On a day which 35 years from now will have about 300,000 people claiming they were in attendance, I am lucky enough to say I was one of the 38,123 people who were at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day 2010 for the NHL Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers.
All too often, events are built up and made to be something they are not. How many times do you leave a movie that was expected to be great and walk out with a shrug of the shoulders and a whimpered “Meh?” This, fortunately for the Bruins, the NHL, the Red Sox, and most importantly me, was not such an instance with this event.
Everything from the snow-filled practices on Thursday to the visual of watching Bobby Orr come out in a Bruins sweater to serve as honorary captain all the way to the end of the game with youth players revealing the players chosen to represent Team USA at the Olympics (including the last player announced – Tim Thomas) was done with class and the style natural to an event as epic as this was.
I utilized my time before, during, and after the game to take as many pictures as I could, which can be found on the 4SB Facebook Page. It will take me a while to wrap my head around what I was lucky enough to see yesterday, so I am glad that I have these photos to help me look back at what an event it was. As I look back now, having just returned from home, there are a few things that stand out from yesterday,
The Anticipation of the Day. I joked to my brother and Ms. Five Minute Major prior to leaving from Weymouth, that to me, the night before was like Christmas Eve when you are little. I stayed up until after midnight and set my alarm for very early.That alarm was useless because I was up around 5 a.m., waiting for 7:30 when I could finally wake everyone up so we could get started.
There are few opportunities once you grow up to feel such pure, unadulterated excitement. This was one of those times. As we drove in towards Boston, the feeling started building. As we turned down Beacon St. and saw the tops of the inflatable hockey players at the Spectator Plaza, it reached a crescendo.
We turned and parked at my super-secret hideaway near B.U.’s campus (that summer makeup philosophy class paid off in more than one way) and put on all our gear before heading over to take a walk through the Fan Fest. A quick check of the clock on my cell phone showed 9:48. Somehow, I wasn’t sure if four hours until face-off was enough time to soak in all the happenings.
Fan Fest Frenzy. In the parking lot across from Yawkey Way, the NHL lined up an interactive Fan Fest at Spectator Plaza. There was a band tuning up to play and all types of games, food, beverage, and giveaways.
The longest line was at the “Create Your Own Hockey Card” tent where people could grab a stick and gloves and put themselves on the ice for their own trading card. That line was longer than Ned Devine’s on a Friday night in the summer, so we took our free cards and instead wondered around to the other tents.
Areas like this are commonplace at the Super Bowl and NASCAR events, but in the lot across from Copperfield’s? Seemed surreal. After an hour, the three of us had a pretty sizeable haul from the Fan Fest. Stress pucks, beads, buttons, hand warmers, stickers, trading cards, and binoculars were stuffed in the bag with the program and game puck we actually bought.
But, what to do with all that? How ‘bout a beer?
Pre-Gaming. Literally. With a few hours to kill before game time, we headed over to An Tua Nua for some food and a few drinks. When we got in, there was one other Bruins fan and about 20 Flyers fans. That ratio seemed to stay the same until around 11:45 or so when the people coming to the NHL’s official TweetUp came in.
Being the good blogger that I am, I had preregistered so we went on in and immediately wished we hadn’t already downed burgers, wings, and sweet potato fries because there were trays of appetizers lined up for the group of about 45 or so bloggers who registered.
Nevertheless, we had a couple more Bud Lights (the official sponsor of the TweetUp and of Five Minute Major) and watched the pregame on NESN.
I was lucky enough to meet Michael DiLorenzo, the director of social media for the NHL, who organized the event and thanked him for hosting. It was a nice, warm way to get ready for what was about to happen.
Field of (My)Dreams. Getting through security was pretty easy as they had multiple lines set up and plenty of people helping to get people onto Yawkey Way. The tough part was that we got too excited and ended up going in the wrong gate.
Our seats were in the bleachers, but we found ourselves on the ramp up to the grandstand behind first base. I began to panic a bit that we would miss intros or something, but we had plenty of time. The only real problem (one which I helped sustain) was that every person who came out of a tunnel and had their first glimpse of how the stadium looked was dumbstruck and couldn’t move.
For the Flyers fans there (all 8-9,000 of them by my guess) they were equal parts awestruck and lost. But for us Bostonians, who have been to Fenway countless times, it was at the same time strange but familiar, a little bit magic and a little bit dream. I genuinely didn’t count on being so mesmerized by a hockey rink (something I have skated on at least 10,000 times) being at Fenway Park (a place I have been about 300 times.)
Yet, there it was. A heavenly marriage of my childhood passions. Cows and pigs will fly home before the Sox play at the Garden. But on that day, in the most magical of baseball parks, I got to see the team I love more than any other play hockey.
Pomp and Circumstance. Once we navigated past the blockade of people taking pictures, we made it out to the bleachers for the countdown to the game. We saw a parade of policemen and firefighters and military come out from center field, joined by young children who carried flags of every NHL team. Then, nothing else mattered as every eye turned to the dugouts to await the arrival of the teams.
Instead, from the visitor’s dugout came Bobby Clarke, the face of the Flyers franchise. Opposite him, from the same dugout Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski called home, came Bobby Orr – the greatest Bruin and arguably the greatest hockey player of all time. They had skates on and rightfully took the first twirls on the ice before the adoring crowds. For two men who once famously fought in the Stanley Cup Finals, this was a great way to show the world how hockey is both a physical, combative game and a gentlemanly one.
