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NHL Winter Classic

Blues thrilled Winter Classic is finally here

After months of anticipation, St. Louis ready to host outdoor game against Blackhawks

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- When the NHL announced in March that the St. Louis Blues would host the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium, the event seemed so far away.

It's been a long wait for the Blues, but the game will take place Monday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, SN, NHL.TV). After practicing and skating with their families on the outdoor rink Sunday, they're ready for the puck to be dropped.

"It seems like when they announced it was like 15 years ago," Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. "Then, time goes so quick. I still can't believe the game is [Monday]."

This will be the Blackhawks' fourth season in a row playing outside and their fifth outdoor game beginning with the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago, so this is old hat for them. But the Blues have never been involved in an outdoor game before.

They have two players who have previously played in outdoor NHL games; one is defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who was with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2014 Stadium Series game against the Blackhawks at Soldier Field in Chicago. But Bortuzzo won't play Monday because of a lower-body injury.

That leaves defenseman Jay Bouwmeester as the lone player on the Blues roster who will be in uniform who has experienced this before. Bouwmeester, 33, was with the Calgary Flames when they hosted the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011 Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium.

"The whole experience is cool," Bouwmeester said. "Even through the course of the year, you play 82 games and it's a long year. Sometimes in January and February, it seems like it's just kind of a never-ending routine. When you throw something like this in there, it's cool because it's something (special).

"Chicago has played a lot of them, but there's a handful of teams that seem to play in most of them. Most guys in here haven't, so it's a new experience. It's something I think you really just have to enjoy it."

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, 26, has been hoping for an outdoor game in St. Louis for much of his nine seasons in the Blues organization. Busch Stadium, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals with the iconic Gateway Arch visible beyond centerfield, seemed to be the perfect venue.

"We've wanted one here for years mostly because this ballpark is iconic," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously, it's a fantastic facility. When you watch a baseball game here, it's absolutely fantastic. So we knew it would be a good spot for it and just coming here for the alumni game [Saturday], we knew exactly that it was and they did a great job [with practice and the family skate on Sunday]."

Busch Stadium was filled with 40,128 fans for the 2017 Winter Classic Alumni Game on Saturday, demonstrating how excited St. Louis is about the entire weekend.

"This event will just show you how beautiful this complex is and how supportive [the city is]," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "From a hockey purest standpoint just being involved in the game for so long, I think the crowd [Saturday] shocked the (hockey) world. I don't think people expected that many people to come to the event.

"The hockey world, the hockey community, the people that are ingrained in it on a daily basis in the working part of it were just shocked by how big the fan base was here [Saturday] and how vibrant it was."

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