The estimated distance from St. Louis, Missouri, to Texarkana, Texas, is 486 miles. But for St. Louis native and current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Patrick Maroon, it might as well have been a completely different world away from the comforts of home.
“You’re still in high school so you’re leaving your family behind, and you kinda don’t know what to expect,” shared Maroon, who moved to Texarkana in 2005-06 to team up with the North American Hockey League’s Bandits. “I got to go to a small town that was all about football, and I got the chance to experience junior hockey with some really good players and some really good teammates, and I was fortunate enough to live in the best house in Texarkana. There was a big white house there, seven of us in the house at the time, and it couldn’t have been a better experience for me.”
Like many young hockey players, Patrick Maroon had been skating since the age of four, looking up to his older brothers Justin and Phil who also played the game.
Despite his great hands and vision on the ice, he didn’t have the footspeed. The OHL’s London Knights took a flyer on him in the 11th round of the 2004 draft, but with a remarkably clear choice to make in his life, Maroon decided that the OHL wasn’t the right way to go at the time.
“I’ve never been the fastest skater, but I always found a way to get around the ice with my vision and good hands and seeing the ice,” said the recent Stanley Cup champion. “I could’ve went to London, obviously, but I think that was out of the picture. [I was] kinda seeing if I could go the college route, and the N-A (North American Hockey League) teams were the only ones knocking on my door so the NAHL was it.”
The choice turned out to be a wise one, as Maroon might have had a minimal role at best with a dynamic 2004-05 Knights team. Enter Kelly Chase, a former NHL enforcer who was a scout and investor in the Bandits.
“Being scouted my midget major year by Kelly Chase, they tendered me, and it all kind of stemmed from there.”
But it wasn’t that easy a decision for the Bandits. At first the team wasn’t going to tender an offer to Maroon, but Chase persisted as did new head coach Jon Cooper who saw some potential in the husky winger.
Over time, Maroon made the adjustments he needed to succeed. In the 2005-06 season, he scored 23 goals and 37 assists, a feat that earned him all-rookie first team honors in the league.
But the adjustments for Maroon weren’t just on the ice.
Let’s go back to that large Texarkana house owned by Fay J. and Norma Durant, with seven hockey players living in it.
“You felt like you’re seven best friends in one house, you get to hang out every single day to keep your mind off it,” recalled Maroon. “As you know, when you’re such a young age, you can sometimes get homesick so I think that helped out a lot.”
Having just turned 18 and completing a year away from his family, Maroon would get closer to home when the Bandits relocated to St. Louis the following season. At the same time, Maroon got closer to Cooper, who instilled more trust and responsibility to Maroon on the ice.
The Bandits would go on to win the 2007 Robertson Cup, and Maroon led the way with a league-best 95 points including 40 goals. He earned first team all-star honors, scored a league record 23 points in 12 playoff games, and was named the league MVP.
With scoring records as well as individual and team honors in hand, Maroon was drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. After a 90-point season with London in 2007-08, Maroon’s professional hockey career began in the AHL. Following seven NHL seasons in Anaheim, Edmonton, and New Jersey, he famously took less money to play for his hometown Blues, becoming part of the legendary run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Championship in 2019. Prior to this season, Maroon reunited with Cooper in Tampa Bay after signing a one-year agreement.
When the last notes of Laura Branigan’s Gloria faded from the victory parades in St. Louis, where did Maroon go to celebrate a Stanley Cup championship? He went right back to where it all started… 486 miles southwest of St. Louis, in Texarkana with Fay J. and Norma.
“They played a big role in my career, and were so good to me and my family,” said Maroon. “They really taught me how to be a good person all around, and having that mentality with you all the time. Off the ice they really made me mature, and develop as a player on the ice. It was really special.”
That’s not a bad path for a teenager with slim odds of getting into pro hockey, notably because of his not-so-slim physique.
“Everything happened so fast,” he said. “I was always against the ropes in my career, and I always wanted to prove people wrong. I just needed an opportunity, and when I got the opportunity I always found a way to rise above it.”
Maroon also offers a line of hope for other young hockey players who may hear whispers about how they’re not going to advance far.
“Enjoy it, be kind, and just work hard. Never give up on your dream. I’ve always been a big believer in that. Just keep working hard on your craft every single day and good things will happen to you.”