After months of speculation, the NHL confirmed Wednesday night the 2017 Winter Classic will be held at Busch Stadium and will pit the Blues against their longtime rival Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blues made the announcement prior to dropping the puck on their game against Chicago. Blues owner Tom Stillman, Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III and former Blue Brett Hull stepped onto the ice with Hull shouting "The Winter Classic is coming to St. Louis!".
The annual event was first held in 2008, making the Blues the eighth team to host what has become the NHL’s prime winter showcase. It will also be the Blues’ first appearance in an outdoor game. The game will take place on Jan. 2, following the league’s new “Centennial Classic” which will be held on Jan. 1. The Maple Leafs and Red Wings will face-off in Toronto for that contest.
"We are thrilled to be hosting the Winter Classic 2017," said Stillman. "I'd like to thank (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League for awarding us the event."
Busch Stadium has been a projected site for years due to Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt’s well-documented interest in hockey and the logistical relevance of the stadium. Stillman and DeWitt have been working vigorously with the league to bring the winter event to town.
"The Cardinals and Bill DeWitt have been big partners to us in this and everything else," said Stillman.
The Blues knew an outdoor game would be making its way to St. Louis, but team officials were under the impression that it would be a Stadium Series game, not the NHL's hotter ticket. However, that idea shifted late in the process, around the time the city's former football team, the Rams, left for Los Angeles.
"I can tell you for a fact Gary, in making this decision, had the situation in St. Louis and what has happened over the last few months in mind," said Stillman. "It changed late in the game and I think a lot of it had to do with Gary's thoughts about St. Louis."
The Blackhawks have already been involved in two Winter Classics, which included hosting the event in its second year. That, too, was held at a baseball stadium, Wrigley Field in 2009. Stillman had the opportunity to attend that game.
"It was just a great event," Stillman said. "I have never talked to anybody who has been to one who didn't say that it was the greatest sporting event they've ever been to."
Busch Stadium can seat approximately 47,000 fans. With the Blues-Blackhawks storied rivalry and the teams’ close proximity, the event will boast an attendance more than double that of Scottrade Center’s capacity for Blues home games.
"I can tell you the question I have been asked the most over the last few years is: when are we going to get a Winter Classic?," said Stillman. "It's been something our fans have been focused on for a long time and have wanted to do. The whole area, even fans who are marginal, are going to see what a big event this is. It is going to be great for the whole city."
The Blues will sport special jerseys for the game, though those designs will be released at a later date. There will also be an Alumni Game, which Stillman expects to be a lot of fun due to the teams' rich histories.
"There are a few of them that we have seen around here that we hope will use this as a reason to get in shape," Stillman said with a chuckle. "It'll be interesting but that will be a lot of fun for old-time fans and new fans."
Details regarding the other festivities will be released at a later date.
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