Blues Spoil Minnesota's Winter Classic Party and Send Message to the Rest of the NHLJanuary 2, 2022
MINNEAPOLIS — The 2022 Winter Classic lined up to be a celebration of Minnesota and the sport the state loves so much. The "State of Hockey" was finally hosting the most prestigious of all of the outdoor hockey games. The rink at Target Field was designed to look like one of the frozen ponds and lakes the residents of Minnesota grow up skating on, and the experience was authentic right down to the temperature: minus 8 at puck drop, the coldest temperature ever recorded at a Winter Classic.
"I was looking over my shoulder for a polar bear," said Minnesota Wild winger Marcus Foligno. "That's how cold it was out there."
The St. Louis Blues didn't care.
They didn't care about the weather, the fanfare or the stadium lights. The Blues stole the show in more ways than one.
They showed up wearing beach gear in subzero temperatures, walking from the bus to the locker rooms in Hawaiian shirts and sandals. The initial plan was to dress as lumberjacks in an effort to join the fun and fit in with the locals. It would have worked out nicely, considering there were lumberjack demonstrations taking place in right field for much of the night, but instead the Blues crashed the party and made it their own.
"Everybody was talking about how cold it was and us kind of being like, 'Nobody cares,'" Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "But walking out of that hotel was probably the quickest I've ever woken up for a game."
St. Louis Blues @StLouisBlues
This weather's a beach. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/stlblues?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#stlblues</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WinterClassic?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WinterClassic</a> <a href="https://t.co/FDTJ56iesP">pic.twitter.com/FDTJ56iesP</a>
Jordan Kyrou scored twice and assisted on two goals for a four-point night in St. Louis' 6-4 win over the Wild on New Year's Night. Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota's star winger, came into the game as the focal point and likely would have remained in the spotlight with his three points had the Wild won and had Kyrou not set a record for the most points recorded in a Winter Classic.
To say that Kyrou is in the midst of a breakout season might not be entirely accurate. He's been a productive player for the Blues for two seasons, even if the numbers didn't always show it. The once-heralded prospect's name is well-known in St. Louis, but he's not exactly a star on the national stage just yet.
"He's played really well for us all year. He's a really good offensive player and has tons of ability," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He played on a big stage tonight and showed everybody what he can do. He's a talented guy and he's got a great shot and great skill. He showed that tonight."
"They should probably put someone on Jordan Kyrou" <br><br>Kyrou has 4 points ‼️ in the 2nd period including this slick wrister here <a href="https://twitter.com/StLouisBlues?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@StLouisBlues</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WinterClassic?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WinterClassic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHLonTNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NHLonTNT</a> <a href="https://t.co/d6nPNiYBjw">pic.twitter.com/d6nPNiYBjw</a>
His deft puck-handling on a tricky ice surface in a nationally televised game was key for the Blues. Berube had been forced to shuffle lines in the prior game against the Edmonton Oilers because of COVID-19 absences and injuries. Kyrou ended up on a line with Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko and stayed there on Saturday.
The chemistry between Tarasenko, who is having a bounce-back season with 14 goals, and Kyrou was obvious. The playmaking was stellar.
"I thought he came out with energy and confidence and he was making plays," O'Reilly said. "It's not easy out there on that ice. Pucks are bouncing on that ice. So for him to have the confidence that he had and make some of the plays he made, it was impressive to see."
The Wild have been forced to adjust their own lineup for the same reasons. It might be fair to say they struggled without defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin. When Minnesota coach Dean Evason pulled goalie Kaapo Kahkonen with eight full minutes to go in the third period, forward Joel Eriksson Ek's ability to move bodies around up front was also missed.
Kahkonen did not start the game. He replaced Cam Talbot after Talbot was injured. He allowed six goals on 28 shots, with five coming in the second period alone. Talbot's fashion choice to wear a toque over his helmet proved to be exceptionally popular on Twitter, so it was a shame that Evason was forced to go to the bullpen.
But he was trying to reignite a stagnant squad. This might have been a novelty game, but it was a regular-season contest with two points and the Central Division lead on the line.
"I think they got to their game quicker than we got to ours," Evason said. "Our sense of urgency has to be way quicker than the last 10 minutes of a hockey game when we're pulling goalies. We shouldn't be pulling our goalie with eight minutes left in the third period. That's not what we want to do. Having said that, we had a whole ton of chances to tie that hockey game up, or at least get it to one, but we have to find that.
"We didn't simplify our game. They did."
To be fair, the circumstances didn't exactly favor the Wild. Minnesota hadn't played since Dec. 20 and had played only two games in the last 19 days because COVID-19 forced the league to postpone so many games. It's not easy for a team to sit like that and then battle the elements in an outdoor rink with unfamiliar sightlines.
But the Wild were ultimately doomed after that second period.
"The first two periods, I don't have words. Like, it's embarrassing," forward Mats Zuccarello said. "I think the first two periods, you have 40,000 people coming, freezing their asses off and we're playing like that?"
There were several aspects of the 2022 Winter Classic that characterized everything Minnesotans love about the hockey culture in the state. But in the end, it was the Blues doing the celebrating.
"You know what you're going to face. You're going to face a good crowd and bouncing pucks, not many plays and very cold," Tarasenko said. "But the people that organized this did a very impressive job. We're trying to have fun, and I don't think anybody complained about ice or the weather. It was a really nice experience for us."