Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Blues to host Blackhawks at 2017 Winter Classic

Rumored matchup came to fruition with NHL announcement prior
to teams' game on the Wednesday Night Rivalry Game of the Week 

ST. LOUIS -- News has been circulating for weeks, the Blues have been clamoring for years, and it was finally confirmed on Wednesday night: St. Louis will host the 2017 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Busch Stadium.

The Blues will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 2, 2017.

The announcement was made prior to puck drop between the Blues and Blackhawks, who played in the Wednesday Night Rivalry Game of the Week on NBCSN, which made the perfect backdrop for the NHL to get attention established for their biggest draw as far as outdoor games are concerned.

The Blues and their ownership group, led by chairman Tom Stillman and CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman, have been lobbying for an outdoor game; it comes in light of the disappointment of St. Louis losing out as hosts of the 2018 World Junior Championship, which was awarded to Buffalo.

It will be the Blues' first taste of outdoor hockey, but for the Blackhawks, it will be their third Winter Classic and fifth outdoor game (they played in the Stadium Series Feb. 21 at the Minnesota Wild and hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field March 1, 2014).

"We are thrilled to be hosting the Winter Classic of 2017 along with the Cardinals at Busch Stadium," Blues chairman Tom Stillman said after making the formal announcement to the sellout crowd of 19,756 at Wednesday's game. "I'd like to start by saying thanks to (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman and the NHL for awarding us this game. I can tell you for a fact that Gary in making this decision had the situation in St. Louis and what's happened in the last few months in mind and truly was thinking about St. Louis and our fan base and the greater area. The Cardinals, Bill DeWitt and their whole ownership group have been great partners to us in this as in everything else. Thank you to them as well."

The 2017 Winter Classic will be the ninth installment, and coincides with the 2016-17 season being the 50th anniversary for the Blues and 100th anniversary for the NHL.

"We've been hoping that now for a few years," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Busch Stadium's an unbelievable ballpark. A lot of baseball fans in here. It's going to be a pretty special place to play. Good climate. Two good teams could go at it. It would be fun to watch."

Six cities were part of the expansion of 1967-68, with St. Louis, Minneapolis, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles part of the expansion that took the NHL to 12 teams along with the Original Six.

Los Angeles was already awarded the 2017 All-Star Game, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will play one another in a Stadium Series game.

Busch Stadium could hold roughly 45,000-50,000 fans for an outdoor hockey game and would cap off a series of events the Blues have implemented to commemorate the franchise's 50th anniversary.

It's an terrific bond to an already close relationship between the Blues and Cardinals, who have a solid relationship and even much more so since Stan Kroenke moved the Rams to Los Angeles. Stillman and Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III dropped the ceremonial first puck together before the Blues hosted the Carolina Hurricanes at Scottrade Center on Jan. 14, the day the Rams announced they were leaving St. Louis.

"Honestly, we thought we were going to get an outdoor game, we thought it was going to be a Stadium Series game," Stillman said. "It changed late in the game and I think a lot of that had to do with Gary's thoughts about St. Louis."

Blues left wing Troy Brouwer, who helped beat the Blackhawks in the 2015 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals and who played with the Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009, said it would be great for St. Louis.

"I've played in two of them and they're a lot of fun," Brouwer said. "It's a big spectacle, there's a lot to the game that may take away from the actual game a little bit with the whole event of it. The NHL and the teams that I've been on have done a phenomenal job promoting the game, making good hype for the game, hype for the cities, then the games themselves are always a lot of fun to play in. You bring your families in, you get to play outdoors. I know players love to do them and it's good to see that hopefully they'll expand to see that every team gets to do an outdoor game.

"If that's what the matchup is going to be, than yeah. Anytime you can add a little more interest to the game, whether it's rivalry games or the best teams in the NHL, it's always going to draw more fans, more notoriety, and sell the game even more.

"Yes, so I have fond memories of the Winter Classic. Even the one I played in Chicago was a lot of fun. We didn't win that game, but they're always a good time. You get to have your family in and my experience last year was a lot of fun."

The Winter Classic is traditionally played on Jan. 1, but that date in 2017 falls on a Sunday and it marks the final regular season Sunday for the NFL.

Toronto, which will hosting the World Cup of Hockey in September and the World Junior Championships in December and January, will have an outdoor game to celebrate their centennial year.

The league announced Wednesday that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings will face off in an outdoor regular-season game at BMO Field in Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017 in the first-ever NHL Centennial Classic.

In 2017, the NHL will conduct a year-long Centennial celebration that will feature a variety of ceremonies, recognitions, observances and special events that will highlight 100 years of NHL hockey and also will recognize a number of milestone anniversaries for member Clubs, including the Maple Leafs.

The 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series will visit Pennsylvania when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Philadelphia Flyers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Feb. 18, 2017. Immediate rivals when they entered the League in 1967-68, the Penguins and Flyers have played 274 times in the regular season, but this will be the first game between the two contested outdoors. 

When the Blues found out, they were elated.

"I can tell you that probably the question I've been asked the most over the past three and a half years has been when are we going to get a Winter Classic, that maybe are we doing to get something else may be No. 1," Stillman said. "It's been something that our fans have been focused on for a long time and wanted to do. Beyond that, I think the whole area, even fans who are marginal St. Louis fans or fans of St. Louis in general, are going to see what a big event this is. It's going to be great for the whole city.

"That was our ideal situation, to get it in our 50th anniversary; that would be perfect. It would have been perfect if Stadium Series turned out to be the big one, but the Winter Classic, it was even better."

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