This Saturday, the best players the NHL has to offer will be taking the ice at the Enterprise Center in Downtown St. Louis in the 2020 NHL All-Star Game. It is the third time the city of St. Louis has hosted the NHL All-Star Game, as they hosted it in 1970 as well as 1988. The St. Louis Blues will have five total representatives involved in the game which are Central Division Head Coach Craig Berube and players Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Jordan Binnington. It is only the second time the Blues will have four players represented in the All-Star Game, as the only other occurrence happened in the 1999-2000 season. Not only is the All-Star Game alone a fantastic occurrence for the city to host, but it marks perhaps the end of an incredible just over three-year stretch for the game of hockey in St. Louis.
The beginning of this stretch goes back to January 2, 2017. The Blues hosted the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium in the 9th annual NHL Winter Classic where the Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-2 thanks in part to two third period goals from superstar sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. The Winter Classic was of course a hit, as it was a sellout, with the attendance being 46, 556. The Blues/Blackhawks Alumni Game and Winter Classic Game over the two-day span in January of 2017 cultivated the city and is still a wonderful memory to look back on for both players and fans.
Fast forward to the 2018-19 season, the season in which the Blues would make history. The team started off the first half of the season poorly, finding themselves in last place in the league once 2019 came and had fired their coach back in November. But behind outstanding play from a relatively unknown AHL goalie call-up and some newfound team chemistry under Craig Berube, the Blues would storm back, clinching a playoff spot at the end of March. Then in the first round, the Blues faced off against the Winnipeg Jets, a team they only beat once in four meetings during the regular season. But behind game winning goals in the first two games from Tyler Bozak and Ryan O’Reilly and then some late series antics from Jaden Schwartz, the Blues would defeat the Jets in six games to move on.
The Blues were then matched up against the rival Dallas Stars. The teams would trade wins through the first four games but after Dallas stole Game 5 in St. Louis on the back of Ben Bishop to take a 3-2 series lead, the Blues were on the brink of elimination for the first time during this playoff run and would have to go to Dallas from Game 6. But Jordan Binnington would stop 22/23 Dallas shots and hometown favorite David Perron would score the game winner as the Blues won 4-1 to force a Game 7 at Enterprise Center. Game 7 of course would go to double overtime where hometown hero Pat Maroon would bury the biggest goal in St. Louis Blues history to push them into the Western Conference Final.
The Blues met with the San Jose Sharks in the WCF, the same team who had eliminated the Blues in the 2016 WCF in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The Blues would find themselves down 2-1 in the series after losing Game 3 on the infamous Timo Meier handpass to Erik Karlsson goal. But the adversity would only raise the Blues play, as they would outscore the Sharks 12=2 over the final three games of the series to win the series four games to two and became Western Conference Champions for the first time since 1970.
Of course, waiting for them in the Final were the Boston Bruins, the same team who had beaten the Blues in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final. Through the first four games, the Blues and Bruins both were able to snag one win on the road and at home to nod the series at two. The Blues then took Game 5 in Boston on the strength of a late David Perron goal which sent the Blues back to St. Louis with a chance to raise the Stanley Cup in front of their own fans. But Tuukka Rask would stand on his head, stopping 28 of 29 along with some (literal) bad bounces going against the Blues as the Bruins won Game 6 5-1 to send the series to a decisive Game 7 in Boston.
For Game 7, Blues fans would sellout the Enterprise Center solely to watch the game on the jumbotron. Tens of thousands of other Blues fans packed into Busch Stadium as well to watch the game on the outfield monitor in the pouring rain. But that Game 7 in Boston would become what all Blues fans had hoped for since their debut in 1967. The Blues took a 2-0 lead into the first and second intermission, then ultimately went up 4-0 with just under five minutes to play in the game. The Bruins would score a late goal, but the Blues would win 4-1, winning their first Stanley Cup on June 12, 2019. Ryan O’Reilly took home Conn Smythe honors as the Most Valuable Player during the Playoffs and the celebration was on back in St. Louis.
In the days immediately following their Cup win, the Blues players partied with fans at various downtown bars leading up to the parade and rally day on June 15th. On that rainy and later humid day, Blues players, coaches, alumni, and the like packed in floats headed down Market Street leading to the grounds of the Gateway Arch to where an estimated half million fans attended to celebrate the team’s milestone. In the days following, the Blues players would start their summer with the Cup as each player had their day with the best trophy in sports.
So, hosting a Winter Classic and winning the Stanley Cup and the ensuing parade in a two-and-a-half-year span already makes this list great, but what else was to come for the Blues and hockey in St. Louis was far from over. Over the summer of 2019, construction was completed on a brand-new 277,000 square foot state of the art hockey facility, the Centene Community Ice Center, which is now the official practice facility of the St. Louis Blues. The arena has become a hockey hub for St. Louis, and hosts the Blues, Blues Alumni events, colleges, and local youth hockey teams among many others.
Also slipping under the crack in major events for St. Louis hockey is the major renovations done to Enterprise Center over the last couple seasons. The old purple and blue seats, which were incredibly uncomfortable, were all replaced with brand new black seats, all which are way more comfortable. The jumbotron got replaced which was a major upgrade because the old, small jumbotron was becoming an eyesore and was one of the smallest in the league. But all the renovations that took place have made games much more enjoyable for fans as well.
And now, this weekend St. Louis is hosting the NHL All-Star Game for the first time in 32 years. The likes of superstars in Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Jack Eichel, etc. will participate in the skills competition and All-Star Game over the two-day event. Fans of course are able to purchase tickets for the FanFair at Union Station in what should be an incredible weekend for Blues fans and NHL fans overall.
So, to recap, the city of St. Louis and its hockey team will have done the following over the last 1,113-days (3 years, 18 days): hosted the NHL Winter Classic, won the Stanley Cup and hosted a downtown parade/rally, had their arena renovated severely, built a brand new state of the art hockey facility, and hosted an NHL All-Star Game. The current team is also in first place with solid pieces yet to rejoin the team due to injury so depending on how this spring goes, this incredible run could very well continue but I am not one to say something and jinx it. But as far as community success goes for a professional sports franchise, the Blues must be at or near the top of that list over the last three years. This city, Tom Stillman and the Blues ownership group, and team continues to do amazing things for this city and deserve recognition and applause for it. Thanks for reading.