11/8/11 Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
Home Team: St. Louis Blues, 1967
Venue: Scottrade Center
Seats: 19,150 for hockey
Mascot: A polar bear named Louie
(A condensed version of chapter 8...if you buy the book be sure to read this chapter for the full Blues experience)
"We were both extremely excited about our next stop on our journey. Our contact for the Blues tickets was one of the first people to respond to our initial tour email back in September. The email related the purpose of our trip and our contact was enthusiastic and encouraging from the very first time Dani spoke with him. Genuinely interested in us and our trip, he secured our tickets immediately and was helpful in logistics for us while in St. Louis.
Neither of us had ever been to St. Louis before or had any direct ties or reason to ever visit. This trip would change all that forever.
We knew this game between the Blues and the Blackhawks would have a different feel from the previous seven since it was the first time we would meet with an NHL organization that was actively coordinating events in support of our trip. This enthusiasm from the St. Louis Blues organization for our trip is no surprise given the relationship that exists between this city and its sports teams. We had almost a full day before we were scheduled to meet up with him at the rink that night, so we decided to take in the sights and tastes of St. Louis. Our short list included Toasted Ravioli, Busch Stadium and the Gateway Arch.
We took a brief detour from hockey rinks to walk the perimeter of Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Fresh from a stunning series against the Texas Rangers in which they had twice been down to their final out and come back to win, the city of sports fans exuded an excitement that we were sure would be reflected in the hockey arena. The Stadium statues (Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Enos “Country” Slaughter, Red Schoendist, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Bob Gibson, Stan “The Man” Musial, just to name a few) that line the arched entrances show a city that is truly an abundance of riches for a sports fan.
Busch Stadium is located in close proximity to the Gateway Arch, our next destination. On our walk to the Arch, the striking architecture of the Old Courthouse led us on another detour and a refresher course in U.S. history.
Exiting the back of courthouse, we had a perfectly centered view of the Gateway Arch, so called because it is the gateway to the Western half of the United States. The path to the Arch was completely enveloped by the changing colors of leaves set against the green grass and the Mississippi River in the background. Despite our best efforts, the magnitude of the Arch cannot fully be explained in words or contained in a picture. At 630 feet high (taller than two Statues of Liberty placed on top of one another, taller than the Redwoods, the Washington Memorial, and the Seattle Space Needle), it is something you have to stand beneath to really appreciate its size. An underground museum directly beneath the Arch includes a theater and a souvenir shop, perfect for working up your courage to take the “tram” to the top of the Arch.
Once we were both safely down the arch and out of the inclinator pod we walked the museum and gift shops. Our Arch experience gave us an appetite so we headed to Caleco’s Bar and Grill on North Broadway to try the quintessential St. Louis food, Toasted Ravioli, or “TR” as the locals call it. Both the birthplace of TR and the location of the best TR in St. Louis are the subjects of intense and ongoing debates. This appetizer is deep fried meat ravioli served with marinara sauce topped with fresh grated Parmesan cheese. In business for over 35 years, Caleco’s version includes ten raviolis and marinara sauce made in-house. We can see why they are such a big deal to the natives, they sure were tasty!
Game night was rapidly approaching, as we made our way to Scottrade Center. Statues outside the arena immortalize St. Louis Blues greats Al MacInnis, Brett Hull and Bernie Federko. The expansive Blues team store can be seen from the outside of the Arena, which has almost floor to ceiling windows by the main entrances. The halls of Scottrade Center are lined with Blues tributes but also pay homage to other St. Louis sports franchises, illustrating that St. Louis sports teams that are not isolated in their particular sport but are appreciated for their collective contribution to the city as a whole. On the first level of the arena, various pictures and memorabilia can be seen, and walls are flanked with jerseys representing each team in the NHL. In addition, we noticed other jerseys, which may represent local and/or minor league hockey teams. Graphically witty sticks and nets guide you to your seat by displaying the section and seat numbers. On club level, the round hallway is lined with pictures of individual hockey players, team photos and action shots of famous Blues like Hull and Gretzky.
