ST. LOUIS – Brandon Bollig could have done anything last summer during his day with the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks’ 27-year-old winger could have relaxed with the trophy at a lake house or partied with it at a ritzy club. He could have taken it to the top of the Sears Tower (or whatever it’s called now) or dined with it at a fancy steakhouse.
Instead, Bollig brought the Cup here, to his hometown, on the banks of the Mississippi River. He brought it to his boyhood hockey rink and to Busch Stadium and to St. Louis Children’s Hospital so that others could share in his moment.
“He was tremendous,” Jackie Ferman, the hospital’s media relations manager, said Friday as she remembered the long lines and big smiles from young patients who lined up to meet Bollig and take pictures with the Cup. “The kids were overjoyed.
“We do a lot of events here and we have a lot of celebrity visitors, but I can’t think of anything we’ve done here that got a better turnout and generated more excitement than that day. Because it’s not every day that the Stanley Cup comes to St. Louis, let alone St. Louis Children’s Hospital.”
Bollig is back in town this week, but this time it’s for business instead of pleasure. He and his teammates will try to avenge a triple-overtime loss Saturday when they face the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Expect another heavy dose of hard hits and hard feelings between the division rivals, whose bloody history goes back for decades. Expect Bollig (6-foot-2, 223 pounds) to be at the center of the physicality as one of the Hawks’ biggest bruisers.
Expect more than a few Blues fans to feel a twinge of ambivalence.
“It’s definitely tough,” said Chris Flaugher, who served as an assistant coach when Bollig was a teenager on the St. Louis Jr. Blues. “You want to see Brandon do well. But then, on the other hand, it is your hometown team.
“It’s a win-win situation. If the Blues win, great. If Brandon moves on to the next round, we’d love to see it.”
It’s safe to say the Gateway City has not exactly been a hockey hotbed over the years. Winters are mild and summers are sizzling, which means you’re much more likely to find the next Mark Buehrle than the next Mark Messier.
Yet the hockey culture is changing, and Bollig is a big part of that. He listed the names of other players from his hometown who had reached the NHL, including Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chris Butler on the Calgary Flames and Patrick Maroon on the Anaheim Ducks.
Several more young players were on the way, Bollig said.
“Skating with those guys in the summertime and seeing their success when they first came into the NHL, I was envious,” Bollig said. “And making my own way to the NHL and getting to share those experience with them is very cool.”
These days, Flaugher points to Bollig as a role model for his young hockey players. Flaugher now is the head coach and general manager of the Jr. Blues, which features some of the best 16- to 20-year-olds in the area.
Stastny was a star from the beginning, Flaugher said, with amazing natural talents. But Bollig was different. Bollig was a good player with an unbelievable amount of heart, someone who worked his way from undrafted free agent to Cup champion.
“He just did it through hard work,” Flaugher said. “He played the game hard. He’s not going to go out there and dazzle you with Paul Stastny-type skills, but he was the blue collar type of player that every team needs.”
Maybe that explains Bollig’s special hospital visit.
Maybe that explains his hometown pride.
Maybe that explains his feelings as the first St. Louisan to win the Cup.
“Nobody will ever be able to take that away from me,” Bollig said. “The fact that I was lucky enough to be the first one from there to win the Cup is very special to me. I can only hope to win a couple more.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.