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

Heavy Lifting: Five NHL lines that are carrying their teams

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Let’s take a quick look around the NHL at five lines that are doing the most to carry their teams (or at least their offense) through the first month of the season.

This is always kind of a good news/bad news situation because the good news is your team has a dominant top line that can change a game every night. The bad news is that one line teams do not tend to do very well in the long run. Balance is important!

We are focussing on 5-on-5 production with this look and right now these five teams are fairly dependent on these lines to carry the play.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Edmonton Oilers
The Line: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian

This line might be the definition of “heavy lifting.”

This trio has been on the ice for nearly 30 percent of the Oilers’ total 5-on-5 minutes, a substantial workload even by top line standards. Individually, McDavid and Draisaitl are the top-two forwards in the league in even-strength ice-time per game (Kassian is 22nd), both averaging more than 18:30 per game (Mathew Barzal is the only other forward that plays more than 18 minutes of even-strength ice-time per game).

Then we get to the production.

In 124 minutes this trio has outscored teams by an 11-3 margin and been completely dominant. That is 60 percent of the team’s 5-on-5 goals, while the team has been outscored by a 6-8 margin at 5-on-5 when this trio is not on the ice.

It is the same story as it has always been for the Oilers where they need to skate McDavid and Draisaitl into the ground to compete. So far this season it has worked. But we have seen over the past four years that it is not really the best long-term recipe for sustained success.

Boston Bruins
The Line: Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand

When these three are together they are as good as it gets in the NHL.

Bergeron and Marchand are two of the best all-around players in the league, while Pastrnak is quickly turning into one of the most dangerous goal-scorers around. The big question for the Bruins has always been their depth around this line and if they can get enough offense from lines two through four to complement them. Through the first month of the 2019-20 season that concern is still very much the same.

This line has only played 86 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together (about 22 percent of the team’s 5-on-5 total) and has already scored seven goals in those minutes. The Bruins have just six 5-on-5 goals in the remaining 306 minutes of 5-on-5 time that they have played this season, and two of those goals came when Marchand and Pastrnak were together without Bergeron.

As this line goes, so go the Bruins.

Winnipeg Jets
The Line: Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler

With the Jets’ defense in shambles following the offseason, the team has had to rely on the strength of its forwards to remain competitive.

The big line of Scheifele, Laine, and Wheeler has certainly done its part to make sure that happens. Not only in terms of their own production, but also in how much the rest of the team has struggled when they are not on the ice. In nearly 300 minutes of 5-on-5 play without any of these three on the ice, the Jets have managed a grand total of four goals.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The Line: Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Dominik Simon

You could put together a pretty good forward lineup with the players the Penguins have out of the lineup right now. One of the biggest reasons they have kept winning through all of the injuries has been the play of their top line of Crosby, Guentzel, and Simon.

The latter member of this line is a point of much contention in Pittsburgh because he never scores goals himself, but the team loves him on the top line alongside Crosby and Guentzel and the overall numbers justify his existence on that line (it scores more goals with him than it does without him). So far this season Crosby is playing at an MVP level, Guentzel is doing his best to show his 40-goal season a year ago was no fluke, and Simon keeps making plays that keeps the play alive in the offensive zone and leads to offense. In 111 minutes together this trio has already combined to score eight of the the team’s 20 five-on-five goals this season.

New York Rangers
The line: Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad

The third member of this line has mostly been Chris Kreider or Pavel Buchnevich at different times, but the main drivers here are Panarin and Zibanejad.

Panarin has already scored four goals in the team’s first six games and has been everything the Rangers could have expected and hoped when they signed him in free agency. Zibanejad, meanwhile, is off to one of the best offensive starts in franchise history with 11 points in six games. When that duo is together the Rangers have doubled up their opponents on the scoreboard and scored like one of the league’s elite lines.

The problem with this Rangers team in the short-term was always going to be the lack of depth around them, and so far the Rangers have looked rather punchless at even-strength when their top duo is off the ice.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Fast starts most likely to continue

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are taking a look at 10 fast starts around the league and which ones are most likely to continue, and which ones are most likely not to continue.

How are we defining a fast start? It’s pretty simple, actually — teams that as of Monday have a .640 points percentage or better so far this season. A .640 points percentage over an 82-game season would be a 105-point pace, so it is obviously pretty high level of play.

There are 10 teams that qualify, and not all of them will continue that level of play throughout the season. Just for comparisons sake, there were nine teams off to the same start through same date a year ago and three of them ended up missing the playoffs. In 2017-18, four of the nine teams off to a similar start also ended up missing. So it stands to reason that a handful of these teams are going to significantly cool off.

This isn’t necessarily a ranking of which of these teams has played the best so far, but a ranking of which ones are most likely to continue playing well.

