Winter Classic to be special moment for Blues against Wild, Saad says

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — The St. Louis Blues can lean heavily on Brandon Saad‘s experience in outdoor games while they prepare for the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic.

The forward will be playing his third NHL Winter Classic and fifth NHL outdoor game when the Blues take on the Minnesota Wild at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN1, TVAS, NHL LIVE).

“You don’t want to look too far ahead, but I know it’s definitely something special to be a part of, hopefully having family there and having family skates and things like that,” Saad said Monday. “Obviously with the rules and COVID, we don’t know for sure, but it’s definitely a special moment, a big event and a big venue.”

Saad played for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 NHL Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park in Washington, the 2019 Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, and the 2014 Stadium Series against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field in Chicago. He was a member of the Colorado Avalanche for the 2021 NHL Outdoors against the Vegas Golden Knights at Edgewood Tahoe Resort in Stateline, Nevada.

There could be as many as 12 Blues players participating in an NHL outdoor game for the first time. Saad, who signed a five-year contract as an unrestricted free agent with the Blues on July 29, said those first timers will have to learn how to deal with the extra events, frigid temperatures and playing in a much larger setting that they’re used to.

He also said the Blues can’t look past their game against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.

“I think just take it as it comes,” Saad said. “We’ve got to focus on one day at a time. We’ve got a tough opponent coming in in a couple days that we’re preparing for. Obviously when the Winter Classic comes, just to enjoy that moment. I know we’ll have a couple days there and you’ll have events and things like that. Being outside in a big venue, it’s always a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Blues coach Craig Berube will be leading a team for the first time in an NHL outdoor game after he was an assistant for two previous games, for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Bruins at the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park in Boston and against the New York Rangers at the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

“They’re a lot of fun,” Berube said Sunday. “There’s a lot riding on the game, I believe. It’s a big deal. It’s great what the NHL does with the outdoor games. They’re a lot of fun, players I know get excited for them. It’s something you look forward to. It’s a great event for the players, everybody involved, the families. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Blues (17-9-5) are tied with the Nashville Predators for second place in the Central Division, one point behind the Wild. They are 7-2-3 in their past 12 games and want to keep their momentum going. They won their only other outdoor game, 4-1 against the Blackhawks in the 2017 NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Of the current Blues, only defenseman Colton Parayko and forwards David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko played in that game.

St. Louis could get a number of injured players back for the Winter Classic, including Perron (upper body), forwards Brayden Schenn (upper body), Robert Thomas (lower body), Jordan Kyrou (upper body) and Klim Kostin (upper body).

“It’s exciting,” Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly said Sunday. “These events are definitely very special. There’s a buzz around the locker room. I think it’s good and hopefully we can get a game in before that to kind of get us a tune-up here, but we’ve seen pictures of what’s going on there and everyone’s excited. It’s a great test for us too. It’s a very good hockey team that’s playing very well. It’s a great thing.”

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