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NHL Winter Classic

Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Adam Oates on Alumni line

Hall of Famers give Blues fans thrill at Busch Stadium

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- A line combination of Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky and Adam Oates playing in their prime would be lethal to opposing teams.

On Saturday, at the 2017 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, the line, now a bit past its collective prime, got one last ride together.

It may not have been like the days when they combined for 5,668 points in their NHL careers, but it was a reminder of their greatness.

The Blues defeated the Blackhawks 8-7 at Busch Stadium, and though Gretzky scored the only point among the three, with an assist on a Bernie Federko goal, it was quite a treat for the 40,128 fans to see Hall of Fame players on the same line likely one final time.

"It sounded great; it didn't look great, but it sounded great," said Oates, 54, who had 341 goals and 1,079 assists in 1,337 NHL games. "A lot of fun. That's what it's all about, right? A lot of fun.

"To be able to do it in that venue with that many people, just a great thing. It shows what a great hockey town it is. To be a part of it, all the guys loved it. It was a tremendous amount of fun."

Hull, who had 741 goals and 650 assists in 1,269 NHL games, said times have changed but he was grateful for the opportunity to play again.

"You think you're OK, and you're out and skating with the guys and you feel good, and then you get out there and it was just ... every stride was agony," Hull, 52, said. "It was so fun to be with them, and to be out there with the rest of the guys. Not only from the era from when you played with, but the future eras when you were gone and the ones before you. The part was being in the locker room, chit-chatting and having fun. We get older, the bodies change."

Gretzky, who originally wasn't sure if he was going to play but was convinced by alumni friends that fans wanted to see him in a Blues jersey one more time, was more than happy to join the atmosphere that reminded him of growing up in Brantford, Ontario.

Gretzky, who met St. Louis Cardinals great Ozzie Smith on Friday, owns a home in the St. Louis area, where his wife Janet Jones is from, and couldn't resist playing in this venue.

"I'd say most of the guys who played today kind of grew up in that sort of era where we grew up around outdoor rinks," said Gretzky, 55, who holds the NHL record for goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857) in 1,487 games. "Guys like Adam Oates and Brett Hull and myself, [Keith] Tkachuk, that's how we started playing the game of hockey. We weren't thrown into beautiful, warm and artificial ice arenas when we were kids. We were thrown out to 30-below zero and wearing a toque and wearing a scarf and freezing and our hands numb and our feet numb when we came in. But that's what made it so wonderful, and that's what makes the game great. Each and every person to a T was the exact same way. We all loved it."

Current Blues watched the game, and Kevin Shattenkirk said there's no possible way to defend that combination of Gretzky, Hull and Oates in their prime.

"I'm lucky because [Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester] would probably have to go out against them all game, or whatever combination we have," Shattenkirk said. "I'm not sure you could. ... Especially if [Oates] has the puck, you're probably guessing 15 different ways that he's going to pass it through you and which guy he's going to give it to. Instead of like three weapons, it's like six or seven.

"Maybe they're not quite the way we saw them before, but it just looked like everyone was having a blast, and I think, for us, watching it from the stands, that's what it's all about. That's what matters right now, to take these events in and enjoy them and realize this could be the last time you play in something like this and you have to cherish it."

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