On January 2, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will square off in the 2017 Bridgestone Winter Classic. It will be St. Louis’ first time participating in Winter Classic festivities and the Blackhawks’ third since the NHL introduced the event in 2008.
Held at Busch Stadium, the hallowed grounds of St. Louis’ beloved St. Louis Cardinals, the NHL is taking full advantage of the cities introduction to the outdoor event.
They’ve already held field trips for a middle school STEM program, invited the media to watch the rink be built, and planned a number of events leading up to the big game.
“Seeing the kids smile was like seeing them put on skates and skate out there for the first time,” NHL Executive Dan Craig said.
The alumni game featuring some of the Blues and Blackhawks hall of fame greats will take place on December 31. For the Blues, Chris Pronger, Martin Brodeur, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, and the great one, Wayne Gretzky, will take the ice. For Chicago, Troy Murray, Eric Daze, and Darren Pang.
In addition to the alumni game, charity games between the St. Louis police and fire units, and a pickup game between two teams made up of former Cardinal players, Blues players, and celebrities will take place on January 8. The pickup game called “One Nation Classic” will benefit Blues for Kids youth hockey efforts as well as Cardinals Care, two local charities.
The ice rink will also open for a public skate following the end of the Winter Classic festivities on January 8.
Though, amidst all of the fun and games, the players still understand the stakes are high since it does count as a regular season game.
Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch spoke with players and coaches this past week about the Winter Classic. Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk believes the Blues need to win the Winter Classic after falling to the Blackhawks at home earlier in the season.
“It’s a statement game, not so much for the Winter Classic, but to kind of show that we’re still the team that beat them last year (in the first round of the playoffs). We let one slip away here against them last time. We want to make sure when they come into this building that they feel uncomfortable. It goes a long way down the road knowing that this can be a four-point swing in our division and we can gain some ground on them,” Shattenkirk said.
Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock has kept the team focused with important games remaining ahead of the Winter Classic.
“The way we are right now, we’re barely lucky to get 12 hours ahead of where our thinking is. You see things like when the trucks come in, and you start thinking about that stuff and then the reality of who you’re playing (Saturday) night kind of hits home and you’ve got to go and be ready,” Hitchcock said.
It’s an important game for the Blues not only on the schedule but for the city as well. Not only will it bring attention to a city that loves its hockey and baseball teams, but with the Rams leaving for Los Angeles, there’s been a void left and questions surrounding the city’s fandom.
With an MLS team on the horizon, now is the perfect opportunity for the city to stake its claim for the quality of fans the city of St. Louis provides and the support it shows for its professional sports teams. It’s the opportunity to play with one of, if not the best, hockey franchise in existence with a national audience watching across the country.
[Featured Image by Travis Lindquist/Getty Images]