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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

As someone involved in the sports industry, I sometimes wonder if what we do is worthwhile.

The recruiting and academic standards in big-time college athletics turns my stomach. Billionaires holding city’s ransom to build palaces for their franchises. The National Football League’s ongoing issues with drug abuse and performance enhancing drugs.

But, occasionally something happens that makes even the most cynical among us realize – when it’s good, it’s really good.

The St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup is the latest example. But, this isn’t really about hockey, killing penalties and scoring goals. It’s about how a team can, at least momentarily, capture the imagination of a city and bind people together.

In winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, 52 years, the Blues have temporarily allowed St. Louisans to forget about flooding on the Mississippi, conflicts between the city and the county, that root canal coming up next week or any other issue.

St. Louisans sold out the Enterprise Center to watch hockey games being played in Boston. The outdoor venue was sold out, so the St. Louis Cardinals opened Busch Stadium for a watch party. About 70,000 fans gathered downtown to watch a game not being played there.

The photos from the Enterprise Center were amazing, fans hugging, clinking their beer bottles together. In today’s world, it’s a good bet that many people hugging had wildly divergent political views.

It’s strange to think that Ivan Barbashev stapling Brad Marchand to the boards can have an analgesic effect on society, a Ryan O’Reilly deflection can send an entire city into a state of delirium.

Of course, the Blues’ history of playoff futility fed the frenzy. A sense of anticipation can get heightened over 52 years. Yet, when this team delivered, it was almost surreal – like, OK, it’s finally happened. Now what do we do.

It didn’t take long to figure it out. You hug or high-five the person standing next to you and unleash a primal scream that has been building for 52 years.

But, let’s not be parochial about this. The same feeling swept Cleveland when LeBron James and the Cavaliers won the NBA title. Bostonians felt the same way when their Red Sox broke the World Series jinx.

In the grand scheme of things, hitting a frozen rubber disc into a cage or throwing basketball through an iron ring aren’t vitally important. Yet, these seemingly meaningless activities are able to capture our attention like little else.

I spent 90 minutes after the game sipping bourbon and texting with my brothers. The three of us spent countless hours playing street hockey and firing pucks at each other down in the basement. Although we live 100 miles apart, it felt as if we were celebrating together.

These warm fuzzy feelings will fade soon enough. The differences between us that were so easily forgotten will reappear. They always do.

But, for a month, it was a magical ride.

And, in the end, yeah, it’s worth it.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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