Weather in St. Louis is never predictable in any season and a warm and rainy forecast could dampen the excitement level for the NHL Winter Classic on Monday at Busch Stadium.
The game is scheduled to began at noon and some unseasonably warm weather, mixed with a chance for thunderstorms, could cause more than few headaches for the NHL’s ice experts trying to maintain quality conditions for the outdoor rink.
Game-time temperatures will be right around 50 degrees, according to Accuweather.com, with a chance for thunderstorms at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
How will the players deal with any potential Monday delays, or the game being pushed to Tuesday? The league will announce the official start time at 7 a.m. Monday.
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“We’re going to know pretty well ahead of time,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “The NHL is going to want this thing to get off as seamlessly as possible. That’s the last thing that they want, for us to be sitting here in the locker room twiddling our thumbs and waiting, warming up and then coming back in and sitting for an hour.
“I think when they set a time, they’ll probably stick to it, and if we have to play through a little rain, then so be it.”
The 2011 Winter Classic game in Pittsburgh was delayed for seven hours because of rain and higher temperatures.
“I think both teams are ready for anything,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Because (the Blues) don’t play for a few days, we’ve got lots of scenarios that can play into it without an issue. The one thing that we probably aren’t used to is if we come here and there’s a three- or four-hour delay.”
Flu bug could alter Blues lineup
Blues forwards Jaden Schwartz and Nail Yakupov are among several players on the team hit hard recently by flu-like symptoms. Neither practiced Sunday at Busch Stadium, when the players were joined by their families at the outdoor rink, but Hitchcock is hopeful Schwartz will be in the lineup Monday on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera.
“We’ve had this for eight days now, and it’s been tough for everybody, coaches included,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve all had a tough go with this. They were both not well this morning at all. For both of them not to be able to attend this skate and everything, you could see how sick they are.”
The Blackhawks will be without forwards Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger, both out with upper-body injuries.
Giving back to the community
This might be the first outdoor game Hitchcock has coached in the NHL, but it’s not the first time he’s coached outside.
“I’ve coached outdoor games before — some against inmates and various functions like that that were a lot scarier than the one’s going to be tomorrow,” Hitchcock said, recalling a 1985 game when he had one of his teams played against a prison team. “Really scary, as a matter of fact. We were afraid to score a goal, to be honest with you.”
Hitchcock said the whole thing was his idea.
“I had this bright idea we were going to give back to the community and we were in Prince Albert ... so I organized a game against the inmates at the security prison,” he said. “They were playing for real and we were trying to play for fun. They won. It was an interesting way of playing because it was 20 below.”
As a result, each team had five players at a time on the ice, five on the bench and five warming up in a nearby shack.
“It ended up being a lot of fun,” Hitchcock said, “but it wasn’t one of my brightest ideas.”
Stacking the talent
The Blues’ top line for the Winter Classic Alumni Game with Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky centering Adam Oates and Brett Hull combined for a mind-boggling 1,976 goals and 5,668 points during their careers. Gretzky himself had 894 goals and 2,857 points.
“Instead of three weapons it’s like six or seven, so it’s pretty cool to see those guys play together,” said Shattenkirk, who was at the stadium watching the game with most of his teammates.
Practice lines Sunday at Busch Stadium
Blues Forward Lines
Ty Rattie, Jori Lehtera, Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, David Perron
Robby Fabbri, Patrik Berglund, Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reaves
Blues Defense Pairings
Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson, Kevin Shattenkirk
Jay Bouwmeester, Colton Parayko