Who is for real and who is not? To the rankings!

Fast starts that will continue

1. Colorado Avalanche. Entering play on Monday they are 7-0-1 on the season and have the best record in the league, earning 15 out of a possible 16 points in the standings. The scary thing about them? They may not be playing their best hockey just yet. 

2. Carolina Hurricanes. Speaking of not playing their best hockey yet, the Hurricanes have won six out of their first nine games and have just three goals from the trio of Sebastian Aho, Nino Niederreiter, and Andrei Svechnikov. It is a testament to the depth they have assembled that three of their top players can be off to such a slow start and the team can still win the way it has.

3. Washington Capitals. They are the highest scoring team in the league, have been one of the top possession teams, and still haven’t received great goaltending from Braden Holtby. The latter part should scare the rest of the Metropolitan Division because even if Holtby doesn’t return to his former Vezina Trophy form he can still be better than he has been.

4. Vegas Golden Knights. The top of their lineup is full of impact players (especially Mark Stone, who has been incredible to start the year) but one of the big wild cards on this team is the emergence of rookie Cody Glass. He already has six points in his first nine games.

Fast starts, but with some questions

5. Boston Bruins. The biggest question here is the same one they have had for the past two years — will they get enough secondary scoring after their top line? Right now if one of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, or Patrice Bergeron does not score a goal, no one is scoring. They managed to find enough secondary scoring to reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, so it may not be a huge concern in the long-run, but this is still a very top-heavy team so far this season.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins. Interesting team so far in the sense they have probably overachieved given the injury situation that has taken half of their forward lineup away. They are playing the way coach Mike Sullivan wants them to play, and they have played extremely well, but we still haven’t seen the Penguins as they were meant to look this season. Still not entirely sold on the defense, and I question how much of this early success is entirely sustainable.

Fast starts, but with some real concerns 

7. Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks won five of their first seven games last year — thanks mostly to John Gibson — before completely falling apart. The one thing that should give a little more optimism this time around is Dallas Eakins seems to have them playing a more sustainable style of hockey — one that does not rely entirely on goaltending — and they have actually carried the play in some of their wins. The concern is I am just not sure there is enough offense here and their two goalies have a combined save percentage of .940. What happens when that drops a bit?

8. Arizona Coyotes. They barely missed the playoffs a year ago and have probably been better than you realize at the start of the season. The concerns here are the same as in Anaheim, where they are still very dependent on incredible goaltending and there is not a ton of offense to work with.

9. Buffalo Sabres. For the second year in a row the Sabres are one of the big stories in the NHL with a fast start, entering play on Monday with a 7-1-1 record. There is reason to believe they can avoid the total meltdown they experienced a year ago thanks to an improved roster (offseason additions of Colin Miller, Henri Jokiharju, Marcus Johansson, while Rasmus Dahlin has a full season in the NHL under his belt) and what seems to be a better coach. But there are also still some real concerns. Carter Hutton won’t keep stopping 95 percent of the shots he faces. Victor Olofsson won’t keep scoring on 30 percent of his shots. They still play in an extremely tough division. There is reason to expect some regression here as the season goes on.

10. Edmonton Oilers. It’s been amazing start, but James Neal is not going to keep scoring on 30 percent of his shots and once that stops this team has the same problem it has had for years in that there is not enough depth after Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They have feasted on a light schedule so far (and those points still count) but this is a team that needs to prove it over a full season before anyone fully buys into it.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Home owned by Tyler Seguin heavily damaged by Dallas tornado

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Stars player Tyler Seguin says his home was heavily damaged by severe storms that swept through Dallas, but no one was hurt.

The National Weather Service says at least one tornado struck the north Dallas area on Sunday night, and other possible tornadoes were reported as well.

Heavy damage is reported throughout much of the Dallas area, and tens of thousands of people are without power.

The hockey player said on Twitter that he had moved to another home and that the property damaged late Sunday was listed for sale. He wrote: ‘‘I just left the area and it is an extremely sad sight to see.’’

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses were without power, including the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock. The airport says flights were still departing, though security screenings were being done manually.

Dallas Fire-Rescue says there have been no reports of fatalities or serious injuries in the aftermath of the tornado, but three people were hospitalized for evaluation of non-life-threatening injuries.

PHT Face-Off: Carlson racking up points; Tight finishes

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The first few weeks of the NHL regular season have been pretty exciting. Not every game has been tight, but it appears as though the schedule has been filled with one-goal games and teams trailing by a goal or two seem to be able to come back more than ever before. This is what the NHL wanted. It’s all about parity and excitement.

