As the clock ticked down at Enterprise Center on Tuesday night to close Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, thousands of Blues fans- in the arena, in the streets, and across the city of St. Louis- roared in celebration of a moment many had never experienced in their lifetimes. Rampage captain and Blues defenseman Chris Butler was one of them.
Butler was born in St. Louis in October 1986, just over 16 years after the Blues made their last appearance in a Stanley Cup Final. He grew up in the city, played high school hockey at Chaminade Prep, and after stops in Buffalo and Calgary he signed with the hometown team in the summer of 2014.
A die-hard Blues fan growing up, Butler has waited his whole life to see the Blues hit the ice in June for hockey’s Holy Grail. Unlike the fans he grew up with, Butler himself is part of the quest to accomplish what so many past Blues greats could not.
“For me, it was Brett Hull and Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger and Craig Janney and Brendan Shanahan – guys like that I grew up idolizing,” said Butler, who appeared in 13 games with the Blues this season and has worn the ‘Blue Note’ for 58 games of his NHL career. “Now, to be able to call them I guess acquaintances as we work for the same organization, to see Brett Hull and give him a handshake and see how excited he is for all of us, to see Al MacInnis and what he means to the city and to the franchise, it’s so cool.”
Butler was a Blues fan growing up not just because of his address. His father, Doug, a former AHL defenseman who played at St. Louis University, went above and beyond so that his son could make hockey his life.
“Growing up in a town that wasn’t really a hockey hotbed yet was hard because we didn’t even get Blues games on TV. I remember my dad had to get special adapter box or whatever it was for the TV just so we could get all of the Blues’ away games on our TV.
“He knew that I was falling in love with the game and he wanted to try to help me get as much exposure to the game as I possibly could. I grew up watching 40 games a year and watching NHL2Nite on ESPN and SportsCenter when they carried hockey highlights. That’s how I fell in love with the game.”
Butler isn’t St. Louis’ only native son living the dream of leading the Blues to glory. Pat Maroon, who grew up in St. Louis and was drafted into the NHL in 2007 out of the NAHL’s St. Louis Bandits, has made his presence felt in his first post-season with the Blues.
Maroon has three goals in the playoffs, none bigger than his game-winner in double-overtime of Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in the second round. Maroon scored against another St. Louis product, Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. After the Blues bounced the Sharks in the Conference Finals, TV cameras captured Butler and Maroon in a bear-hug embrace on the Blues bench.
“The older you get, maybe the more sentimental you get and you realize how difficult it is to get to this stage. Being a very small part of it is still rewarding. Getting a chance to see a guy like Pat, he scores the double-overtime winner in St. Louis against another guy from St. Louis that we both grew up playing hockey with,” said Butler, only a year and a half older than Maroon. “His contributions to this organization and this city are absolutely massive right now. Pat had a hard route to the NHL and there were a lot of tough times and dark days for him. It was really rewarding to be there with him.”
Butler has made some highlights of his own since joining the Blues organization. He suited up for the Blues in December for his 400th NHL game. He has also served as the captain of their AHL affiliate for the past three seasons, and in 2018-19 became just the fourth player in Rampage history to serve as captain for multiple seasons. He and several Rampage teammates were called up at the end of the season as reinforcements for the playoff journey.
Having that position in San Antonio, and having been called up to the Blues multiple times throughout the season, Butler saw the transformation that took this Blues team from last place in the NHL in early January to four wins shy of their first title.
“Quitting is easy and everyone has a reason or an excuse to quit. These guys continued to work and fight for each other and they had a coach that believed in them,” said Butler. “I think that’s the most important thing is that [Head Coach Craig Berube] truly believed and he got his message across that this is a really good hockey team. The guys didn’t believe it at the time and were frustrated, but he got everyone to believe in each other and themselves. Now, look at them.”
Now the entire city of St. Louis believes, a town that is without question a hockey hotbed in lockstep behind Alex Pietrangelo, Jayden Schwartz, and rookie sensation Jordan Binnington. Butler, a veteran player who likely dreamed of a Cup parade in St. Louis when he signed on with the Blues organization, now has a front-row seat to a frenzy he’s never seen before.
“This entire city, I’ve never seen them rally around a sports franchise like they are the Blues right now,” said Butler, who has spent the better part of the last few days facilitating travel for family and friends into St. Louis.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a town that saw the football team win a championship in 2000 and the Cardinals have won two Worlds Series in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen this much support for one franchise in the 32 years I’ve been on this earth.”
That, of course, includes the Blues’ victory anthem, which has taken over the city. The ’79 Pittsburgh Pirates had ‘We Are Family’, the New York Yankees have ‘New York, New York’, and now the St. Louis Blues have ‘Gloria’.
“I’ve heard the original Italian version of ‘Gloria’, I’ve heard this version by Laura Branigan, and there have been lots of spin-offs,” laughed Butler. “I’ve heard friends playing it in their offices, and I’ve heard it’s in elementary schools playing over the loud speaker. It’s encapsulated the city.”
As Butler and his teammates get ready for the final step, they hope to do what former Blues teams could not. Players like Hull, Pronger, Tkachuk, MacInnis, and others will be watching to see if this is the group that can finally bring a Cup to St. Louis. A couple of Blues fans all-grown-up hope to be part of the first crew to wear a Blues championship ring.
“This group is special, and they care about each other. Over the course of 11 years of professional hockey, you realize that some teams just aren’t as close as other teams,” said Butler. “When guys truly and genuinely care about each other and love coming to the rink and having fun with each other, its amazing what you can accomplish.”