There were smiles all around on Saturday for the Blues during their Alumni Game against the Blackhawks at Busch Stadium. (St. Louis Blues)

By Rob Rains

There was one universal reaction from members of the Blues after the Alumni Game against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday at Busch Stadium, the first event of the Winter Classic festivities:

All had an idea of what the day would be like, and the reality exceeded the expectations.

Brett Hull purposely did not come to the stadium as the rink was being installed, wanting it to see it complete for the first time on Saturday.

“I wanted to walk up the stairs and get a surprise,” Hull said. “It was bigger and better and more exciting than I could have imagined.”

Even though he was well aware of the preparations for the game, Bernie Federko used the words surreal and awe to describe his experience.

“I think the reality was better than the hype,” Federko said. “It’s so surreal. We don’t have a winter climate here and they made it look like the stadium was full of snow. The cotton along the walk looked like it was snow and they had it so it looked like snowbanks. The ambience out there was much more than I could have expected. We walked in this morning before the crowd was here and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It blew me away.”

A sold out crowd of more thn 40,000 filled Busch Stadium to watch Hull, Federko and their teammates earn an 8-7 victory over the Blackhawks. Pierre Turgeon had two goals and Federko a goal and an assist for the Blues.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get a chance to play in a venue like this again,” Federko said. “It’s something we will always remember. It was easy to take it all in. We had a lot of time behind shifts on the bench and I spent most of my time really looking around, watching the crowd, watching the game. You’re in awe out there. I couldn’t believe how many people were out there.

“We’re all 60 years old out there and not used to having people come out to watch us. I’m still in awe; it’s something I will always cherish.”

Fans were treated to seeing Wayne Gretzky, Hull and Adam Oates back together again on a forward line. Mike Liut played the first 10 minutes in goal, Keith Tkachuk had a goal and Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis were together as a defensive pair. Peter Stastny and Kelly Chase also scored.

And as much fun as the fans had, the players said the day was just as enjoyable, if not more so, for them.

“We had so much fun in the locker room, laughing at each other,” Federko said. “The sarcasm on the bench was the most fun. Everybody’s got a sarcastic comment about something that happens on the ice, That’s what I miss the most.”

Hull, after Turegon’s two goals, said he turned to Gretzky and said, “He doesn’t play golf,” noting that Turgeon lives in Colorado and stays in shape coaching his son’s team and riding a moutainbike.

Said Turgeon, “I couldn’t have asked for it to be any better.”

Hull believes what happened on Saturday sets the stage perfectly for the fans for the actual Winter Classic contest on Monday against the Blackhawks.

“Having this game a couple of days before the real one I think it’s going to be even more exciting,” Hull said. “They (fans) saw even as slow and old as we were, they saw it as exciting. They can feel the Blackhawks-Blues game coming and it’s a real game. I think the fans are going to go bananas.”

The fact that the game is against the Blackhawks is what separates it from other matchups, Hull said.

“There’s no sense having Tampa against St. Louis, right?” Hull said. “It’s why Toronto and Detroit are playing. You have to have that rivalry and close proximity between the cities so their fans can come and watch as well. It’s two really good teams who always have good battles. This one is going to be even more exciting.”