This season, the St. Louis Blues have paid tribute to Laila Anderson, an 11-year-old girl who is battling a life-threatening autoimmune disease, with the kind of access befitting a young girl whom one player called “a warrior for us.” After they won the Stanley Cup Wednesday night in Boston, they gave her a fan’s ultimate and rare thrill: They brought her onto the ice, where she hugged players and kissed the cup.
“We did it, princess!” Pat Maroon shouted when he saw her in the crowd during the chaos after the Blues’ 4-1 victory in TD Garden.
Colton Parayko gave her a big hug. She was seemingly everywhere, possibly the most in-demand person on the ice as she posed for photos and gave interviews to the media.
“Being here for this, it’s everything I imagined and more,” Laila said (via ESPN). “I don’t even know what to say. I love this team. I love them so much.”
Anderson has hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, an extremely rare disease, and underwent a bone-marrow transplant in January. Players got to know her through visits to the hospital and she became a superfan, forging a friendship with Parayko, Alex Steen and Maroon in particular.
“She is such a warrior for us. She’s special she’s so cool,” Parayko said in May.
When the Bruins won Game 6, it seemed unlikely that she would be in TD Garden Wednesday, given that her travel is limited. But her mother, Heather, recorded the news that she was going to Boston and posted a viral video. “If you could watch the game, anywhere in the world tomorrow — anywhere in the world — where would you watch your boys play tomorrow?” she asked. “Boston,” Laila quickly replied.
“What if I told you the Blues called, and they want you at the game?” her mom asked and Laila responded, “What? How?”
“The doctor said it’s okay,” her mom said.
“No he didn’t, Mommy, no he didn’t,” Laila said in disbelief before breaking down into tears.
Given all that, maybe there shouldn’t have been any doubt about how Game 7 would go.
“She’s been an inspiration to us all year,” Maroon said (via the Post-Dispatch’s Benjamin Hochman) before the game, adding, “Alex Steen has done a good job of bringing her and making her comfortable, Colton Parayko same way — making her feel welcome to the team. And the St. Louis Blues welcome her and her family. She’s a fighter, and she’s going to continue to fight. She’s our inspiration — we look up to her, what she has to go through every single day.
"To get on that plane, we know the doctors questioned getting her on there because of her health. To say that she gets to come and travel out here and see us play — I’m so happy for her. What she has to go through every single day is a lot tougher than what we have to do.”
Parayko is her favorite player and it’s probably safe to say he’s her biggest fan.
“We get to show up to the rink and be with the guys, do things like that. But you go to the hospital, and you speak with her, and you watch her go through all that stuff. I can’t imagine what she’s going through. What kinds of things they’re putting in her body to try and help her recover,” Parayko told ESPN before the finals. “She continues to have a strong attitude, a positive attitude. It’s so special. We might lose a hockey game, and we’re frustrated or go home really upset. But there are people out there trying to battle for their lives.”
It was only natural that a little girl who has even been honored with a bobblehead (coming this fall, with some of the proceeds from the sale going to help St. Louis Children’s Hospital) would be front and center when it came time for the Blues to hoist the Cup for the first time in their 51-year history.
Even Lord Stanley’s cup was impressed to be in Laila’s presence.
As for Laila, she admitted in an on-the-ice interview Wednesday night with Hochman that “it’s slowly sinking in” that she’s becoming an inspirational figure to many. Like a true superfan, she never, ever thought their season would end with anything other than a Stanley Cup victory.
“I never doubted,” she said. “Even when they were in last place, I still thought there was a chance.”
And her new friends, the guys who wear skates and now are champions?
“They’re more than just hockey,” she said. “Hockey players are different people. They’re from heaven.”
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