Perception is a fickle thing. Whether it’s with a team’s season or a city’s label.
One of the biggest misconceptions about St. Louis is that it’s a baseball town. Fuck you very much Stan Kroenke and your still very shitty Rams. Take it from a man who was born in St. Louis, grew up in St. Louis, and has lived over 95% of his life in St. Louis. This city is in my DNA folks and I’m here to verify that it’s a great SPORTS town. It’s a great hockey town.
Unlike their opponent in the Winter Classic, the Chicago Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues haven’t won a Stanley Cup in their 50 years of existence. They haven’t gotten there, yet their representation around the city hasn’t let up. Their fans have shown up. The Scottrade Center is stuffed full most nights. The tailgating on Clark and 14th is electric every night. The biggest facet-the energy-is always current.
Take the Alumni game on Saturday for example. There were 40,000 souls packed into Busch Stadium for a game between old timers tasting glory one last time. The energy was rocking. The blue outnumbered the red. There were four year old kids and 60 year old kids, wide eyed and invested, that couldn’t get enough. It was surreal. As James Earl Jones once said, “it was as if you dipped your toes in magic waters” for an afternoon.
Here’s the thing. St. Louis loves their hockey. The Blues and Cardinals have worked together and that partnership has culminated in this Winter Classic. Something that is going to raise 18.5 million in local revenue. The Classic will bring together two teams that have met 12 times in the Stanley Cup playoffs and created the ferocity on the ice for decades.
The Blues are building a youth hockey facility in 2017 that is going to create another interstate between the young hockey talent in the city and the NHL players that populate the Scottrade 81 games a year. In order to be a great hockey town, the organization must give back and build from within. The roots that Blues owner Tom Stillman and his group have built in St. Louis is strengthening the bond between the fanbase and their city.
The St. Louis Game Time leader and publishing champion, Brad Lee, recently took his son to a Blues kids camp that turned the kids head on playing the game. It’s those kinds of things that make the Blues a special franchise and one that continues to ingrain itself in this community. St. Louis hasn’t lost a blip of speed without the Rams.
Now let’s talk about the team that will took the ice on January 2nd. December wasn’t kind to the Blues. They went 6-8, but the record doesn’t show the ugliness that has attached itself to those games. They blew a lot of leads and resisted momentum.
The Nashville Predators scored six straight on the Blues two weeks ago. They shut out the Blues Friday night. The Preds are the last team in the Central division. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored five straight on the Blues last week. The Blues blew a 2-0 lead over the Blackhawks that will oppose them Monday. In December, at home or on the road, the Blues haven’t been able to find traction this season. They haven’t hit a wall yet, but they’ve been tripped up constantly.
Let’s stop comparing this year’s team to last year’s team. They are a different bunch in the vein of the roster and general identity. At this time last year, the Blues were 23-17, if you cut out the lame overtime loss column. As 2016 closed its doors, the record stood at 19-18.
Here’s the good and bad of it in one statement. 2016 is over. 2017 is only beginning. That doesn’t exactly bode well for the team. Before their impressive win Monday over the Blackhawks, the Blues had dropped from 4th in the Western Conference. Can they catch the red hot Minnesota Wild? It’s not likely. 2016-17 is going to be a climb, but it was designed that way. Without a lot of upgrades in the offseason, what did you expect ladies and gents?
Have a drink and remember this. The St. Louis Blues aren’t a lock to make the playoffs this year, but they remain an entertaining group of hockey players. Every game is an opportunity to see Vladimir Tarasenko work. They have been great at home. Colton Parayko, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Alex Pietrangelo anchor a defensive group that ranks 4th in the penalty kill and 8th in the power play. If you keep your special teams on track, a winning streak can’t be far behind. Just don’t expect a comeback just yet.
No matter what, the Blues fans show up. Saturday’s Alumni game was proof. The Classic will be further proof. Long time Blues fan Chris McHugh said it best from section 232 at Busch Stadium on Saturday. “Seeing the sea of blue in Busch Stadium just reaffirmed that St. Louis is a SPORTS town. Not a baseball town, not a hockey town, it is just a great sports town.”
Monday, they packed 45, 556 souls into Busch and over 95 percent were Blues faithful. The Note smacked the Hawks around 4-1, and Tarasenko dazzled with his coffin shutting third period heroics. Jake Allen was a stalwart in net, Robby Fabbri was a matchmaker, and the defense punched the Hawks’ best in their mouth early and often. Monday was everything the 2016-18 Blues could be, but the fanbase was the true star of the game. They showed up and made their city shine. A true sports town.
Buy more bourbon and enjoy a once in a lifetime event. Let it breathe this week before the schedule resumes Thursday. Don’t worry about an uneven roster and an unpredictable season for a few days. Enjoy St. Louis being put on a national stage as a premium sports town.
It feels pretty good.