Here are the PHT Face-off storylines for this week:

• Tight finishes:

As we mentioned above, a lot of games seem to be coming down to the wire. This is clearly the dream scenario for the NHL. According to NHL Public Relations, 53.1 percent of games have been decided by one goal or a two-goal margin following an empty-netter from the team with the lead. If you look at the boxscore from each of Sunday’s five contests, you’ll notice that all of them fell into that category.

The fact that the losing team isn’t really out of the game until the end more than half the time is pretty impressive. We may not all be fans of the salary cap because it dismantles talented teams, but the parity level in the NHL is at an all-time high as we speak.

John Carlson is racking up points: 

If you check the list of scoring leaders in the NHL, you may be a little surprise to find a defenseman at the top of the list. The Capitals blue liner is currently ahead of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Mark Stone and everybody else in the league when it comes to points scored.

Heading into this week, the 29-year-old has picked up three goals and 18 points in just 10 games. He’s registered at least one point in nine of his team’s 10 contests. The only team that has managed to keep him off the board is the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s no coincidence that the Capitals have won three games in a row. Their success isn’t just because of Carlson, but he’s certainly a bit part of it.

“I’m just getting lucky,” Carlson said when asked how he’s leading the league in points and assists. “Guys are making some good plays to me. The guys I’m passing to are scoring right now. Especially as a D, it’s pretty streaky. You take it when you can. A lot of guys making a lot of plays out there.”

J.T. Miller trade paying off for Canucks

Eyebrows were raised when the Canucks traded a future first-round draft pick to the Lightning for forward J.T. Miller. After all, Miller was coming off a 47-point season, which is good, but that first-rounder had the potential to be a lottery pick down the road. To be clear, if the Canucks 2020 pick falls into the lottery, they will send their 2021 pick to Tampa, but that’s still a risky proposition for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in a while.

How has Miller fit in? Well, he’s been doing just fine on the Canucks’ top line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

Through eight games, the 26-year-old has racked up four goals and four assists. He leads the team in goals and is tied with Pettersson for first in points.

“Our games are different, but I’ve played with some elite players before,” said Miller, per CBC.ca. “There are some things that I try to instill on them and help them out.

“I can retrieve pucks for them. I think I have enough skill to make plays at their level. They are two really elite players. I just try to get the puck to them when they are open and get to the net.”

So far so good.

Sidney Crosby is still good at hockey

After being swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s playoffs, many wondered whether or not the Pittsburgh Penguins would still be able to compete in the Metropolitan Division. To make matters worse, they’ve been hit by the injury bug pretty badly since the start of the year, as Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk and Nick Bjugstad have all been out.

But somehow, some way, Sidney Crosby has found a way to keep the Penguins afloat. Sure, he’s had plenty of help, but the captain has also racked up four goals and 12 points in nine games, which puts him tied for fifth in NHL scoring.

Included in those four goals is this beauty which happened during last week’s nationally televised game against the Colorado Avalanche:

That’s just not fair.

It’s still WAY too early to be talking about Hart Trophy candidates, but if there was an MVP award for the first month of the season, Crosby would definitely be in the mix.

• Are the Bolts dull?

Speaking of the Penguins, they’ll be on NBCSN again this week, as they’ll take on the Lightning on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET).

Many (including myself) expected the Bolts to finish at the top of the Atlantic Division standings this season, and even though that still might happen, they haven’t looked like themselves just yet.

According to Sean Tierney’s awesome shot rate charts, the Lightning are right on the border of bad and dull. Who would’ve thought?

Nobody’s pushing the panic button. It’s still very early and they’re still an incredibly talented team, but it looks like they’re going to go through more adversity than they did last year. In the end, that might not be such a bad thing.

Tampa Bay currently owns a 4-3-1 record. After losing to Ottawa two weeks ago, they managed to beat Montreal and Boston before dropping a 6-2 home decision the Avs.

“Sometimes it turns into a game of mistakes, and the team that makes the most usually pays the price,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the blowout loss to Colorado, per NHL.com. “I can’t sit here and say we made the most mistakes, but the ones we did make, it seemed like they put in the back of the net.”

What’s coming up this week?
• Bruins look to avenge Saturday’s loss to the Maple Leafs, Tue. Oct. 22, 7 p.m. ET.

Alex Ovechkin vs. Connor McDavid, Thu. Oct. 24, 9 p.m. ET.

Patrick Marleau and the San Jose Sharks return to Toronto, Fri. Oct. 25, 7 p.m. ET

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY ON NBCSN
Penguins vs. Lightning, Wed. Oct. 23, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
Stanley Cup rematch alert: Blues vs. Bruins, Sat. Oct. 26, 7 p.m. ET.
Heritage Classic: Jets vs. Flames, Sat. Oct. 26, 10 p.m. ET.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.