ST. LOUIS -- As St. Louis Blues forward Paul Stastny made his way into Busch Stadium, through the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse, out through the dugout and onto the baseball field where he saw a brand-new ice sheet, it hit him.
The city where he grew up, the one he decided to come back to when he signed with St. Louis as a free agent two years ago, will be the center of the hockey universe Monday when the Blues play the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).
"I'm getting nervous a little bit, but excitement," Stastny said Thursday. "Like butterflies in your stomach, just kind of thinking what it's going to be like in a couple of days. Just to see the work that's been done, especially walking out of the dugout right away, you see how cool the experience is, how awesome it looks.
"For me it's extra special, just growing up here and having a lot of family and friends, having my dad (Peter Stastny) play in the alumni game is really cool for me and for us to be able to watch that."
Video: 2017 Winter Classic Busch Stadium Time-lapse
Paul was born in Quebec City when his father played for the Quebec Nordiques. But Paul's formative years were spent in St. Louis, where his father played the final two seasons of his Hockey Hall of Fame career, and to see how far this city has come as a hockey market brings out an extra sense of pride for him.
"I think once they started doing the Winter Classics [nine] years ago … it was always something you dreamed about maybe, if you're lucky, you'll play an outdoor game one time in your career," Stastny, 31, said. "But to be able to host one in your hometown with your family and friends here, it's a big deal. I think we're having fun with it. It's another game for us once it happens, but leading up to it with the alumni game, the practice with the family, I think we're going to enjoy the moment and embrace the whole weekend."
The Blues enter the Winter Classic needing to gain ground on the Central Division-leading Blackhawks, and that fact is not lost on the players amid the setup for the game.
"For us and for myself to be able to be a part of it, it's more of an honor than anything," Blues goaltender Jake Allen said. "But it's going to bring a lot of excitement to our city. I know everyone's pretty pumped up about it.
"It's pretty crazy to be able to play in this environment with what's going on, and you have to enjoy it. But we're there for two points against a team that's ahead of us in the standings. It's a big game."