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Thousands Turn Out for Annual Rink Tour

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
Justin Brinkmeyer sits in his office and waits patiently for his phone to ring.

Just a few feet away, youth hockey teams compete day in and day out on the ice rink he manages. The sound of hockey fills his ears constantly; pucks bouncing off boards, fans cheering, referee's whistles blowing. His phone rings, of course, but it's never the call he's hoping for.

Two years of Blues Rink Tours have passed. Brinkmeyer has had heard stories of Blues players visiting rinks in Wentzville, Kirkwood, Chesterfield and Alton to name a few, but the small town of Granite City, IL has always been overlooked. He secretly hopes for a day when the players will visit his rink, a day when fans will line up outside the doors and wrap around the building to meet them.

And then in January, he finally gets the news he's been waiting for: Granite City has been chosen to be a stop on the Blues’ 2009 Rink Tour.

“We certainly were (jealous of the other rinks),” Brinkmeyer said Sunday as fans lined up for hours to meet Patrik Berglund, Jay McClement and Roman Polak. “This is the first time we’ve had the Blues (here) and been a part of this. We were really excited when we were able to be part of it. This is just awesome.”

Brinkmeyer has managed the Granite City Ice Rink for three years and doesn’t remember many days when his rink was so popular.

Roman Polak, Jay McClement and Patrik Berglund pose with a young fan at the Granite City Ice Rink on Sunday at the 2009 Blues Rink Tours. (Photo by Rich Takmajian).

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“With the players coming out, it gives the rink a lot more exposure,” he said. “We’re excited about that and hopefully it brings more people out and makes them more aware of the facility we have here in town.”

Stories like these are not limited to Granite City. Blues players visited 10 different ice rinks in the St. Louis area on Sunday. From East Alton to Affton and from Kirkwood to Wentzville, players met thousands of fans and signed plenty of autographs. At some locations, they even laced up the skates to practice with youth hockey organizations.

McClement, who said he rarely travels to Illinois, was shocked to see such a big turnout in a town of less than 35,000.

“I think this is great every year, especially coming over to Illinois,” McClement said. “You kind of realize how far our fan base stretches and how far people travel to come watch us every night. It’s neat to see.”

Chris Hinterser, who coaches the Twin Bridges Ladies Lightning team, said having Blues players in the community helps to build interest in youth hockey.

“This is great. You see a lot of people here. It’s going to help the Blues and it’s going to help all the (hockey) organizations in the St. Louis area,” Hinterser said. “That’s what is great about the St. Louis Blues. They’ve always been a part of the community, and in turn, the hockey fans love to give back. We go support the Blues, and they come out here and support youth hockey.”

For McClement, it’s an opportunity too good to pass up.

“It’s always good to make a kid's day a little better and put a smile on their faces,” he said. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for them to see us around.”

And in Granite City and nine other towns with ice hockey rinks, they couldn’t be happier.

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