ST. LOUIS — The greatest player in hockey history had some high praise for two of the greatest players in Blackhawks history.
Wayne Gretzky, in town on Saturday for the Winter Classic alumni game, was asked about Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
“Both of them are obviously superstars, both of them are Hall of Famers,” Gretzky said. “I don’t think there’s any debate over that. More importantly, they’re winners and they’re very unselfish, and they’ve had a great deal of success. And they’ve been a real positive for Chicago, not only because of the way they play, but because of the fact the’ve won championships. You have to have good leadership and you have to have talent. And they bring both of those qualities.”
Kane hadn’t heard Gretzky’s comments, but his name had come up recently.
“Hearing that, that’s pretty special,” Kane said. “I scored my 700th point the other night, and some of the text messages I got were, ‘You have 2,100 more point to catch Gretzky.’ That kind of speaks volumes about how good of a player he was. But that’s nice of him to say.”
Well, 2,157, to be exact.
This will be Blues coach Ken Hitchcock’s first outdoor game as an NHL coach, but it won’t be his first outdoor game. Years ago, Hitchcock said he organized a game against prison inmates in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
“[It was] a lot scarier than the one’s going to be tomorrow,” Hitchcock said with a laugh. “Really scary, as a matter of fact. We were afraid to score a goal, to be honest with you.
“I had this bright idea we were going to give back to the community, and we were in Prince Albert. So I organized a game against the inmates at the security prison. They were playing for real, and we were trying to play for fun. They won.”
Hitchcock said that the near-sellout crowd that attended Saturday’s alumni game “shocked the world” further cemented St. Louis as a hockey town. But it’ll always be a baseball town first, and the 11 World Series banners plastered all over the home clubhouse are a reminder of that.
“That’s no one’s fault,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We’re kind of blessed to have such a great baseball team here, and they’ve been here for a long time. There’s a longstanding tradition there for that. But people here love Blues hockey, and I think everyone in St. Louis knows it’s a hockey town. People outside are starting to figure that out. [The Winter Classic] is going to be a pretty big indicator to a lot of people around the hockey world that this is a great place to play hockey.”