ST. LOUIS -- Like many of his teammates, St. Louis Blues forward Paul Stastny has spent a fair amount of time during the summer watching St. Louis Cardinals games at Busch Stadium.
The baseball stadium usually is filled by a sea of red-wearing fans known as "Cardinal Nation." But on Jan. 2, 2017, the Blues will look to have it "Bleed Blue."
When the NHL announced Wednesday that the Blues will host the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, it was a fitting conclusion for chairman Tom Stillman and his ownership group to bring a big event to the Gateway City.
The Blues will celebrate their 50th anniversary next season and the League will be celebrating its centennial.
"We are thrilled to be hosting the Winter Classic of 2017 along with the Cardinals at Busch Stadium," Stillman said. "I'd like to start by saying thanks to [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman and the NHL for awarding us this game.
"That was our ideal situation, to get it in our 50th anniversary; that would be perfect. It would have been perfect if the [Coors Light] Stadium Series turned out to be the big one, but the Winter Classic, it was even better."
St. Louis lost the Rams to Los Angeles in January, and it was Stillman and Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt III who responded on Jan. 14 when the Blues hosted the Carolina Hurricanes. The owners dropped the ceremonial first puck that night to show solidarity among St. Louis' remaining major professional sports team. Stillman said he feels Bettman was moved by the display.
"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," Stillman said. "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.
"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? Are we going to get something else?' may be No. 1. 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."
It will be the Blues' first outdoor game.
"I think it's awesome," said Stastny, who grew up in St. Louis while his father Peter Stastny finished his NHL career with the Blues in 1995. "I think it's something this town is deserving of. Hockey has grown so much here in the last 20 to 25 years. It's still growing. What a venue that is too, just the way it's set up with the Arch in the background, the whole city.
"It's one of those games that, whether you watch hockey or not, every time there's a Winter Classic or Stadium Series, you tend to be glued to the TV and see how cool it is or how unique of a concept it is. ... It's one of those things on your bucket list as you're playing in your career that you want to kind of check off. To be a part of it is going to be a unique experience. ... It's such a baseball town and that stadium is so beautiful. Someone tweeted a picture a week ago what it would look like potentially and it looked pretty cool."
Two players on the Blues roster have played in an outdoor game. Right wing Troy Brouwer scored the game-winning goal for the Washington Capitals against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park in Washington and played for the Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings at the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo played for the Pittsburgh Penguins who lost to the Blackhawks in a 2014 Stadium Series game at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"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."