Parad-ice at Busch
January 24, 2017
Filed under Sports
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The Winter Classic is not supposed to be comparable to any other event in sports history.
Build a regulation-sized professional ice hockey rink within a regulation-sized professional baseball field and the setup exists for one of the most bizarre, compelling and romantic sports settings possible.
Then surround the sports pit inside a sports pit with 46,000 St. Louis fans – each gaping equally confused and amused at the indescribable landscape before them, each with blood still boiling from the NFL cartel serving as accomplice to Stan Kroenke’s foul relocation of the St. Louis Rams the year before, each united in a quest for their boys in blue to score more hockey goals at a baseball stadium than the always-mighty Blackhawks – and a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the form of the 2017 NHL Winter Classic occurs.
A dense fog obscures the view of the Gateway Arch.
Nobody is texting. Everyone is just happy to occupy this space. For once, no distractions are necessary. It’s all eyes on the spectacle.
This is only a regular season hockey game, but this is so much more.
Since their inception in 1967, the Blues have unquestionably heightened the spirit of St. Louis. With more palpable fan support than ever by a market celebrating its fiftieth season with an NHL franchise, it was due time for St. Louis, one of the most underrated hockey cities in the U.S., to host the Winter Classic.
The Winter Classic has been a tradition since 2008 when the NHL brought outdoor hockey to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, NY. The matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins achieved the highest television rating of any NHL event in 33 years.
Since 2008, the Winter Classic, played each year on Jan. 1 or Jan. 2, has become progressively more spectacular.
For someone inhaling the electricity of the 2017 Winter Classic, easily negligible is the labor imperative to configuring the sports pit within a sports pit.
On Dec. 15, just over two weeks before the events began, the Globe talked to St. Louis Cardinals’ President Bill DeWitt III and St. Louis Blues’ owner Tom Stillman after they delivered the million-dollar Busch Stadium rink generator. Make no mistake: the two multi-millionaires with more plutocratic prowess than anyone in St, Louis did not carry the generator with their bare hands – the generator, the same size as that which powers the Scottrade Center, was hauled into a behemoth eighteen-wheeler truck driven by the two owners who, after manifesting cheerfully and suddenly at Ballpark Village through a hazy December fog, were greeted by a swarm of obscure, in-the-know reporters.
Bill DeWitt III has witnessed hundreds of baseball games at Busch Stadium III, but at Ballpark Village just weeks before the Winter Classic, he reflected on other major events which make the stadium a dynamic home.
“The versatility of the building is great. We have had concerts, soccer, football, and now hockey,” DeWitt III said. “The role of technology is really impressive.”
For Tom Stillman, a native of Minneapolis, MN where children freely play hockey on frozen ponds in the winter, hosting the Winter Classic is his greatest fantasy in action. Stillman ached alongside St. Louisans last year when the Rams unjustifiably skipped town for Hollywood, but for him, the Winter Classic is the ideal opportunity one year later for St. Louis to show its resilience as a sports town.
“We united after that event. This city showed its internal strength and people supported our two franchises more than they already had. We are working together to keep that effect going,” Stillman said. “You look back at that unfortunate time for St. Louis last year but then you look now at this great festival of people coming together.”
Chris Zimmerman, President and Chief of Business Operations for the St. Louis Blues echoed DeWitt III and Stillman from a business standpoint while also acknowledging what makes the Winter Classic mystical from the perspective of the fans and players.
“For us to have this game the same year as our fiftieth anniversary is really fantastic,” Zimmerman said. “The great thing about getting to play outdoors is it’s a return to how lots of players started playing the game and so there’s a magic to playing outdoors.”
Not only did the eminent Blues-Blackhawks rivalry provide flair for the Winter Classic, but sparks also flew on the last day of 2016 during the Winter Classic Alumni Game wherein Blues’ legends Wayne Gretzsky and Brett Hull, among others, defeated former Blackhawk greats 8-7.
The Busch Stadium matchup marked the third time Chicagoans watched their Blackhawks perform in the Winter Classic, but the 2017 Winter Classic was a completely new experience for St. Louis fans.
On gameday, although the thick fog clouded NBC cameras, the enthusiasm outside Busch Stadium was unmistakable.
Friends and families gathered at restaurants and in their homes, ecstatic about hockey,
Inside the stadium, Busch entered a frenzy when Blues’ slugger Vladimir Tarasenko scored two third period goals en route to a 4-1 Blues Winter Classic win.
The 2017 Winter Classic was nothing short of an epic celebration. More reel on the jumbotron from the histories of the Cardinals and Blues during pre-game and intermissions is the only ingredient which may have elevated the festivities.
But overall the 2017 Winter Classic is best described in three words: unity, family, victory.