BOSTON – Laila Anderson might be only 11 years old, but she swears she has a gift: She can always call who is going to score the first goal for her beloved St. Louis Blues.
Before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Anderson told her mother it was going to be Ryan O’Reilly.
“My mom was like, ‘It’s not going to happen,'” Anderson said. That got the 11-year-old extra fired up.
“I said, ‘there’s two things you just said wrong,'” Anderson recalled. “First, you don’t doubt ROR. And you don’t doubt me.”
“Mom,” she said standing on the ice at TD Garden grinning, after the Blues won their first-ever Stanley Cup and O’Reilly — after scoring the game’s opening goal — won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. “I called it.”
Anderson, who is battling a life-threatening autoimmune disease, isn’t just a Blues super fan, she’s the team’s good luck charm. So much so that the Blues flew Anderson and her mother out to Boston for Game 7, and then invited them on the ice to celebrate with the team.
Defenseman Colton Parayko, after hoisting the Cup himself, knelt onto the ice to meet Anderson. She wiped away tears, and then held on and kissed the trophy. Pat Maroon, a St. Louis native, lit up when he saw Anderson in the crowd. “Laila!” he shouted. “We did it, princess!” Then the two posed for a photo.
Anderson is battling hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH, a disease only 15 other children in the world have been diagnosed with. Her love of the Blues, she said ,was one of the things that helped her through treatments and recovery. Many Blues players got to know Laila through team-sponsored visits with the hospital, and she formed an especially strong connection with Parayko and Alex Steen.
“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 Stanley Cup Final began. “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.”
Anderson’s condition has limited her travel significantly. She had a bone marrow transplant in January that meant she could only go between the hospital and her house.
Then, before Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, Anderson’s doctors cleared her to attend the Blues’ playoff game. Anderson’s mom broke the news in a video, which went viral. Anderson then attended Games 4 and 6, and returned to the Enterprise Center when the Blues made the Stanley Cup Final.
Then before Game 7, Anderson’s mom met with her daughter again and pressed record on her phone.
“If you could watch the game, anywhere in the world tomorrow — anywhere in the world — where would you watch your boys play tomorrow?” her mom asked.
“Boston,” Anderson said, without pause.
“What if I told you the Blues called, and they want you at the game?” her mom asked.
Anderson looked at her mom: “What? How?”
“The doctor said it’s OK,” her mom said.
Then Anderson could barely contain her tears.
“No he didn’t, Mommy, no he didn’t,” she said breaking down, collapsing into her mom’s shoulder.
“That video last night her mom posted was truly amazing,” Maroon said Wednesday morning. “She’s been an inspiration to all of us throughout the year and Alex Steen has done a good job of bringing her and making her feel comfortable, Colton Parayko the same way, making her feel welcome to the team and the St. Louis Blues welcome her and her family. It’s been truly amazing. 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, I know the doctors are questionable of getting her out there because of her health and to say that she gets to come on the plane and travel out here to see us play, that’s truly amazing. I’m so happy for her.”
When asked if Anderson gave the team any pointers, Maroon said: “She gives us enough, just the way she fights. Go out there and fight for her. What she has to go through every single day.”
On the ice, Anderson — wearing a jean jacket and a Blues winter cap — was as popular as any Blues player. She did several media scrums. Her mom stood beside her the entire time.
“Being here for this, it’s everything I imagined and more,” Anderson said. “I don’t even know what to say. I love this team. I love them so much.”
ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski contributed to this report.