Following the selection of five St. Louis area players in the first round of this year's National Hockey League draft, officials with the Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL are convinced an outdoor game in January will help build on the sport's already solid footing in the region.
League Commissioner Gary Bettman stopped in St. Louis Tuesday to promote the Jan. 2, 2017, contest between the Blues and Blackhawks at Busch Stadium.
"It demonstrates to the fans in the community that there's a commitment to the community by the franchise and the league," Bettman told reporters at Busch.
"And it also recognizes the strength of the fan base."
Those fans have been supporting the Blues for a half-century. The Winter Classic will be a highlight of the team's upcoming 50th NHL season.
Beyond the obvious challenges of selling tickets for a 47,000-seat baseball stadium to a game that is usually held in an indoor arena built for around 20,000 spectators, the league also has to put ice in the outfield. That process involves:
- 20,000 gallons of water for the 2-inch surface
- 3,000 gallons of coolant to freeze the water
- 350 gallons of soluble paint to make the ice white
- 200 workers who will spend at least one week building everything needed for the game
The league says it will provide more details about the science behind the outdoor ice surface as the game approaches.
Along with the 50th season for the Blues, the Busch Stadium contest comes as St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger works out details of an estimated $30 million indoor hockey center in the Creve Couer Lake area, where some soccer fields already exist.
"The idea is to have that entire corridor become a youth sports corridor, with the hockey center," Stenger told St. Louis Public Radio Tuesday.
"I predict a very large economic impact of just the soccer alone, and to have the addition of the hockey creates a synergy that can't even be explained."
Youth soccer tournaments in the area already generate 49,000 room nights every year, Stenger said.
Bonds are expected to be issued for the project, which Stenger said will be paid by teams that rent the space and the ice.
Along with the potential economic impact, the center, if approved, would fill a need for many youth hockey coaches who have told officials that more ice rinks are needed to continue building the sport in the area.