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Fennelly: Lightning’s Maroon brings Stanley Cup full of grit

The veteran left winger, fresh from a championship in St. Louis, prepares to dig in with Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Pat Maroon (14) during drills on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp at the Ice Sports Forum on September 13, 2019 in Brandon, FL. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 16
Updated Sep. 17

BRANDON — In the dream, which wasn’t a dream at all, at least not for him, Pat Maroon gets up on a mid-June morning and comes down to breakfast in his St. Louis home.

His son, Anthony, 10 at the time, joins him. They have their usual cereal.

“Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” Maroon said.

But they were out of bowls. On purpose.

“We ate out of the Cup,” Maroon said with smile.

The Stanley Cup.

Food for thought.

Maroon, with his St. Louis Blues teammates, lived that dream last season, winning it all for his hometown and the team he rooted for growing up.

He will always be a Stanley Cup winner, part of St. Louis’ remarkable worst-to-first 2018-19 season that ended with the first Cup in 52 years of Blues history.

But did he save some grit and pixie dust?

RELATED: Lightning sign former Blues forward Pat Maroon

The Lightning might have that question in the back of their minds after bringing in the 31-year-old Maroon on a one-year deal for $900,000, a song by today’s standards. Tampa Bay gets a rough, tough 6-2, 236-pound left winger with a scoring touch. It gets a big man, just the type to go into the boards, to track down beastly opponents for righteous toe-to-toe.

Just as important, the Lightning, whose record-setting season and Cup dreams were swept out of existence, get someone who knows that championship beat, one that played out across two months of playoffs, with Maroon hoisting the Cup in Boston after a Game 7 win over the Bruins.

Maroon’s mother and father and fiancee watched on the ice. So did Anthony. Everybody cried. You never know the tune until you’re the only one left singing.

“It’s a feeling you’ll know the rest of your life,” Maroon said.

Maybe former Blues forward Pat Maroon can show the Lightning the way to the cup. [DARRON CUMMINGS | AP]

The unquestionably talented Lightning yearn for such memories. They have come close and they have come not so close. Comes now Maroon, who has been there, won that, going so far as to knock home a Game 7 overtime winner in the second round last May.

It seems like more than a coincidence that in the last quarter century, no NHL team has won a Stanley Cup without having at least one player who had previously held Stanley aloft. The Lightning had no such person on the roster as they nose-dived against Columbus.

Mind you, the formula is not full-proof. The 2017-18 Lightning had four-time Cup winner Chris Kunitz and his sage experience couldn’t help them out of the Eastern Conference final against eventual Cup winner Washington.

“I’d rather have a guy like (Maroon) than not have a guy like him,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “He brings that experience. He has been through all you go through to get what you want.”

“I’m a believer that experience helps, that guys who’ve been there before matter,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who hasn’t won a Cup either. Cooper goes way back with Maroon, having coached him in junior hockey with the North American Hockey League St. Louis Bandits in 2006-07. “He barely had hair on his face then.”

Cut to Maroon’s woolly playoff beard.

“There are a few guys in (our) room who have played in the Stanley Cup finals but not been able to get it across the finish line,” Cooper said. “Pat’s one of those guys who did get it across the finish line, and was a big contributor, scored some big goals for them on their way.”

MORE LIGHTNING: Lightning, Brayden Point still apart as training camp continues

Maroon isn’t here to tell his new teammates playoff stories by the campfire. He is here to bring what he can, including a net presence the Lightning haven’t really had since Brian Boyle was parked in front.

“I can bring skill,” Maroon said. “A lot of people don’t understand, but I have good hands below the top of the circles. I can create space for my teammates. I can stick up for my teammates. I can be a good presence in the room. I can make guys loose, joke around a little bit.”

That might come in handy as the Lightning try to get up off the canvas after the nightmare end to last season.

“The last thing you want is them going into a season gripping their sticks tight, putting pressure on yourself,” Maroon said.

The Blues began the 2019 calendar year dead last in the NHL. Coach Mike Yeo was fired in November after the team’s sluggish start. Who knew what would happen next? Lesson: You don’t know until you know.

“Sometimes it just comes together,” Maroon said.

For the Blues, it came together during a franchise-record 11-game win streak after the All-Star break, which included a Florida swing punctuated by a shutout win over the Lightning at Amalie Arena.

“When we came back and beat the Panthers from a 2-0 deficit, and then we came in here and won 1-0, we kind of looked around the room and thought ‘We’re a good hockey team,’” Maroon said. “It was just a matter of showing everyone.”

The Blues grinded past Winnipeg in the first round of the playoffs, then Dallas. They overcame a controversial Game 3 overtime loss on an illegal hand pass to beat San Jose to win the Western Conference final and reach the franchise’s first Cup final in 49 years. The Bruins followed.

“We just played a style as a team, we just wore guys down, we just wore teams out,” Maroon said. “The deeper it got into a series, we knew there would be more grind time and we knew we had the toughness.

“You just start to get that feeling. In the San Jose series, they took it to us the first game, but after the hand-pass game, we took it to them, just wore them down. We got pucks in and went after them. It’s all mental. You make them frustrated. When they go back for the puck, they’re breathing heavy, thinking ‘Here we go again.’ You want that. We did that.”

That doesn’t sound like the 2018-19 Lightning.

Maybe it will be different this time around.

Maroon can tell you: it’s worth it.

“Seeing my son and mom and dad and fiancee, giving them hugs and saying we did it, we did it, over and over again.” he said. “Some guys play 20 years and never get their hands on a Stanley Cup. My dad had been a Blues fan his whole life. I’ll never forget it.”

The parade was in downtown St. Louis. The bar was open.

“We got off the floats with the Cup,” Maroon said. “We made sure the fans were part of it because they’d waited 52 years.”

On his day with the Cup, Maroon took the trophy to the St. Louis arenas he grew up in, including his uncles’ roller rink. He took the Cup to the Italian restaurant owned by his fiancee’s family. He took Stanley swimming and tubing. Everyone ate ice cream out of Stanley.

“To do it in my hometown, in front of my family, it was just truly amazing, especially with the team I grew up watching my whole life,” Maroon said.

“It was a special group of guys. Just like here. They’re searching for their first one here. They’ve been so close. They’ve been to conference finals, losing Game 6s and 7s, but they came up a little short. This isn’t easy. No one ever said it was. It isn’t supposed to be.”

Meet a guy who lived it.

“I can’t really put it into words,” Maroon said.

Try these:

Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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