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Hometown heroes

In sports, the success of the home team can be a galvanizing force for a community, a city and a nation.

In sports, the success of the home team can be a galvanizing force for a community, a city and a nation. And in professional hockey, nothing is more invigorating, all-consuming and – most often – heartbreaking for the dedicated fan than riding the roller coaster of a road to the Stanley Cup.

Powering those revered teams are athletes whose jerseys their fans wear with pride. In the St. Albert area, a generation of young hockey players are inspired by those athletes: Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Ryan Stanton, who brought the Stanley Cup home to the city in 2013; St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube, who thrilled Calahoo-area residents on Tuesday by having the Cup on display; and St. Louis Blues defenceman Colton Parayko, who had his day with the Cup on Wednesday.

Parayko didn’t parade the Cup down St. Albert’s streets, although he was spotted carrying it throughout the day and was always happy to stop and pose for a photo. Instead, he opted to bring it to people it likely had the most meaning for: his grandfather in Akinsdale; sick kids at the Stollery Children’s Hospital; young hockey players at the Brick Invitational at West Edmonton Mall.

This season, it was a wild ride for St. Albertans who cheered Parayko on from afar. The Blues were in last place at the beginning of January but miraculously, with an ensuing 11-game winning streak, went 30-10-5 to finish the regular season in third place in the Central Division. The team went on to slay each challenger it faced in the playoffs, coming face-to-face with six-time Stanley Cup champions the Boston Bruins in the finals.

Fans of the Blues were given an inside look at that tumultuous seven-game series through a blog written by 26-year-old Parayko. In his final post on June 13, following the Blues’ 4-1 victory to win the Cup, Parayko wrote about the resiliency that carried his team through a difficult season.

It was also on his blog, on June 5, that Parayko wrote about 11-year-old Laila Anderson. He met the young superfan during his first season with the Blues in 2015-16 when he was signing autographs after a home game. Two years later, she was diagnosed with a rare life-threatening autoimmune disease. Parayko and his teammates visited Laila many times in the hospital, and when it came time last month for Game 7, they brought her to Boston for the big game.

What hockey fans around the world witnessed during the on-ice celebration in Boston following that game’s win was much bigger than the game itself. It is hard to imagine anyone not tearing up as Parayko raised the trophy and encouraged Laila to kiss the Stanley Cup.

It doesn’t get much more inspiring than that. Athletes like Parayko do their hometowns proud not just by their hard-fought battles for victory but by the light they shine on others. We are fortunate in St. Albert to have had the opportunity to follow the fairy tale story of the Blues and the heart-warming story of Laila through our own hometown hero.