Randolph County residents attend Winter Classic

Professional hockey in St. Louis has long been established, but the spectacle of outdoor professional hockey at Busch Stadium was enough to draw several Randolph County residents to attend the NHL’s Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

“Awesome,” said Randolph County Treasurer Justin Jeffers, who was among the group that attended. “That’s the best way I can put it. I’ve been a Blues fan since the early ‘90s and to see the greatest outdoor hockey game of the year in St. Louis was an amazing experience.”

The largest crowd in Blues history, an announced 46,566, braved the threat of rain to watch the Blues defeat archrival Chicago, 4-1.

The event also included a Blues-Blackhawks Alumni Game two days prior and St. Louis artist Nelly put on a free concert at Ballpark Village.

The alumni game itself, which had NHL Hall of Famers Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Adam Oates, Chris Pronger and Wayne Gretzky among the participants, also drew a reported 40,000 in attendance.

“The City of St. Louis should be proud of the way things went,” Jeffers said. “To sell out Busch Stadium for a group of retired guys out there trying to play hockey is impressive.”

Jeffers said his seats were located in right field about 20 rows above the field.

“There wasn’t any seat that was close to the ice because the rink was in the middle of the field,” he said. “I spent most of the time watching the game on the Jumbotron.”

Television ratings for the game showed an average of 2.557 million viewers on NBC, the 10th-most-watched NHL game on record, but the smallest viewing audience for the nine-year-old Winter Classic.

Chris Naeger, who attended the game with fellow Chester Sports Inc. baseball coach Ty Malley, said the sound of 46,000 people chanting “Let’s go Blues” gave him goosebumps.

“It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it,” he said Sunday.

Like Jeffers, Naeger said his seats were too far away to see much of what was happening on the ice, but the atmosphere sold itself.

“It was more about the atmosphere and being there,” he said. “It was a very fun time.”

Interestingly enough, it was Chicago’s third appearance in the Winter Classic and the Blackhawks have yet to win one - with losses to Detroit in 2009 and Washington in 2015.

St. Louis has never won the Stanley Cup, but played for it in each of its first three seasons (1967-70) after the Blues joined the NHL as an expansion franchise.

They are currently the NHL’s oldest team to have never won the Cup.

“St. Louis is hungry for a Stanley Cup championship,” Jeffers said. “St. Louis fans are diehard.

“This was a big sporting event, not only for Blues fans, but for the Midwest.”

The NHL has alternated between baseball and football stadiums for Winter Classic host sites and the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted Detroit for a separate outdoor game on Dec. 31, with viewership that paled in comparison to the Winter Classic.

“This may never happen in St. Louis again and I think that’s why there was that excitement that this may be a once in a lifetime event,” said Jeffers, who also noted this year’s 50th anniversary of the Blues as a franchise. “’I’ve never seen, St. Louis, Busch Stadium, Ballpark Village as busy as it was.

“I’ve been to a couple World Series games and it pales in comparison.”