When you play hockey on a baseball field, there are bound to be some complications. Do it during winter in St. Louis, and you’re asking for trouble.
Quintessential St. Louis weather tried to spoil the day, but for all the warnings and worry, the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium went off without a hitch, as Ken Hitchcock’s Blues rattled of four straight goals to come from behind and beat the Blackhawks 4-1.
It would have been a memorable weekend regardless of Monday’s outcome, but a Blues victory in front of 46,556 strong ensured Chicago couldn’t rain on this parade–where local fandom was on full display.
In selling out Busch Stadium, Blues fans put the ‘baseball town’ contingent in its place.
“It was amazing,” Kevin Shattenkirk said of the Winter Classic atmosphere. “I don’t think you can prepare for that at all until you’ve played in it. We were a little taken aback by it I think in the first five minutes of the game. We were able to settle in and I thought we played really well the rest of the game and were able to establish our game.
“It’s fun when you’re playing hockey and all of a sudden you kind of take a peak around and you see a large amount of people watching you play. It was just a great event.”
Saturday’s alumni game gave the city an idea of what Monday might be like. But when the puck dropped on a game that counted for real–with the hated Hawks on the other side–it was on a different level.
With every scoring chance, the ravenous crowd grew more anxious to experience the sensation of a stadium-wide goal celebration. Though the Blackhawks jumped on the board after just 62 seconds, Blues fans had to wait for the second period to erupt.
Patrik Berglund’s tying goal then brought a taste of a joy that would fill the third period thanks primarily to the contributions of the best player on the team.
“We’re used to jumping up and down when Vladi scores big goals for us,” Scottie Upshall said. “He did it again today on a big stage.”
Vladimir Tarasenko–whose pair of third-period goals drove the city into a frenzy–noted that despite the size of the crowd, it was actually harder than usual to feel their energy during play because of the distance from the stands to the ice at Busch.
But glance up at the waves of blue, and it’d be tough to contend this was just another game. Shattenkirk wasn’t the only one to take time to marvel at the one-of-a-kind sight; Ken Hitchcock felt the magnitude of the moment, too.
“As I told the players, once the puck's dropped, it's 85 x 200 and it's a glassed-in hockey rink; but you can't help but look around,” Hitchcock said. “And it's just almost overwhelming to look around.”
The environment–the spectacle of it all–is part of what make the Winter Classic such a special event. The unique nature of the set-up at Busch gave Hitchcock and his players an unforgettable perspective.
“The feel I got from a baseball standpoint is, I could hear what everybody was saying to us as we were coming on and off the ice,” Hitchcock said. “It would be really interesting if you didn't have a good baseball team here. But it's an amazing atmosphere because the people are right there with you. Hockey, we're muffled. We're muffled because of the glass around the boards, we go down a tunnel, we come out of a tunnel. But, man, the atmosphere when you're walking onto the stage or you're coming off in between periods–it's amazing how engaged the fans are and how supportive they are and how much they want you to do well.
“I think for our players that was a great experience to feel like you were a player of another sport, because it's what happens in football, it's what happens in baseball. It was very unique for me to walk and actually see faces and people are like six feet away from you encouraging you.”
For St. Louis, the Winter Classic was a home run. The fans showed out, filling the streets all morning and the stadium in the afternoon. For an event with so much hype to live up to expectations–especially when the forecast threatens to dampen the festivities–is a testament to people in and around this city who came together and represented it so beautifully.
After the way 2016 began with the NFL uprooting the city’s football team, St. Louis deserved to kick off 2017 with a bang. Thanks to the two beloved sports teams that remain–and the deep-rooted commitment of their fans–our town did exactly that.
Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.