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NHL Winter Classic

St. Louis wins twice with Winter Classic

Blues defeat Blackhawks, city shines under threat of bad weather

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- For most of a drizzly Monday afternoon, there was not a clear view of the Gateway Arch.

The famous symbol of St. Louis was shrouded in fog, partially in and out of view. But that was about the only thing missing at the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium.

St. Louis won on all accounts -- its Blues against a Central Division rival and against ominous weather forecasts.

The Blues, playing in their first outdoor game, defeated the Blackhawks 4-1, sparked by Vladimir Tarasenko's two goals in the third period.

Then there was another score: St. Louis 1, Doomsday Scenario 0.

It seemed like almost everything but tornado warnings and hail storms were predicted for Monday. There were contingencies for the expected weather interruptions and elaborate just-in-case scenarios, the sort of planning you have to devise for unforeseen events for an outdoor hockey game played in a baseball stadium.

St. Louis made the most of its star turn under the bright lights.

Although it was a wet afternoon, there was no need for any of the Plan B scenarios. There was luck too. Instead of hosting a weather-marred event, the Blues avoided it by about an hour or so. In fact, the hardest rain of the afternoon came about an hour after the last cries of "Let's go Blues" faded away and the crowd of 46,556 departed.

"All things considered, we lucked out with the weather," St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "The ice was a little bumpy and it was a little slow. But really, for us, it was fine. That's something we just adjusted to. We simplified our game, and that's why I think we were so effective out there tonight.

"Especially after all the warnings and what we thought was coming. We were pretty lucky to be able to get that game in."

Mother Nature's window of opportunity stayed open just long enough.

Here, the takeaways were positive and numerous the past three days. The legendary Wayne Gretzky, who played for the Blues in the Winter Classic Alumni Game, said in an interview with KMOX radio that he didn't see an empty seat for that game, noting it was between guys "who can't play anymore."

Blues owner Tom Stillman said afterward in the dressing room that the Winter Classic was another significant advancement for the organization. This followed up a signature moment for youth hockey in the St. Louis area on June 24, when five players from its programs were selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

"I think it's another indication to the rest of the hockey world that we really are a hockey city," Stillman said. "We love our Cardinals. We're a baseball town, but we're also a hockey town. This kind of event (and) the (NHL) draft over the summer, it allows people to see what's going on here."

The game was the showcase, not the weather. And the conditions, in fact, improved after the first period.

Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who set up their first goal, played in an outdoor game with the Calgary Flames when they hosted the Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium on Feb. 20, 2011.

"I played the one in Calgary, which was in a football stadium and not nearly like this," Bouwmeester said. "It was cold that day. Dealing with the different conditions, at the time, you're like, 'This is gonna (stink).'

"It was good. The second period, it cleared up and the ice was a lot better. The game was getting good."

The ice suited the Blues, coach Ken Hitchcock said.

"It's kind of our ice," he said. "A little muddy, a little sandy … it was way better than anybody thought. I think the ice felt heavy, so the shifts were short. That fits us too."

So did Hitchcock's hat.

For the game, he opted for a sharp-looking fedora but gave his players a say in the matter.

"We had a vote in here before the game whether he'd wear it or not," Bouwmeester said. "He just came in here with the hat, yea or nay if you want him to wear it. He wore it."

Hitchcock vetoed an earlier choice.

"The guy suggested a sombrero," he recalled, "and I told the guy, 'I'm round enough as it is.'"

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