Alumni Game Revels in Blues History

ST. LOUIS — If the national excitement about outdoor games has abated some, the alumni game is undoubtedly facing the same fate. The energy level and seriousness is basically beer league hockey, except the guy wearing the Chris Chelios jersey is actually Chris Chelios and he’d probably skate circles around any beer league.

But the point has never been the win or the level of play. Like the All-Star Game, alumni games and the outdoor games at large are about connecting with the local market and the team’s history. The alumni games are succeeding in that regard and Saturday in St. Louis, the Blues fielded one of the most legendary alumni rosters a Stadium Series weekend has seen.

Connecting With History

The Blues put together a roster featuring six Hall of Famers (Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Adam Oates, Wayne Gretzky, Peter Stastny, Chris Pronger), one guaranteed future Hall of Famer (Martin Brodeur), two that should get there eventually (Pierre Turgeon and Keith Tkachuk) and loads of team history. Even if players like Wayne Gretzky and Martin Brodeur only played a combined 25 games with a note on their sweater, the alumni game highlighted the team’s history as prelude to a showcase of the team’s present and future in Monday’s Winter Classic.

It’s all part of the team’s history, often going deeper than a simple count of games played. And that’s seen in Gretzky frequently comes back to St. Louis or how Brodeur wound up taking a position in the front office. The Alumni Game provides an opportunity to unite generations of fans, connecting fans of the Bernie Federko era to fans of the Hull era to fans in the Vladimir Tarasenko era.

“I know our organization worked really hard to put this event together with the NHL,” said Martin Brodeur following the Saturday’s game. “To see it come to a day like today and looking forward to Monday, and the family day [Sunday], this is all a great thing for our players for our organization, but foremost for fans and the city of St. Louis. I haven’t been here that long, just for two years, two-and-a-half years, but you could see how everyone embraces what we do and it’s fun to give back.

“I think [outdoor games are] great. They’re an event,” he said. “They’re great for the fans. It’s great for our city. It’s great for every city that these events are in.”

That connection to history was everywhere, from the jerseys in the stands to jerseys on the ice, where Tkachuk wore number 38 to honor Pavol Demitra. “It was awesome,” said Tkachuk. “You’re overwhelmed, but it’s one of those things where it doesn’t surprise you that there’s all this support. Everything they do here is right between the Blues and the Cardinals. To see that many people out there for an alumni game was pretty special.”

The Part That Doesn’t Go Away

Though the novelty of outdoor hockey might wear off for fans, hockey’s indisputable connection to the outdoors remains. Whether or not you believe the games suffer from overexposure, the format still calls back to the game’s roots.

“You know, guys like Adam Oates and Brett Hull and myself and Tkachuk,” said Gretzky. “That’s how we started playing the game of hockey. We weren’t thrown into beautiful, warm, artificial-ice arenas when we were kids; we were thrown out to the 30-below-zero and wearing a toque and a scarf and freezing and our hands numb and our feet numb when we came in.

“That’s what’s wonderful and what makes the game great. And each and every person to a tee was the exact way. We all love it.”

Special for Players Too

The dredging up of team history isn’t just fun for fans, but for the players as well. In the locker room they autograph each other’s jerseys after a day spent joking on the bench. “It was so fun to be with [the players] and to be out there with the rest of the guys, not only from the era you played with, but the future eras when you were gone and the ones before you,” said Hull.

“So just the fun part is being in the locker room and chit-chatting and having fun,” he added. “And we get older, the body’s changed, but the tongue gets razor sharp. And you have even better lines now than when you played. So it’s a lot of fun.”

It was a sentiment echoed across the locker room. “Playing in these games, Hall of Famers and all that, it was special for sure,” said Brodeur. “It was great. Sitting with the older goalies to chit-chat about what we did in the past, it was a fun day.”

“I’m a fan on the bench watching these guys out there,” said Tkachuk. “It’s a great event for fans. If you’re a fan of hockey, this is a great event. I’m glad to be part of it.”

The alumni games remain an outstanding way to honor team heritage and the history of the game and the Blues organization pulled it off with aplomb.