maroon said Monday. ”His dad was an outlet and his dad pulled me aside, so we just had a little chat. Big Bri does some really good things. He’s really good at what he does. He just brought some positivity back in my life and some things that I needed and things that were missing in my game that he believed in.”

O’Reilly doesn’t know what his dad said to help Maroon, but he sure noticed the difference.

”You kind of saw that shift and watched him get back and find his game again and be a dominant force,” O’Reilly said. ”A lot of times thinking can get in the way of a performance. And when you can get rid of that and be as present as possible like you kind of see from Pat how your kind of game unfolds and gets back to where you want it.”

The Blues went from last place in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3 to the playoffs. But the more important developments came with Anthony’s team.

Patrick and Anthony got to play in the Meramec Sharks’ annual father-son game for the first time. That experience reminded Patti of the skills competition in Edmonton where she saw her youngest son and her grandson standing on the blue line in matching Maroon Oilers jerseys, and she and Phil then got to watch them skate on the same ice with the same youth team Patrick also played for as a kid.

”It was just surreal,” Patti said.

Less than a month later came the moment that sister Jen Guetschow said shattered their family’s world. Grandfather Ernest Ferrara died at age 94 from complications following leg surgery.

It was the day the Blues were leaving for Winnipeg to start the playoffs against the Jets. The team held the plane so Maroon could say goodbye to the grandfather, something that might not have been possible if he had signed anywhere else.

”We were all standing around crying,” Patti recalled. ”He had to leave, so he’s bending down and he’s hugging and kissing my dead dad and he’s going: ‘Grandpa, I love you. I love you. I’m gonna win the Stanley Cup for you.”’

Grandpa Ernie had called that last summer after Maroon signed with the Blues. He’d always send video messages to Patrick asking for goals or congratulating him, and one that ends with a puff from his cigar is still saved on Jen’s phone.

”Welcome home Patrick and Francesca,” Ernie said, stogie in hand. ”I’m so happy that you’re gonna be playing next door here. I love you, and the Blues are waiting for ya. They’re already predicting they’re gonna win.”

Maroon assisted on Tyler Bozak‘s Game 1-winning goal against Winnipeg the next day. Uncle Rob Fererra texts Patrick the night before a game and usually tells him, ”Don’t forget, dream of big assists, big goals, big hits, big plays.”

The night before Game 7 against Dallas, he told him, ”Now go dream of big goals” and forget about assists. Wearing No. 7, Maroon scored to win Game 7 on May 7 directly in front of family members sitting in row 7 of section 107 and only minutes after Jen, husband Paul and Rob kissed the prayer card from Ernie’s funeral.

Patti Maroon didn’t even see the goal because fans were standing in front of her. Son Philipp ran to tell her Patrick had scored, and it was bedlam in the best possible way.

”Everybody in my family was crying,” Patti said. ”I just felt like they’re really going to win the Stanley Cup. Like, this is for real now.”

Maroon looked around at Stanley Cup Final media day and it all hit him: the decision to take less money and a shorter deal to play for the Blues, the tumultuous season and now the chance to lift the Cup.

”Well, it’s worth it now, right?” Maroon said. ”Money doesn’t solve problems in the world anymore. 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 have those guys fight, sweat and be where we’re at right now, that means more to me.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.

    Avalanche spoil Kuemper’s return, top Capitals 3-2 as Bednar sets mark

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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    DENVER – Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano and Alex Newhook scored against former teammate Darcy Kuemper and the surging Colorado Avalanche held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 to give coach Jared Bednar his franchise-record 266th victory.

    Logan O'Connor added two assists, Nathan MacKinnon had an assist for his 700th point and Alexandar Georgiev made 37 saves in the Avs’ season-best sixth straight victory. They moved into third place in the Central Division, one point ahead of Minnesota.

    Bednar, coaching his 500th game for Colorado, improved to 266-185-49 and passed former Quebec Nordiques boss Michel Bergeron for the most coaching victories in franchise history.

    Alex Ovechkin returned from an injury to score his 31st goal for Washington. Conor Sheary also scored and Kuemper stopped 23 shots in his first game in Denver since helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in June.

    The crowd stood and applauded after a first-period video tribute for Kuemper, who won 37 games in the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs.

    The Avs chose not to re-sign Kuemper, who then inked a five-year deal with the Capitals in July.

    He had his moments against his former team, including nifty glove saves against Jacob MacDonald and Lehkonen in the second period to keep it a one-goal game. But Newhook’s goal with 4:21 left in the second made it 3-1.

    The depleted Capitals dominated the third period but still lost for the fifth time in seven games.

    Ovechkin’s one-timer at 9:44 of the third was his 811th goal after he missed his first game of the season Saturday with a lower-body injury. But Washington was without T.J. Oshie, who left to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child. And Nicklas Backstrom was a late scratch with a non-COVID illness.

    Then Tom Wilson exited in the second period after blocking a shot and underwent an X-ray between periods.

    The Avalanche, who haven’t trailed during their win streak, solved Kuemper at 8:57 of the first when MacKinnon absorbed a big hit from Dmitry Orlov and fed Lehkonen for his 15th goal and sixth in six games.

    Cogliano redirected Kurtis MacDermid‘s shot 2:04 into the second to make it 2-0. Sheary cut the. lead in half when he tipped in Martin Fehervary‘s shot for his 12th goal just over two minutes later.

    HE BROKE THE CUP

    It also marked the return of Washington’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who had 22 points in 67 games for the Avs in 2021-22, He’s remembered for dropping and denting the Cup during the on-ice celebration.

    “It’s part of my journey here,” a smiling Aube-Kubel said of his fumble, adding the season was “the best time of my life.”

    NOTES: Avs D Cale Makar (upper body) practiced Monday and took part in the morning skate, but missed his fourth straight game. … Avs W Anton Blidh cleared waivers and skated on the fourth line. … Aliaksei Protas centered Washington’s third line in his first NHL action since Jan. 5 and was robbed by Georgiev in the first period. … The Capitals have only four games left outside the Eastern time zone.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Pittsburgh.

    Avalanche: Host Anaheim.