Franchise unity brings Winter Classic to St. Louis

Cardinals, Blues have forged strong relationship; shown commitment to city

Franchise unity brings Winter Classic to St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Two days after the Rams left for Los Angeles, Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III and Blues owner Tom Stillman took part in a ceremonial puck drop at a Blues game -- with Stillman in a Cardinals jacket and DeWitt wearing a Blues jacket to show they were standing with the city.

Almost one year later, they'll team up again, when the Cardinals host the Blues and Blackhawks at Busch Stadium in the National Hockey League's 2017 Winter Classic on Jan. 2, 2017.

"It's really the culmination of a partnership that I know will continue to grow in the years to come," DeWitt said during an event Tuesday at Busch Stadium. "This event will showcase the versatility of this facility."

The 10-year-old ballpark will become the fifth baseball stadium to host a Winter Classic, and the eighth overall to host the outdoor hockey game, but it's no stranger to the cheers of Blues fans. During the Blues' playoff runs, the Cardinals have sounded a buzzer and shown Blues goals on the video board while the Cardinals are playing.

What started as a ticket swap between ownership groups has led to both teams using part of their advertising budget to promote the other team.

"We have an opportunity to highlight the growth of hockey in St. Louis," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "There were barely a handful of rinks in this area when the Blues entered the NHL. Now, I'm told greater St. Louis has 25 indoor rinks."

The playing surface will cover a majority of the infield behind the pitcher's mound from first base to third base.

"It, all of a sudden, doesn't seem so crazy to transform a baseball stadium into a hockey rink when you have this kind of relationship between these teams," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said. "St. Louis has two of the best ownership groups a city could hope for. It is not uncommon to see these teams come together in otherwise unprecedented ways. "

It will be the Blues' first outdoor game, while the Blackhawks have played outside in four previous Winter Classics and Stadium Series games combined. The hottest Stadium Series game came at Dodger Stadium in 2014, when it was 63 degrees at puck drop. Yankee Stadium is the only ballpark that has hosted two outdoor hockey games, both within a three-day span in January 2014.

According to Blues chairman Nick Stillman, Bettman witnessed the DeWitt-Stillman puck drop back in January. While Bettman wouldn't go as far to say that it was the conclusive moment which brought the Winter Classic to St. Louis, it certainly weighed heavily on his mind.

"It's clear both teams were coming together on behalf of the city to show their commitment to the city," Bettman said. "At that particular point in time, they focused on how important it was to make that statement. Anybody watching would have appreciated the moment."

Nick Krueger is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.