Bollig returns to roots with Stanley Cup in St. Louis
ST. PETERS, Mo. -- Born and raised in suburban St. Louis, there are several places Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig could spend his day with the Stanley Cup.
Sure, there are favorite local establishments Bollig has frequented in his time, but more obvious would be the Gateway Arch, St. Louis' greatest landmark, along with Busch Stadium, home of Bollig's favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sure enough, Bollig was able to get to both Wednesday, but two other special spots didn't involve anything lavish. For the 26-year-old, spending Wednesday with children in the hospital, as well as visiting the place where his hockey roots were built, was enough satisfaction.
Bollig's day began with stops at St. Louis Children's Hospital, the Arch and Busch Stadium, but it culminated with him bringing the Stanley Cup to St. Peters Rec Plex, where Bollig's hockey career began with the St. Peters Spirit.
His No. 19 jersey was retired last year and a banner in his honor hangs in the rafters. Bollig spent most of the afternoon with about 300 family and friends taking pictures at center ice of the Rec Plex-South rink, and an additional 400 fans each gave a $5 donation to have their picture taken with Bollig and the Cup.
There were another 1,000-plus fans in the stands, many wearing St. Louis Blues and Blackhawks jerseys supporting the first player from the St. Louis area to have his name engraved on the trophy.
"To bring it out here and have my youth program that's able to experience this moment with me and share the experience, it definitely did not disappoint. It was awesome," said Bollig, who began playing with the Spirit when he was 6 years old. "It's a blessing to even bring it back here. Obviously you have a lot of things you could do with your day. You have to jam-pack it in, but it was a no-brainer to bring it here where I grew up.
"I was lucky enough to have them retire my jersey and put a banner in the rafters last year. I was excited to bring it back and more excited to see these kids' reaction when they took their picture with it."
The proceeds went to the St. Louis Children's Hospital, where Bollig spent his morning with the Cup.
"That was amazing," Bollig said. "That was something I was really looking forward to, and obviously giving back to the community that has supported me through everything. It was nice."
Bollig, who received the trophy from Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz on Tuesday night, was able to stand with the Cup underneath the Arch as well as get to Busch Stadium. Bollig said in a perfect world, the Cardinals would have been playing a home game (they're in Pittsburgh), but just getting onto the field was worth it.
"We're big Cardinals fans, so getting out there in Busch Stadium with the Cup was an amazing experience and pretty surreal," Bollig said.
St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano made the proclamation that July 31 would be "Brandon Bollig and the Stanley Cup Day."
"On behalf of the City of St. Peters, I congratulate Brandon on being a part of an NHL championship," Pagano said. "It's really special to develop the hockey skills as part of the St. Peters Spirit when [Bollig was] growing up."
Sharing the experience with Bollig was his mother Tracy, who was in awe of the turnout.
"I came up here Friday for kind of a dry run and what to expect," Tracy Bollig said. "I was told people are going to be camping out here all hours of the night, and I was like, 'There is no way.' I was told, 'Yes, they will.'
"It was great to come out here and see all of the fans when we entered the Rec Plex. Everyone just went crazy. It was a great feeling."
Bringing the Cup home as a member of the rival Blackhawks was something Bollig thought about. He said he was curious what kind of reaction it would bring.
"I get a lot of [flak] for signing with the Blackhawks from all the Blues fans," Bollig said. "It's all in good fun. I've been asked that question a lot as far as would I like to play here in St. Louis. That would definitely be a special thing to do before my career is over, but obviously [I'm] pretty happy with the way things are going right now [in Chicago].
"I grew up a big Blues fan, and still I'm a big hockey fan in general. If there was one team I'd rather play for other than the Blues, it would be Chicago. I'm pretty lucky."