People and Places

Winter Classic Blues: Ottawa’s dream game may go to St. Louis

Ottawa hockey fans dreaming of a Winter Classic in the capital next year may see their hopes dashed by the St. Louis Blues.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting multiple sources have revealed that “the NHL is finalizing discussions to bring an outdoor hockey game” to the city’s Busch Stadium, dashing hopes that Ottawa could lay claim to the popular January tradition.

Many in Ottawa, including Mayor Jim Watson, saw the game — one of the NHL’s biggest events and a fan favourite — as a perfect way to start celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday. But it seems St. Louis has a birthday in 2017, too.

“The selection of St. Louis would be a strong feather in the city’s cap considering the 2016-2017 season will simultaneously mark the NHL’s 100th anniversary and the Blues’ 50th anniversary,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The selection of St. Louis over Ottawa would be a disappointment for Mayor Watson, who met with the NHL’s commissioner and deputy commissioner, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, as early as fall of 2014 to discuss bringing the Winter Classic to Ottawa.

The game is one of three events Watson hoped to secure for Ottawa in 2017 — it was no secret that the mayor also wanted to snag the CFL’s Grey Cup and the Juno Awards. So far, only one part of the mayor’s hat trick, the Juno Awards, has been confirmed.

“We’ve already secured the 2017 national and provincial conferences of municipal leaders. There is much public interest in a Grey Cup and a Winter Classic NHL game at Lansdowne that same year,” said Watson in a January 2014  “state of the city” speech. “But a success like this one cannot happen overnight … you need to build momentum.”

But even though there was no guarantee that Ottawa would get the game, there was already speculation about possible sites for the game, including Parliament Hill, Lansdowne Park, and LeBreton Flats.

As for teams, the mayor has said he’d like to see the outdoor hockey game feature a face-off between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens. But the St. Louis plan would feature neither Canadian team.

“The plan is not yet complete, but the league is strongly considering the city to host the ‘Winter Classic,’ in which the Blues’ opponent could be the Chicago Blackhawks,” said the Post-Dispatch.

The paper said neither the NHL nor the Blues would comment but noted that an announcement about the game’s host city could be announced within the week.

Toronto had also been rumoured as a possible site for the game, but the Post-Dispatch, citing ESPN, said this was unlikely because “the league could be concerned about oversaturating the market in a city that will host the World Cup of Hockey in September and the World Junior Championships in December.”