Frigid Fenway: College players get thrills, chills in baseball cathedral
One of baseball's cathedrals has turned into an outdoor rink for a week
BU held off BC, but players will remember the unique Fenway setting
It was the largest crowd ever for a college game in the eastern U.S.
BOSTON -- A Zamboni at Fenway? You sure that wasn't Yastrzemski? Merloni perhaps?
A week ago, the NHL held the annual Winter Classic between the Bruins and Flyers in one of baseball's esteemed cathedrals. Putting two more hockey games in Fenway Park on Friday night was akin to sticking a beach towel on the frozen tundra or sipping hot cider in Death Valley. Inuit don't seal fish in Hawaii. Surfers don't ride the waves in Siberia. But this ode to the game's origin is cool. Even with commercial influences, many of the players in Friday's collegiate doubleheader at Fenway -- Boston University held off crosstown rival Boston College, 3-2 and earlier, New Hampshire's women's team defeated Northeastern, 5-3 -- took some of their first strides on the frozen lakes and ponds of New England and this felt like a throwback in front of all the neighbors.
Few of the guys will graduate to the NHL. Maybe one or two of the women will play for an Olympic gold medal in a U.S.-Canada death match. No, for most of the players in Winter Classic II, or perhaps Winter Classic U., the collegiate edition of the weeklong celebration of outdoor hockey at Fenway, this was the highlight of their lives. It was hockey on its most magnified and exaggerated stage showing off its purity and simplicity. With 38,472 in attendance it was the largest hockey crowd ever to see a college game in the eastern U.S., and few will ever forget it.
"The memory of a career," said BU captain Nick Bonino, who played in his team's come-from-behind victory in the national championship game last season. "This kind of thing happens once for us."
Bonino, a native of Unionville, Conn., even took a few moments to scan the stands and check out the scene. During one stoppage in the second period, the lifelong Red Sox fan glanced over his shoulder while he passed center ice, roughly the location of second base during baseball games. "This is where Dustin Pedroia makes all those plays," he said under his breath. His mind wandered again in the third period. "We had a stoppage and I leaned over on the bench to look at the whole stadium," he said. "I tapped [teammate] Chris Connelly on the shoulder, pointed to the crowd and said, 'take a look at this.' It wasn't the thing you're supposed to do in a 3-2 game, but I couldn't help it."
With the loss of several key seniors, BU entered the game unranked at 5-9-3, while BC was at No. 7 at 10-5-2. Still the Terriers dominated the first 35 minutes, building a 3-0 lead midway through the second period on goals by David Warsofsky, Joe Pereira and Wade Megan. Warsofsky even took an imaginary baseball swing after he scored in honor of Fenway. The Eagles closed the gap to within 3-1 on a power play goal near the end of the second by Brian Gibbons and then pulled to within a goal thanks to Cam Atkinson's shorthanded tally at 7:43 of the third. BC peppered BU goalie Kieran Millan over the last 10 minutes, but couldn't get the equalizer.
Despite his team's slow start, BC captain Matt Price said the venue didn't freeze his team. "We talked about making sure that didn't happen," he said. "We had two practices to kind of take it all in and cherish the moment. The whole team got a good picture at center ice with the Fenway Park sign in the background that is pretty special."
Conditions were poor for everyone. Unlike the NHL's Fenway tilt between the Bruins and Flyers, this was a nighttime doubleheader, when the outdoor lights and the misting of snow further impaired sightlines (Think: "Coach, I lost it in the snow.") By the third period, temperatures had fallen to 19 and with a seven-degree wind-chill. It was nearly a contest of dueling frat parties in the stands, with mostly BC fans over the third-base dugout and BU supporters on the first-base side. Some of the gamma-tau-Heineken crowd was stripped down to boxer shorts, proving again that one should never underestimate the medicinal properties of diluted lager on the scholarly cranium. Even Wally the Green Monster -- the Red Sox mascot -- had an extra layer on under his furry head. The snowfall week has also been a windfall for the Red Sox. At five figures for a commercial hour rental during the week, that should help with John Lackey's new gazillion dollar contract.
For the record, BU and BC had played an outdoor game before. In 1920, the Terriers trounced the Eagles, 9-0 at BC's rink. Veteran coaches Jack Parker and Jerry York have quelled rumors that they were coaching that game.
The teams did the event up right, trotting out esteemed alumni such as the Terriers' Mike Eruzione and the Eagles' Brian Leetch during pre-game ceremonies. BU also welcomed to the ice Travis Roy, the inspirational forward who was paralyzed in his first shift with the team in 1995. Former major leaguers Richie Hebner, John Tudor and Bill Monbouquette, who grew up playing hockey in New England also walked out to the redline before the game.
In the opener, the New Hampshire women rallied with four third-period goals to overcome a 3-1 deficit in what the teams believe is the first women's outdoor game played in the U.S. at this level or higher. Kristina Lavoie had the game-winner and an insurance goal in the final six minutes. Northeastern's Brittany Esposito had the honor of scoring the first women's outdoor goal just 1:29 into the game. "When I saw the puck go in the net," Esposito said, "I couldn't control myself and I jumped as high as I could."
Ironically, Esposito hails not from New England, but from Edmonton, site of the NHL's first Winter Classic contest between the Oilers and Canadiens in 2003, when her father and brother attended and she rued the fact that she had a game she couldn't get out of. She said she went from joy upon learning of the Bruins-Flyers tilt to disappointment in seeing that her Huskies schedule conflicted with it to outright elation when she heard her team would play its own game a week later.
"I called my dad and told him to book a flight here," she said. "I can't believe I got to play in something so similar now. Towards the end of the game, you could see the ice was really chippy and it was really hard to make a pass and hold onto the puck. It doesn't really matter when you get to play in Fenway Park."
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