Fans gear up for the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium
It was an eerie setting Monday morning as thousands of hockey fans descended on a fog-shrouded Busch Stadium.
They were there to participate in pregame festivities ahead of the NHL Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks and weren’t letting a little light rain and foggy conditions bother them.
The NHL announced early Monday morning the game would remain scheduled for a noon start time, though weather-related delays are possible. The official temperature for opening face-off was 46.7 degrees.
Beer was flowing as hockey fans tailgated at various parking lots surrounding the stadium. Area bars around the stadium, including the ones at Ballpark Village, Paddy O’s and others, were doing a brisk business. So were vendors selling anything Winter Classic related as fans proudly sporting their new Blues Winter Classic jerseys.
St. Louis area native and Grammy award-winning artist entertained fans with a pregame concert at Ballpark Village, the site of the official NHL PreGame Winter Classic tailgate area.
Camera crews were busy getting set up near the field as hundreds of workers prepared for an onslaught of fans with a crowd officially announced at 46,556, easily the largest in Blues history.
Media from the U.S. and Canada, including most major media outlets, filled the press box to overflowing similar to a St. Louis Cardinals World Series or playoff game.
Fans did their best to avoid getting any wetter once they entered the stadium, which wasn’t easy since umbrellas were on the list of items banned from being brought inside by the NHL. A lot of rain ponchos could be seen and many fans were wearing their official Winter Classic stocking caps — or toques, if you are from Canada.
On the ice
- The Blues win 4-1 after an Alexander Steen empty netter with just more than a minute remaining.
- Vladimir Tarasenko’s backhand pass went in off the skate of Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson for his first goal of the game, then he scored again just 1:53 later to give the Blues a 3-1 lead. The goals were Tarasenko’s 17th and 18th of the season and he nearly had four goals in the third period.
Earlier in the period, Tarasenko was stopped on a breakaway and also hit a goalpost.
- Patrik Berglund netted the tying goal at 7:45 of the second period on a sweet pass from behind the net by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Alexander Steen also picked up an assist on the play, giving him his 300th career assist and 500th NHL point.
- Defenseman Michal Kempny gave the Blackhawks an early lead 1:02 into the contest, sending a shot toward net from the left point that appeared to skip right over the outstretched glove of Blues goaltender Jake Allen.
- Blues Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger was sitting in a box with Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III. DeWitt is a big hockey fan and his close relationship with Blues chairman Tom Stillman helped make the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium a reality,
- St. Louis native and famous actor Jon Hamm got some interview time during the first period on NBC. Hamm, who loves both the Blues and the Cardinals, was shown wearing a Blues jacket and hat.
- The large hat being worn on the bench by Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made him look like one of those NBC reporters working outside during coverage of the Winter Olympics.
- Once the Blues hit the ice for warmups, forward Jaden Schwartz was part of the contingent and later was listed in the starting lineup. Schwartz did not make the practice yesterday at Busch Stadium because of an illness, but was expected to play in the game. Forward Nail Yakupov, who also was out with an illness, was not on the ice for warmups.
- Those sharp-looking vintage Blues jerseys being worn for the Winter Classic will be worn for six more games this season, including Saturday against the Dallas Stars.
- A pair of Hall of Famers, former Blackhawks star Bobby Hull and his son, former Blues star Brett Hull, handled the ceremonial opening puck drop before the game.
- Former Blues star Keith Tkachuk got a nice ovation from the crowd when shown on the video scoreboard during the first period. He also did a bit of “dabbing” for the second time in three days. He also did the “dab” after scoring a goal in the Winter Classic Alumni Game.
- The national anthem included a large flag in the shape of the United States unfurled across the ice and a trumpet player who just may be today’s version of flugel horn hitmaker Chuck Mangione.
As the puck dropped for the opening faceoff, chants of “Let’s Go Blues” could be heard throughout Busch Stadium.
Just in case
The NHL issued a series of contingency plans to deal with any potential weather delays at the Winter Classic. At least two periods are required for it to be considered a regulation game.
Here is the actual release from the NHL, which includes the bizarre scenario where the Blues-Blackhawks Winter Classic game could be decided with a shootout on Feb. 26 at United Center in Chicago.
“If the game is started, then stopped permanently due to unplayable weather conditions, it will be deemed “official” once two periods have been played. The team leading at the time play is stopped will be declared the winner and will be awarded two points in the standings.
If the game is tied at the time play is stopped permanently, any time after two periods of play, each team will be awarded one point in the standings, with an opportunity to earn an additional point in a standard shootout format.
If weather conditions permit, the shootout will be conducted at Busch Stadium immediately after regulation play has been stopped. If weather conditions make it impossible to conduct a shootout safely at Busch Stadium, the shootout will take place at United Center on Sunday, February 26 prior to the regularly scheduled St. Louis-Chicago game, with St. Louis deemed the home club for shootout purposes only.”