Inside Scottrade, we met up with our contact, which after the numerous email exchanges felt like meeting up with a good friend. He gave us the history of the arena, built in 1994, and spoke of the hockey fan culture in St. Louis. Fans here, he told us, know the game of hockey well and they love their St. Louis Blues. The alumni hockey players remain engaged with the team and its fans long after their professional careers have ended. We were told that we had picked an ideal game to showcase the Blues and their fans since this game was against their rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. He introduced us to the “voice” of the Blues, sports broadcaster and the CEO Michael McCarthy of the Blues organization. We were told that the Blues ownership group had recently renovated the Peabody Opera House next to the arena. The 1934 Opera House opened its doors in October 2011 after being closed for over 20 years. It will now once again host musical and theater events for the city. This cooperation provides a wonderful illustration of how sports can contribute to the culture of a city. Sports in this city have an impact far beyond the rink and concrete walls of their arenas and stadiums. Before our contact said goodbye, he surprised us with ticket upgrades to club level, which included all we could eat and drink. The Blues wanted to show their support for our trip and make sure that we had the best possible view of their team and fans in action.
With the game about to begin, we observed our first cool fan fact. In Canada, as we reported earlier, it is standard that EVERYONE sings the national anthem. This isn’t common practice in the US. However, there is something to be said for thousands of people singing the song of the land. For the first time ever, both of us experienced this on U.S. soil. The singer prompted everyone to sing our national anthem together. When 19,000+ people sing in unison, tone deaf or not, chills run up your spine because that’s our song.
We quickly discovered that our contact’s evaluation of the engagement of the Blues fans was absolutely true. Even on a Tuesday night, the arena was sold out. These fans know the game of hockey. They know exactly when to cheer and when to boo. One fun fan quirk is when the Blues go on a power play everyone does this sort of “it’s good” field goal motion with their arms multiple times to the Twilight Zone techno ‘90s music. We’re not sure if it’s a version of raising the roof or a double fist pump or what, but it’s hysterical…and when in Rome… we joined right in! When the Blues score, “When the Saints Go Marching In” erupts from the organ and a strong chorus of “Let’s Go Blues” resounds regularly throughout the game. Another fun quirk is the “The Simpsons” look-a-like cam which was a funny diversion during down time.
In the second period, we were interviewed on the jumbotron. We had a chance to tell the entire arena all about the reason for our trip and our experiences so far. Though the interview was only a few minutes long, we quickly realized just how closely Blues fans pay attention not only to their team, but to their fellow hockey fans. From that point of the game on, the Blues fans completely embraced us, shouting encouragement and appreciation for our trip. After the game, fans sought us out through the thick crowds to offer more support for our trip.
On our way out of Scottrade, we were continually stopped by fans asking questions about the trip, wanting to share with us their own hockey experiences, and even one who asked us to autograph his jersey. Part of what made our Blues game so unique was that it offered us opportunities to really connect with local fans. We found ourselves witnessing Midwest hospitality at its finest, not only in the Blues organization’s efforts to make our experience in St. Louis incredible, but in the many warm wishes of fans we had a chance to get to speak with after the game. We stood talking to Blues fans long after the ice was cleared off, until security was ready to close the doors.
As we left the arena, we were noticed by more and more fans, cheering us on and being inspired by our trip as we had just been inspired by the woman who had flown to Russia for the Summit Series. Cars honking, people waving, it was totally surreal. Watching this group of women leave Scottrade, and with the encouragement of the Blues fans in our ears, we started to realize that we were not alone in this experience. Far from it. Across gaps of age, gender, and geography, hockey formed a common language. The narrative of our trip was not our story alone, but was shared by those around us.
St. Louis Blues,
St. Louis Blues,
Have you heard the news about the St. Louis Blues?
They’ve only just begun
They’re on their way to number one,
Now there’s no more blues for our St. Louis Blues!
--“St. Louis Blues Theme,” Music by Roger Boyd
All in all: St. Louis gets an A+. The arena is awesome and pays tribute to its home team. The fans are awesome, know the game of hockey, have fun quirks, pay attention to the game and LOVE hockey. The ice crew all wear hockey skates, warm ups and jerseys as it should be. The people of this city are beyond nice. The city has deep roots in US history and has “monumental” structures that everyone should experience. If you’re a hockey fan, you should make a Blues home game a “must do” in your lifetime.
Results: Chicago Blackhawks 0 vs. St. Louis Blues 3"
Copyright © 2015 by Kimberly Abrahams & Danielle Benson
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