ST. LOUIS -- When Norman Stewart migrated from Jamaica to Montreal in 1974 "looking for a better life," he never imagined that he would fall in love with hockey or one day have two sons playing in the NHL.
Two years after he arrived, the Canadiens won the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979. "It was Stanley Cup, Stanley Cup, Stanley Cup, Stanley Cup," Stewart said in his Jamaican accent. "I got to see the best."
Norman met his wife, Susan, in 1982, and after delivering their first son, Anthony, the family moved to Toronto. Six more children followed, including another son, Chris, and five daughters. Living in Scarborough, Ontario, in a particularly tough neighborhood, Norman was especially concerned how his sons would turn out, so he introduced them to hockey.
"We made a pact," Norman remembered. "I said, 'If this is what you want to do, you have to put in the extra hours. If you're an electrician, you put in 10,000 hours before you master the trade. I was a taskmasker."
That is what drove two sons of Jamaican and Irish heritage to become first-round picks in the NHL: Anthony, now a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, and Chris, a blossoming power forward whom the Blues acquired from Colorado in the trade for Erik Johnson.
But in addition to hard work and sacrifice, the core of most success stories, Chris' journey to the Blues includes a decision to quit hockey, a horrific phone call alerting him that his mother had passed away, and a perpetual love for his brother that made playing pro hockey a reality.
Chris, 23, is the second oldest, followed by Sarah (21), Leah (20), Kayla (19) and twins Jessie and Julie (18). Norman worked 12 hours a day installing swimming pools, but with seven children, Susan was a stay-at-home mother, making the budget tight. The family collected Canada's "Baby Bonus," a government-issued check to help parents financially, but it wasn't much.
When Anthony became a first-round pick of Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League at age 16, Chris knew that his parents couldn't afford two sons playing an expensive sport. At 14, despite a promising start in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, he hung up his skates.
"My sisters made the most sacrifices growing up," Chris said. "They didn't get to have the nice clothes because everything was given to me and my brother. I didn't want to burden them anymore, so I just made the decision myself."
Stewart was 260 pounds at the time.
Stewart played three years of football and might have gone further had Anthony not returned home from Kingston one day and watched Chris in a pickup hockey game.
"Seeing him skate up and down the ice at 250, 260 pounds . . . if he's skating that fast, he still had something," Anthony said. "I said, 'Man, if you lose a couple of pounds, I'll work on getting you an audition."'
Kingston Frontenacs GM Larry Mavety gave Stewart a tryout, and he made the team.
"They were looking for an enforcer, energy guy," said Stewart, who had experience in that protecting his five sisters.
Stewart turned it into a scoring role, netting 18 goals and 30 points in 64 games. The next two seasons, he combined for 73 goals, 169 points and 226 penalty minutes.
In the 2006 NHL draft, Colorado selected Stewart in the first round (No. 18 overall). It came three years after Florida had taken Anthony in the first round (No. 25 overall). A monumental moment for a player who said, "I always wanted to be just like my brother."
But today, Stewart remembers the draft for another reason.
"It's one of the real last memories I have of my mom before she passed away," he said.
On March 19, 2007, four years ago this Saturday, Susan Stewart died of a massive heart attack at age 52. Anthony was in Florida and Chris in Kingston at the time.
"Five females screaming . . .," Norman said. "That's a sound I heard for a while. She was gone. She was gone. As a mom, as a wife, as a woman, as a person, one of the great individuals I met in this world. She didn't have, but whatever she had, she was willing to share."
When Susan received the "Baby Bonus" each month, she would drive to Western Union and wire the money to Chris in Kingston.
Norman said phone calls to Anthony and Chris were the "most difficult" he's ever had to make. The two returned home, and Chris broke down at the funeral.
"That was the first day I saw Chris cry," Sarah said. "Chris just completely shattered in my dad's arms. After that, he just went 100 percent driven. He was telling my dad he has a plan ... he started training hard, shedding the weight. He wanted to make my mom so proud."
Said Chris: "That was definitely a huge turning point in my life."
Now rounding into shape at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Stewart put up a 25-goal season in the American Hockey League, and in his second NHL season, he netted 28 goals and 64 points for the Avalanche.
"I remember I went to Colorado and I was hanging out with the team and Adam Foote said, 'This is the future captain,"' Sarah said.
But that all changed last month, when the Avalanche traded Stewart to the Blues, along with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, in a blockbuster deal.
It's been quite an introduction for Stewart in St. Louis, with nine goals and 12 points in 13 games.
"This has definitely been a picture perfect start," he said.
Said Norman: "Chris has the best hands of all the big men in the game. You're going to love him in St. Louis. He has the heart of a lion. The part of his game I want to see the coach develop is his tenaciousness. He doesn't have all of Bob Gainey in him yet."
Spoken like a true Canadiens fan.