Former Blues greats overwhelmed by setting, support from packed house
ST. LOUIS -- Once in their careers, players for the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks were fierce competitors on the ice and had some incredibly tense matchups as a heated rivalry.
Now that those players are past their prime, there was still some competitive juices flowing at the 2017 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game Saturday at Busch Stadium.
The Blues took the entertaining contest 8-7 in front of a packed house of 40,128, and the fans saw a good appetizer for what should be an entertaining game on Monday between the Blues and Blackhawks at the 2017 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic (noon; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues defenseman Jeff Brown (right) moves the puck up ice past former
Blue and Blackhawk alumni Jamal Mayers (left) on Saturday.
Pierre Turgeon scored twice and assisted on another, and Kelly Chase had a goal and an assist in the Blues' win to lead the way.
And although this was to a certain extent about winning over some bragging rights perhaps, the alumni for both franchises, particularly the Blues since this was their first-ever time playing in an outdoor event, set quite the precursor for what's to come on Monday.
"It was great to play in front of that crowd," said Turgeon, who skated for the Blues from 1996-2001. "It was sold out. ... It was fun on both sides. It could have gone either way. I think the fans really enjoyed it. It was my first time and when I got the call, I said, 'Yeah, I'm going for sure.'"
Blues Hall of Famer Bernie Federko, drafted by the Blues in with the seventh pick in 1976 and played for the franchise from 1976-89, said it was more than he could have imagined; he scored a goal on Saturday.
"It blew me away," the 60-year-old Federko said. "First to be able to walk out there, we walked out there before there was anybody in the stands, but just what they've done with the rink, the infield looks like snow and they make it look so real. The day we had too was absolutely spectacular. It's hard to put into words because it's so surreal and you're saying, 'Wow, I'm going to get a chance to play in this game and when we started the game, you looked in the stands, you've got 45,000 people, every seat is full and you go, 'We're old guys and we're getting all this excitement,' and for these people to come down and watch us, it's very, very special for us.
"It was more than what I would have expected because I knew from talking to the other guys how special it was, but you can't really put it into words because it's a feeling of being out there again in the hockey world. I don't know how many players will ever get the opportunity to do this, especially older guys like we are. I don't know if I'll ever play hockey again. From year to year, I don't know if I'll ever play again. For younger guys in the NHL now, yeah they might get another opportunity, but how many times does somebody get a chance to host a Winter Classic. This is our first one and it may be another 20 years or who knows, maybe never. This is something that you really dream about geting a chance to do and I was able to be a part of it. I'm forever grateful that I got the opportunity."
Added defenseman Jamie Rivers, also drafted by the Blues in the third round in 1993, played for them 1995-99 and 2006-07 and had three assists Saturday: "That was amazing. It was such an honor to play in St. Louis, period, and to be with all these guys throughout my career and then to come out and play in this event, the setting, to be back with all these guys, it was surreal. For me, on a little bit more of a serious note, my career was cut short with an injury, so I didn't get to play my last game, and so for me, this was my chance to play my last game. It's not a real game, but still, for a lot of guys in this room, it meant a lot to play that game and win it. I'm real happy about the whole thing.
"It was crazy. It's so surreal because when you're walking out, I said something to someone earlier, 'Not that we're rock stars, but you have this one stage in the middle surrounded by people,' and as you walk out, you try and kind of take it all in, but at the same time, you're trying to be serious because you've got to go out and skate. So it was really kind of weird at first because you're so jacked up and you're trying to observe all this different stuff, but at the same time, forced to skate and make passes when you get warmed up. It was awesome. Seriously. What a fantastic game."
From Brett Hull to Adam Oates and Wayne Gretzky, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, Barret Jackman, Mike Liut, Peter Stastny, and many other greats, it was an event to remember.
"It was fantastic," Hull, who the Blues traded for in 1988 and played in St. Louis and changed the landscape of hockey in his 10-plus seasons and goes down as one of the greatest Blues of all time, said. "I kind of went on the Ken Hitchcock plan and I didn't want to come in, I didn't want to know what looked like, I didn't want to see it. I wanted to walk up the stairs and really get a surprise and it was bigger and better and more exciting than I could come close to imagining. It just shows you what great sports fans the St. Louis area has.
"I think (the fans) saw, even as slow and as old as we were, it was still exciting and they could feel the Blackhawks-Blues game coming and it's a real game."
The 60-year-old Peter Stastny, who's son Paul will represent the Blues Monday at the Winter Classic, played for the Blues for 23 games over two seasons (1993-95) but is a huge part of a close-knit alumni in St. Louis, was impressed; he also scored Saturday.
"Immensely special," Stastny said. "I was very excited, calm but excited. I think this way because I never played anything like that; I had nothing to relate to. I watched it on television, but it was shockingly kind of positive. Even on television when you see alumni, spots of people because they are selling like double tickets and people don't show up. It was a great contest. With me, it was being used to 15-20,000 people, but this was different. It was outdoor, it beings you back to your youth years and I love it. As a kid, you were freezing, mom calling you, I wouldn't respond, I wouldn't go, I would stay and it was nice. But this was great. It was beautiful. People see plenty of goals, it was intense contest. Better than 2-1."
Goalie Chris Mason, who played two seasons in St. Louis (2008-10) and played the second period Saturday, was equally overwhelmed.
"It was one of the highlights of my hockey career by far," Mason said. "When you play in the NHL and you play at that high level, it's obviously a dream come true and you're doing something right, but you don't get the opportunity to really enjoy it and just be in the moment because it's a high-pressure job and you've got to perform and you've got to have that laser focus. When you're playing the game, sometimes you forget where you actually are, but for me to coming here, I knew for me with the guys in this locker room that I was going to enjoy every single second of it. I'm so fortunate to have the opportunity to be here and this is one of the best things I've ever done.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues alumni forward Keith Tkachuk scored in the Blues' 8-7 win
against the Blackhawks alumni on Saturday at Busch Stadium.
"It felt like when you're a kid and you're on the outdoor rink. When I played my period, I just looked around and just soaked it all in. I just couldn't believe ... it felt like when I got put in my first NHL game. You live your whole life dreaming to play in the NHL and it's a real feeling to be out there and it almost felt like a dream, and that's kind of what that felt like for me. ... St. Louis really deserved this. I'll never forget that run we went on and the support we had from the fans here. And even going to Cardinal games, I was blown away by the way this city gets behind their teams because they picked us up and they were a big reason why we had that great run that one year. We were a bunch of misfits, but every single night, Scottrade Center was electric and they picked the players up. I've never been in a sports town as good as St. Louis."
For the record, other Blues goal scorers included Larry Patey, Jackman and Keith Tkachuk. Tkachuk wore Pavol Demitra's No. 38 in the second period, then dabbed at the request of his daughter after he scored to dedicate the honor of his close friend and capped off a perfect day.
"It's my first one, so coming out there for the first time and seeing the people is different," Oates said. "We're used to our buildings. To see that was incredible."