By Patrick Kelly
St. Louis Blues fans have had a lot of fond memories to look back on over the last few years. From winning a Winter Classic in the third period against their long-time foes to finally hoisting the hardest trophy to win in sports, Lord Stanley’s Cup. Blues fans now have another great memory that will stay with them for a lifetime.
The spectacle started Thursday night for in the Blues alumni vs. NHL alumni game at Centene Community Ice Center. Fans were given a great showing with virtually every great former Blues players in attendance. Not skating but in present were Wayne Gretzky, Curtis Joseph, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, and, of course, Bob Plager to name a few. The stars on the ice were just as great with most Blues fans now being able to utter the phrase “I got to see Red Berenson play in person.”
Berenson was a pivotal part of the Blues’ success in their first three years, being named the division’s best player by his own peers for all those years by The Sporting News. Other Blues legends many fans got to see for the first time were Garry Unger and Larry Patey who put on quite a show for those in attendance. One highlight of the night was seeing tough guy Cam Janssen drop the gloves with former NHLer and current co-host of the podcast Spittin’ Chiclets, Paul Bissonnette.
Despite Janssen being 0-5 against Bissonnette, all of which happened in junior hockey, Janssen was able to handle Bissonnette with no problem and raise his fists in the air in victory as he skated back to the bench. The Blues alumni were able to edge out the NHL alumni 10-6 in a very competitive game that saw a lot of action including a lot of the old vets of the 1970s and 1980s showing they still have a lot left in the tank.
Friday night was when the stars of today were able to step on the ice and give fans around the world a unique and exciting night filled with lots of surprises. Gretzky opened the night’s festivities with a quick speech to get the crowd going. The main stories of the night for Blues fans were Jordan Binnington going perfect in the Save Streak contest as well as the Blues greats that were able to share the moment with their fellow athletes. The highlight from the Blues alumni was MacInnis; a man that was revered around the league for having a deadly slap shot that helped him capture seven Hardest Shot contests. MacInnis set the bar high for the current NHLers, clocking in at 100.4 with a wooden stick that is over 15 years old.
At the center of attention throughout the entire night was not only the four Blues players participating but both Matthew and Brady Tkachuk. Both these men have been running around that arena since they were toddlers, but Friday night they were front and center in front of a crowd they have cheered with their whole life. Matthew was also able to win over the crowd even more during the Shooting Stars competition when he ditched his Calgary Flames jersey in favor of a Yadier Molina Jersey from the Blues’ Cardinals night. Every fan left Friday night with lots of different memories from the classic events that everyone has been watching since they were kids all the way to the Elite Women’s 3-on-3 game between the United States and Canada where some of the best women players in the world put on a exciting show for fans that left them only wanting more.
Saturday night was the main event of the weekend with all four divisions competing for $1 million. Before the games got underway, the players from all four teams were introduced with the Blues having one more trick up their sleeve before play started. Before the Blues’ players were announced, Laila Anderson was brought out in front of the bench to introduce all four Blues All-Stars: Ryan O’Reilly (who gave Laila a big hug), Binnington, David Perron, and captain Alex Pietrangelo. Although the Central Division was eliminated in their first game by the eventual winners, the Pacific Division, the four Blues in attendance were able to put on a show for the fans, all starting and playing the game on the same line. Perron was the only Blues player able to score a goal which was the second in the Central’s eventual 10-5 loss.
Even though the Blues players were done for the night, the city of St. Louis still had a lot on the line with the Tkachuk brothers facing off against each other for their share of that $1 million. The final game had great back and forth action with the intensity of the game only picking up as it went on. The eventual MVP of the night, Boston Bruin David Pastrnak, put on a show in front of the crowd that stole the ring off his finger just over seven months ago. Matthew Tkachuk continued to thrill the hometown crowd while seeming hell bent on scoring a goal from between his legs. Even though Matthew wasn’t able to dazzle the crowd with that, he was still able to net two goals and pick up four helpers in his team’s eventual 5-4 win. The difference for all teams throughout the night seemed to be the goaltending. Both teams got to the final game in big part because of their goalie tandems. The Atlantic Division probably had the strongest duo with Fredrik Anderson and Andre Vasilevskiy providing a brick wall for their team that only broke thanks to the incredible efforts of Tomas Hertl, Matthew Tkachuk and Leon Draisaitl.
After a weekend of the NHL’s best on and off the ice descending on St. Louis, they were once again reminded why this is the heartland of hockey. On top of all the greats that have stuck around in the city, their passion for the game has created the great St. Louis native talents on display this past weekend. The talent that comes out of St. Louis will only continue to grow in the coming decades as according to USA hockey with a tweet from Jeremy Rutherford of the Athletic, “the amount of boys and girls signing up for 8-and-under youth programs has increased 30% since the Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup. St. Louis is on the map as a hotbed of hockey and this is just the beginning of this city becoming an even bigger hockey town.”