Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup

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BOSTON — The 1,260th NHL game of Jay Bouwmeester’s 17-year career was the sweetest. The 35-year-old defenseman finally got his opportunity to lift the Stanley Cup after the St. Louis Blues topped the Boston Bruins in Game 7.

The journey to be able to call himself a Stanley Cup champion was a long one. It wasn’t until his 10th year, when he was traded from the Calgary Flames to the Blues at the 2013 trade deadline, that he finally got to experience playoff hockey. It was a move that general manager Doug Armstrong thought would pay off sooner than it did.

“We had some really good teams back then and couldn’t get over the hump,” he said. “We brought Jay in because we thought he could help us win a championship.”

But the Blues didn’t come close in his first three seasons in St. Louis. Three disappointing first-round exits, all while Bouwmeester, the No. 3 overall pick in 2002, found success as a gold medal winner with Canada at the 2014 Olympics. The next few seasons, however, would see a further decline in his production.

A hip injury would end his 2017-18 season, which only saw him play 35 games. Surgery would cause him to have an up-and-down 2018-19 campaign, and though he played 78 games, he found himself a healthy scratch. But Bouwmeester never gave up hope he would be able to come back and re-find his game.

“Last year was a tough year for me and then this year at the start I just wasn’t quite right yet and went through some tough times, and our team went through some tough times,” Bouwmeester said during the Blues’ on-ice celebrations Wednesday night at TD Garden. “I knew if I could get healthy I’d get back playing the way that I can. Like a lot of guys, we persevered.”

[RELATED: Blues win first Stanley Cup]

The old Bouwmeester was back in the playoffs for the Blues. He assisted on seven goals and averaged 23:30 a night during the postseason. In Game 7, he played more minutes than any player on the ice — 28:34 — and fired the puck on net that Ryan O’Reilly deflected for the opening goal of the game.

After the game, fellow Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo made sure that Bouwmeester was the first one after him to hoist the Cup.

“It was awesome. I’ve waited a long time,” Bouwmeester said. “Pretty honored that he gave it to me. Everyone contributes and everyone gets it, so it doesn’t matter who gets it first or second or whatever.”

There were a lot of reasons the Blues wanted to win the Cup, Bouwmeester was certainly near the top of the list for his teammates.

“For a guy like that, he’s been in the league a long time,” said Bouwmeester’s defense partner, Colton Parayko. “When Jay talks in the room, everyone listens. You know he means it and that’s what he was doing throughout this Final. He was an absolute force for us. … I’m so proud of him. He’s such a great player.”

There will be players on both the Blues and Bruins who never get this far again in their careers. There might have been a time for Bouwmeester when he wondered if he’d ever get the opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. After a long, arduous road, he finally got his chance and it worked out.

“Thank God it’s over. It’s hard,” said Bouwmeester. “You’re so excited. You work so long for this. This team’s been through so much, you’re just happy for all the guys on the team and your family. It will sink in in a couple of days.”

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Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.