Bernie: The NHL All-Star Weekend, the Blues, and St. Louis. In a Word? Perfect.

How to build a perfect All-Star Weekend in St. Louis:

1. Take a strong hockey tradition established over five decades by the Blues and their die-hard fan base…

2. Take the enduring afterglow of the 2017 NHL Winter Classic played before 48,000 at Busch Stadium…

3. Take the stable, classy, and financially generous foundation provided by team chairman Tom Stillman and his partners…

4. Take the exhilarating, suspenseful and over-the-top drama of the Blues winning their first Stanley Cup back on June 12 of 2019 …

5. Take the $150 million renovation of Enterprise Center, which was transformed from a worn-out arena to a beautiful hockey winterland-wonderland. The Enterprise Center, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told us Friday, has never looked more gorgeous than now.

6. Take the opening of the Centene Ice Center, which gave the Blues their own practice facility and provided a grand new venue for legions of youth-hockey players in this area…

7. And take the pumped-up pride of the Blues and their fans as they headed into the All-Star break with a record of 30-11-8, best in the West…

8. Add in generations of Blues players that have represented the franchise since 1967, and give them the visibility and presence to warm the All-Star environment and appeal to St. Louis fans of every age group …

9. And turn on the cameras and microphones and welcome in NBC, the NHL Network, and Sportsnet Canada — as well as media from around North America …

10. And have a All-Star game — a four-day celebration and festival — right here, in St. Louis, at an ideal time in our town’s sports history …

What I’m saying is, hockey in St. Louis reached a crescendo over the weekend. And while it couldn’t match the magnitude of the famous 1904 World’s Fair, the St. Louis All-Star game was an epic event that brought out the best qualities of our town. And it brought us together if only for a while…

This carnival hosted huge crowds of smiling happy people, everywhere you looked, from Enterprise Arena, to the outside concerts, to the jam-packed Fan Fair at the revitalized Union Station. St. Louis was at the center of the hockey universe, and if that caused any anxiety — I didn’t detect it. No one did. The Blues and our city were absolutely radiant under the glare of the international spotlight.

Be proud, St. Louis.

Highlights?

Only about a thousand …

+ Red Berenson age 80, scoring a goal in the Alumni game… keep in mind that his first NHL season was back in 1961, or John F. Kennedy’s first year in the White House.
Another prominent Blues alum was Garry Unger, age 72. To borrow a Warren Zevon lyric: “And his hair was perfect.”

+ The players’ red carpet walk on Friday afternoon. At anytime in its history, has the NHL ever employed a younger, hipper, handsomer, and more diverse workforce of players?

+ Oh, boy. This was fantastic: Wayne Gretzky’s “Welcome to St. Louis” greeting to the NHL, its players, team executives, the media, and out-of-town fans before the start of the skills showcase.

“It’s a big part of our life,” Gretzky told reporters earlier in the week. “My wife and her family are from St. Louis and it’s a tremendous city. It’s just a really great place to raise a family and be a part of. I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I have nothing but positive thoughts when I’m in town here. Even when the weather is cold and rainy days like today, it’s still a wonderful place to live.”

Preach.

+ Jordan Binnington winning the “NHL Saves Streak”competition. And a tap of the hockey stick to San Jose’s Tomas Hertl for his brilliant putdown of Justin Bieber as he clumsily (on purpose) skated in on Binnington during the Saves Streak competition.

+ All things Tkachuk: Proud papa Keith and his NHL All-Star sons Matthew and Brady were show stealers. Big Walt’s family had more fun than anybody.

+ And many fist bumps to Matthew Tkachuk, who surprised and delighted the STL crowd by donning a Yadier Molina jersey while shooting pucks over the crowd and at the on-ice targets during Friday’s NHL-Meets-Top-Golf contest.

+ The love that former Blue T.J. Oshie received from Blues fans all weekend long. Making Oshie’s sentimental homecoming even sweeter was seeing him waving to his father, Tim, during Saturday’s game(s). As most of you know, Tim is suffering through the terrible impact of Alzheimer’s.

+ The USA vs. Canada women’s 3-on-3 game, which was the national teams’ largest showcase other than the Olympics. I covered the USA vs. Canada match for the Olympic gold medal in Nagano in 1998, and to this day it remains one of the most enthralling games I’ve ever watched live. Friday, we saw the rivals’ intensity on display for a spirited 20 minutes. This wasn’t an exhibition. It really mattered.

+ Al MacInnis, age 56, blasting one over 100 miles per hour in the hardest-shot competition…
The great cameos Friday night by Bernie Federko and Brett Hull..
Coach Craig Berube and his All-Blues starting lineup for the Central division team: Binnington, Pietrangelo, O’Reilly and Perron.

+ Good sport: Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, the future hockey Hall of Famer, for playing the designated villain role and having fun with the Blues fans who booed him all weekend.

+ Ryan O’Reilly, goodwill ambassador, wearing a Kansas City Chiefs helmet in support of a fellow Missouri team getting set to play San Francisco in the 54th Super Bowl. This was a gentlemanly gesture in return of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce coming to St. Louis to cheer the Blues on during the Stanley Cup Final. Also: Binnington wore a Chiefs jersey under his sports coat on his way into the Enterprise Center.

+ The inimitable Laila Anderson, who made a rousing appearance to introduce the Blues’ players as each division’s lineup skated out on ice Saturday night. She’s one of a kind.

+ The reappearance of beloved national anthem singer Charles Glenn.

So, who won the weekend?

Easy: The fans. Many waited in line for five hours just to stand next to the Stanley Cup for a photo.

That’s all you need to know.

But I appreciated this insight from Oshie, as relayed by Peter Baugh of The Athletic:

“I think there’s obviously a certain buzz around here,” Oshie said, “but the fans were always great Nothing too much different. Just a pretty special year for them here, winning the Cup and having the All-Star Game.”

If I may finish that point: it’s not as if St. Louis just discovered the existence of the Blues and the NHL last June, during the Stanley Cup Final.

This has always been a tremendous hockey town. The only difference, now? There is a lot more to cheer about. And there are a lot more people doing the cheering.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie