MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The St. Louis Blues christened their new practice facility with a lift of the Stanley Cup by Blues CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman on Saturday.
St. Louis owner Tom Stillman, former Blues players Bob Plager and Bruce Affleck, and U.S. sled hockey player and Paralympic gold medalist Josh Pauls were among those on hand to open the Centene Community Ice Center, which also will be home to the Lindenwood University men's and women's hockey programs, St. Louis AAA Blues Hockey, the St. Louis Lady Cyclones and St. Louis Blues Alumni Association.
The $78 million project, funded through a public-private partnership with support from the city of Maryland Heights, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri, the 277,000 square-foot facility will be managed by the St. Louis Legacy Ice Foundation as part of a 30-year agreement with the city of Maryland Heights. Upon completion, it will feature four rinks, three of which are complete; the outdoor rink, which will be able to seat 2,200 spectators, is under construction.
Displaying the Stanley Cup after the first championship in the Blues' 51-season history at the grand opening only added to the festive atmosphere.
"The Stanley Cup, I've watched it at so many different kinds of events this summer," said Zimmerman, who helped spearhead the project. "So many different places, the amount of joy that has brought to the community, to people that are lifelong fans, new fans to not fans, it's pretty universal and very powerful. It's been pretty amazing.
"I've had a bunch of emotional experiences this summer from [winning] the Cup, my daughter got married last weekend, which I'm going to hold right up there obviously, and now this, it's exceptional. We've been at this for, I can actually say I was contacted on Day Two of when I came aboard (five years ago) and to now see what we have and to see how it's going to affect this community, it's fantastic."
The Blues have practiced at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall in nearby Hazelwood since 2003.
With the Blues getting set to defend their Cup title and open training camp Sept. 14, Zimmerman said the timing is great "because we know from all the great viewership, the (championship) parade and the demand for tickets, hockey, which has been strong, is ready to move forward to that next level."
Events on Saturday included public skating; a chance for fans to take pictures with the Stanley Cup; a Blues sled hockey game, blind hockey game and special hockey game; a police/fire hockey game; and a Lindenwood hockey game. There was also a celebrity/coach game featuring Blues alumni Barret Jackman, Cam Janssen and Rick Zombo (who coaches the Lindenwood men's team), Stillman, NHL alumni Joe Vitale and Jeff LoVecchio, Zimmerman, former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Kerry Robinson and U.S. women's hockey Olympic medalists Nicole Hensley and Shelley Looney. Hensley is a Lindenwood women's hockey alumna, and Looney is the Lindenwood women's coach.