Busch Stadium got its first taste of hockey Saturday afternoon in a game that was more fanfare than intense rivalry. The celebration of St. Louis sports began with some of the greatest players ever to don the Note taking down a team of Blackhawks alumni 8-7 in front of a fervent sea of blue.
The Blackhawks more youthful roster appeared lighter on its feet than the elder Blues contingent. While St. Louis has waited years for its first Winter Classic opportunity, this year’s event at Busch Stadium marks the third time the Blackhawks have been involved in one. For that reason, Chicago’s roster featured younger, if lesser known, players, as many of the franchise’s stars have already participated in Alumni Game festivities in the past.
What the Blues roster lacked in youthful exuberance, it made up for in name-recognition. With six current Hall of Famers and three–Martin Brodeur, Chris Pronger and Keith Tkachuk–whose enshrinements in Toronto are soon to come, the pregame introductions were a star-studded affair for Blues fans to enjoy.
When it came to actual production in the game, some of those big names were content to let their teammates have the spotlight. Kelly Chase, known in his playing days as a rugged enforcer, performed adeptly with the puck Saturday. He scored a goal and assisted Barret Jackman in a game that meant a lot to him.
“I told Brian Sutter, ‘See you weren’t using me right the whole entire time you were coaching me. You shoulda used me more!’” Chase joked regarding his offensive outburst. “It looked like a mannequin challenge a few times out there probably, as slow as we were going, but I was thrilled to be a part of it.”
Jokes aside, Chase clearly cherished the day as much as anyone out there.
“I went out before the game actually in my flip-flops and I was looking around and I almost started crying,” Chase said. “It was like, ‘holy man–I can’t believe it.’ I can’t believe we were fortunate enough to do it one more time.”
“It’s the one thing you miss when you don’t play anymore,” Chase said of the rush of emotion he got playing in front of the Busch Stadium crowd. “That’s our adrenaline rush, that’s our addictive… whatever it is we chase. That’s what we chase, that emotion. That’s what makes you train harder when you’re a player. That’s what makes you care more to get to the pros. That’s why we play the game, because of whatever it is inside you that you feed off of, that’s what it is. And we got to do it again. Not many people get to do that again.
“If there was one thing you could bottle and give somebody as a gift, it would be that feeling when you go out on the ice right there in front of people and play with emotion.”
Chase captured eloquently what the day meant to the players, lacing up the skates one more time. As much as the players enjoyed it, Saturday’s game meant just as much to St. Louis fans. To see their heroes of yesteryear back out on the ice, to show support for a franchise that means so much in this town–it was a memorable day for all involved.
Even the greats like Brett Hull and Wayne Gretzky enjoyed the experience. While Hull said he thought he would have had more energy left in tank than he did, he was impressed by his teammates. Particularly Pierre Turgeon, who showed some swagger on the ice while scoring a couple goals for the Blues.
“Pierre, he lives in Colorado,” Hull said. “I looked at Gretz on the bench and said ‘well he doesn’t golf.’ I asked him–he coaches and rides his mountain bike, so that’s pretty good for conditioning out there.”
Though ceremony was the primary focus of the event, the Blues dug deep for the will to win down the stretch. With the score close in the third-period, both sides instinctively turned up the intensity, pride proving an ample motivator for desperation in an exhibition against old rivals.
"The fact is that we wanted to win the game for our fans, and the Hawks were very courteous as well," Bernie Federko said, playfully inviting potential controversy to the game's outcome. "In these games, you always want the home team to maybe win by a goal and that's exactly what was able to happen today. Don't tell Vegas that, but I don't think anybody would be betting on this game–at least I hope they're not."
If the Hawks threw the game as Federko may have insinuated, they played it off pretty well. The final minutes were a scramble to hold the lead for St. Louis. Though it lacked the stakes of last spring’s Game 7 against Chicago, the fans were into it, anyway–beating the Blackhawks doesn’t get old.
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