- The St. Louis Blues are headed to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 49 years.
- People from the Ozarks, the entire state of Missouri, and even other parts of the country are cheering on the underdog Blues.
- The hype is pushing businesses across the Show-Me State into the black.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– This weekend, Rev. Keith Pyles is truly living up to his title as a “man of faith”. You see, not only is he the pastor at First Assembly of God in Buffalo, MO, he’s also a St. Louis Blues fan; one of many who are certain the Blues will come out on top against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.
“I watched them in ‘68, ‘69, and ’70. They went every year. Lost every year. This one’s going to be different.“
-Rev. Keith Pyles
“I’m not nervous. I’m hungry,” he said the enthusiasm of a long-time fan.
When Ozarks First caught up with Rev. Pyles, he was shopping for a new jersey.
“I want to get a jersey to wear at next Sunday’s service,” he said, proud of his plan.
Pyles isn’t alone in his pursuit of the perfect piece of fan paraphernalia. He’s simply the latest in a long line of fans making their way to local jersey shops like the Rally House in Springfield.
“When [St. Louis has] home games, it’s absolutely nuts,” Jenn Hutton, an employee at the Rally House told us. “People are coming in, their grabbing their gear, and their heading to St. Louis.”
But it isn’t just Missouri sports fans looking for stuff to wear to games. We watched one employee scramble to find a specific Blues cap requested via phone call by a customer in San Antonio, Texas.
Fortunately for these employees, the store just received a shipment this week preparing it for precisely this kind of fan flood. Now Hutton and her co-workers are watching that merch fly off the shelves like never before.
“We’ve never won the Stanley Cup,” Hutton explained.
“So people are excited because it’s, like, tangible. They can feel it, and they know that the Blues can make it.”
While this could be the Blues first time to win the Stanley Cup, it won’t be their first time trying. The team traveled to the finals three years in a row back in 1968, 69, and 70.
Scott Morris, owner of Falstaff’s Local, a bar in downtown Springfield, was alive for those losses, but he isn’t quite old enough to remember those finals matches.
“I can remember watching them for 45 years,” the 52-year-old said.
His bar, considered one of the only (if not the only) hockey bars in town, has been packed.
“There were a couple of games we were full an hour before the game,” Morris said. “We have a guy driving in from Joplin every game.”
He expects the crowds aren’t going anywhere until the Blues lose, which he says won’t happen.
“I’m pretty confident they’re going to win,” he said. “During the third period, they have a little more jump in their step than any other team they’ve played. Boston, I know, is a tough team. But the Blues are strong. They’re really strong.”
The strong team, and the strong business it’s bringing to Falstaff’s is what Morris calls a welcome blessing, especially considering the coming summer months.
“Downtown in the summer, we’ll see a lot of $200-$300 days,” Morris explained. “It’s like a ghost town here some weekends in the summer. So we need to make as much money as we can right now.”
But the Blues hype isn’t just benefiting bars looking to make it into the black before students head home for summer break. It’s also benefiting a few of those students, according to Ryan Armstrong, General Manager of Missouri State University hockey.
“When there’s more recognition for professional hockey, then amateur levels like youth and high school and college level, get a little more exposure,” he told Ozarks First. “These student-athletes really enjoy a good crowd, and we’re thankful to have that.”
Armstrong says that spread of hockey fandom, the same fandom he hopes will benefit his team, is noticeable in the Ozarks.
It’s a theory that’s been tested and proven in this new Blues era.
The evidence can be seen in the growing crowds at a local hockey bar, the busy lines at the nearby sports shop or even the eager shopping of small-town pastor.