With the two greats leading the way, both sides came out of the dugouts surrounded by fireworks and raucous cheers. Flashbulbs ruled the stadium as everyone took pictures to capture the moment.
With the starting lineups at center ice, Daniel Powter and James Taylor banged out the Canadian and American national anthems beautifully.
Just before face-off, a tad behind schedule (the only wrench in the whole production) a stealth bomber zoomed overhead, silencing the crowd – and the players – with its power. That was the final orchestrated part of the day.
What happened next was up to the 40 players on the ice.
The Game. That is what matters. Yes, there was an actual game to be played. It was a regular-season game counting for two points in the standings.
There were rushes back and forth and shots made and attempts thwarted. It is hard to remember most of the game, half because of the vantage point of being high up in the bleachers and half because there was too much to follow.
The highlight of the first period was obviously the fight between Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton and Flyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo. After the game, Thornton – who was dressing in David Ortiz’ locker as requested by Big Papi – said Carcillo seemed eager to engage in the first fight in Winter Classic history, going as far to ask other Bruins to go. Thornton, knowing his role on the team, gave Carcillo the look to let him know he was game and the first outdoor dustup was on.
It was a short scrap, with Carcillo coming out on top. It was appropriate that the B’s and Flyers were the first, as they are the two toughest teams in the annals of the NHL.
In the second period, the Flyers took the lead on a bad play by Timmy Thomas. He was irked by certified pest Scott Hartnell when the bushy-haired button pusher tripped Thomas early in a shift. The next time Sideshow Bob came back towards the crease, Tank responded with a cross-check to the back of his head. However, Danny Syvret sent a shot towards goal that glided easily into the open net. It was a hot-tempered play from Thomas that could have doomed his team.
57:42 into the game, it seemed as if Thomas’ gaffe would result in a loss. However, Mark Recchi – a former Flyer – tipped in a Derek Morris pass on the power play to tie the game. The score set off a Fenway crowd that had been waiting to explode. To put it into Red Sox terms, the crowd came alive like Dustin Pedroia hit a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game.
The Bruins faithful barely had time to settle down before the B’s were back on the power play with a minute left in the game. The Bruins couldn’t end it in regulation, and both teams earned a point for their efforts.
The Flyers had the best chance early in OT, with a 2-on-1, but Thomas rebounded and made two big saves to keep the game alive. A few seconds later, Patrice Bergeron sent a centering pass towards goal that was deflected by Marco Sturm for the walkoff goal that capped a truly magical experience in a positive fashion for the Bruins.
The celebration on the ice was just as intense and genuine as the one in the stands as the Bruins looked to be so proud of the game and the fact they could deliver for their fans. I have the game on DVR and will watch to see what else can be taken away strategically, but none of that really matters. The Bruins won, the NHL won, and the fans won.
Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present. The whole thing was perfect. The journey to yesterday started in November when my parents asked if my brother and I would want to go. I said “Duh” and added that it would be good if we hid it from my brother so it would be a surprise. My amazing parents then asked if Ms. Five Minute Major (a Flyers fan) would want to come. She wanted in so the scene was set.
On Christmas Day, after “all” the gifts were opened, my brother and I each received a box that had Winter Classic gloves, t-shirt, and pens in it. Underneath all that was our ticket. The look on my brother’s face was what this experience was all about – shock, amazement and happiness. He knew this was a once in a lifetime event and he would be there.
Once the day came, the rain held off and the cold wasn’t too unbearable until the sun went down. Fenway was a bit cramped with all the extra layers, but that was to be expected. Were the sightlines great? No. Are they for baseball unless you sit behind home plate? No.
I heard some guy on The Sports Hub after the game complain because he paid $200 for a ticket and was so cramped and cold and angry at the rowdy fans in the bleachers that he left after two periods. I feel bad for that guy and the others around (I can’t wait to hear what Dennis & Callahan and The Big Show have to say, if they even were there or watched) who have negative feelings about the game.
First off, my parents paid more than that for the same type of seats, so good for you because you got a deal. If the fact that it was cold on January 1st surprised you, then you have larger problems. Finally, what were you expecting from the crowd? The Bruins and Flyers are from two tough, fun-loving, sports-crazy cities. Of course the fans at the game would be into it and excitable. Throw in the circus-like atmosphere and increased excitement and some intense back-and-forth was to be expected.
There was a guy two rows behind me who looked like A.J. Hawk and was loud, annoying and foul-mouthed all game. The fact that he had a Flyers jersey on didn’t help him. Would I have liked him to be quiet? Sure. Would I have loved it if he kept his shirt on over his pierced nipples? You bet. But, besides a few tense moments in the second intermission between him and a few B’s fans, there was no real issue.
In fact, not once did I see or hear that noticeable commotion that takes over Fenway when security has to come up and break something up. People seemed to be policing themselves as no one (except Negative Nancy on 98.5) wanted to waste the money spent and experience involved in.
Hell, look at the front page of the Globe sports section today. The only game featured is the Winter Classic. Not one story on Jason Bay or the Pats’ starters. That is a sure sign of how important this game was.
But, there is no more picture of how important this game was than the ones in my mind. Those memories I will share with my family forever.
Thank You to the NHL and the Bruins and the Red Sox for putting this all together at Fenway. And Thank You to my parents for making it possible for me to believe in the magic of winter again.