St. Louis Blues

NHL Winter Classic, Blues legends draw huge crowd

Belleville residents Tim Simpson (left) and son Mitch Simpson sporting their St. Louis Blues Winter Classic jerseys on Saturday outside Busch Stadium before the Blues-Blackhawks Winter Classic Alumni Game.
Belleville residents Tim Simpson (left) and son Mitch Simpson sporting their St. Louis Blues Winter Classic jerseys on Saturday outside Busch Stadium before the Blues-Blackhawks Winter Classic Alumni Game. Norm Sanders

From the moment the announcement was made about the St. Louis Blues playing host to the NHL Winter Classic, Belleville resident Tim Simpson has been counting down the days.

“I couldn’t believe when they announced it that they were actually going to do it,” said Simpson, joined by his son, 23-year-old Mitch Simpson on Saturday in matching Blues replica Winter Classic jerseys. “It’s mulled around in people’s heads for a few years, and it’s never come about, but this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me. He may get another chance, but it might be my only opportunity, so I made sure I took care of that.”

The Simpsons joined thousands of other fans outside Busch Stadium on Saturday prior to the Blues-Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Game. Ballpark Village served as the site for the NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic PreGame area with live music and hockey-themed interactive areas.

According to the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the Winter Classic is expected to create an economic impact of $18.5 million for the St. Louis region. A crowd of 40,128 was at the Alumni Game on Saturday and Monday’s Winter Classic outdoor game between the Blues and Blackhawks is expected to draw more than 45,000.

Mitch Simpson was wearing a No. 15 Robby Fabbri jersey, while his father was sporting a No. 91 Vladimir Tarasenko model.

“I got this the day they came out,” Mitch Simpson said. “I just happened to have tickets to that game already, so I got there early and stood in line for about 45 minutes at Scottrade to get them.”

The jerseys ran the Simpsons about $225 apiece, and the Winter Classic tickets set them back another $325 apiece.

Part of the draw for Mitch Simpson was seeing Wayne Gretzky and some of the older Blues he never got to watch live when they were here.

“It’s a blast. I can’t wait — and it’s only going to be cooler watching Gretzky play,” Simpson said. “I wasn’t old enough to watch him when he was in his prime, so this is great. I’m really excited to see Gretzky and Pierre Turgeon ... he was one of my favorites growing up. It’s just cool to see the guys I watched growing up playing again, the guys that got me turned on to the Blues.”

Blues Alumni Notes

Former Blues center Pierre Turgeon scored a pair of goals Saturday in the 8-7 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game victory over the Blackhawks and looked like one of the best players on the ice. He lives in Colorado and still does some cycling, which may help explain his fitness level.

“You try to do as much as you can, but it’s still hard out there,” Turgeon said. “It feels like there’s altitude out here in St. Louis, too.”

Could the 47-year-old Turgeon still play in the NHL?

“Maybe a shift or two,” he said, “but don’t go any further than that — and then you can’t get up the next morning.”

Former Blues star and Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull was asked about Turgeon’s performance as well as his own.

“Yeah, I thought I had a lot more left in the tank,” Hull said with a smile. “I mean, I was good for about 10 steps, and then it was just burning. Pierre, he lives in Colorado. And I looked at Gretzky on the bench, and I said, ‘Well, he doesn’t golf,’ so I asked him, and he coaches and rides his mountain bike.

“So that’s pretty good for conditioning up there. But I thought a lot of the guys looked really good. Keith, Keith’s a big man, and he looked good out there. I thought he was great. And Larry Patey, he’s got to be 60 years old, and he pumped a goal in, and Bernie (Ferderko).”

Many Blues fans got their first up-close look at the Winter Classic ice rink configuration, which straddle the infield and a portion of the outfield at Busch Stadium. A large guitar-shaped logo intersected both sides of the field, with music notes and large Blues and Blackhawks logos stretching across the wide expanses of white surface laid down in the outfield.

Former Blues great Mike Liut began the game in goal, with current Blues television color analyst Darren Pang in net for the Blackhawks.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

NHL Winter Classic Schedule of Events

Monday, Jan. 2

NHL Winter Classic: Blues vs. Blackhawks, noon at Busch Stadium (TV: NBC, KSDK Channel 5; Radio: KMOX-AM 1120)

Sunday, Jan. 8

One Nation Classic: Blues skills competition, St. Louis' Greatest Pickup Hockey Game, Police Officers vs. Firefighters game, 11:30 a.m. at Busch Stadium

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat