In an attempt to cement St. Louis as “The Heartland of Hockey,” the Blues announced a “Hockey STL 2020” campaign in hopes of almost doubling the number of area youths involved in the sport.
The NHL organization has committed $2 million to help introduce ball hockey (or street hockey, as I knew it growing up) to an estimated 25,000 kids annually in order to develop 5,000 additional young hockey players in the St. Louis area over the next five years, according to a press release.
“We recognized that to keep the club vibrant, to keep our fanbase vibrant, we need to keep investing and fueling more kids getting involved in the game,” Blues CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Over the 49 years the Blues have been in St. Louis, obviously the game has grown dramatically — we’ve got national champions, NHL players, all those things, which is great. But we can’t just accept that we’re in a good place. We need to push forward and make sure that we’re creating more players as we go into this next stage.”
The $2 million will primarily be spent on helping construct and maintain facilities, increasing the amount of ice time available to youth hockey players in the area, the team said. As the Post-Dispatch notes, the Blues were key players in bringing the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship to St. Louis, and their dedication to youth hockey was a vital part of the pitch.
According to the press release, there are currently 7,000 youth hockey players in the area and 10 active St. Louis-born players in the NHL, including Blues defenseman Chris Butler. The most famous player from the Gateway City is, of course, five-time All-Star Pat LaFontaine.