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NHL Winter Classic

Wayne Gretzky at home in St. Louis

A Blues player briefly, Great One appreciates 'fun' of Alumni Game setting

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

ST. LOUIS -- Wayne Gretzky's time here as a player was short, but his impact was great.

Gretzky played 18 of his 1,487 NHL games for the St. Louis Blues and scored 21 of his 2,857 NHL points in those 18 games.

He was traded to St. Louis from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 27, 1996. On July 21, he signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent.

On the surface, it would appear to be an insignificant speck in an otherwise legendary career. But there is no denying the impact he had in his short tenure.

That was evident Saturday at Busch Stadium when Gretzky pulled on a Blues uniform one more time to play in the 2017 Winter Classic Alumni Game, won by St. Louis 8-7 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

In a stadium where fans normally are decked out in baseball Cardinals red, the crowd of 40,198 turned Busch Stadium into a sea of blue.

Video: WC Alumni: Gretzky on time with Blues, Hull

Walking through the concourse there were many Blues jerseys with HULL and 16 on the back, but there were many with GRETZKY and 99 as well, definitely a disproportionate amount considering the length of his stay.

Gretzky had an impact here, and his presence Saturday only helped it to grow.

"The team and the sport and the game itself in St. Louis is probably as strong now as it's ever been," Gretzky said. "And that's a real positive."

The 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Blues and Blackhawks on Monday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports) is the ultimate sign of the strength of this city as a hockey market, and there is a certain sense of pride Gretzky feels in that.

He comes to St. Louis regularly; his wife Janet Jones is from the suburb of Bridgeton, Missouri. Watching what is happening here this weekend holds a special significance for him.

"For this event, [alumni] players that came in from out of town [who] live in other cities, to be here and to be part of it and get a chance to spend time together and just talk about hockey and talk about families and kids and the game itself, you know, it's just fun," Gretzky said. "And it's such a great rivalry between the Hawks and the Blues that it's only fitting that they square off in this game in St. Louis. And I don't think there's a better opponent for the Blues, and for the fans, than the Blackhawks. So I anticipate the game to be pretty spirited, pretty solid, good hockey game. And I think the fans will really enjoy it come the big game."

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