Fenway wonderland on Winter Classic Eve
Bruins, Flyers gear up for New Year's game as snow falls
BOSTON -- As if the scene wasn't surreal enough at Fenway Park on New Year's Eve -- not to mention Winter Classic Eve -- snow started falling from the sky roughly 10 minutes before the Boston Bruins took the ice for their outdoor practice on Thursday afternoon.
In preparation for Friday's New Year's Day match against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins skated on and around the fluffy white stuff for roughly an hour, in many cases reliving their youths and flashing back to the golden winter games on outdoor ponds.
But this site was actually an historic baseball venue. The Green Monster hovered in the backdrop, only with National Hockey League standings on the scoreboard in place of the American League East. The ice stretched across the infield, from the first-base side to third.
The third annual Winter Classic will take place at Fenway when the puck drops at 1 p.m. ET on Friday. The anticipation reached a crescendo with Thursday's snowy dress rehearsal.
"It was special," said Bruins center Marc Savard. "You were down on the Fenway field and even though there was ice out there, you felt like a baseball player. I enjoyed the day. It made you feel like a little kid again. I used to play on the outdoor rinks growing up in Canada and Ottawa and it felt like I hadn't missed a day. It was a lot of fun, especially with the snow coming down, you couldn't ask for a more beautiful thing."
The inaugural Winter Classic was held in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, with the Pittsburgh Penguins downing the hometown Sabres, 2-1. Last year, Wrigley Field -- the National League's version of Fenway -- was the stage as the Detroit Red Wings upended the Blackhawks, 6-4.
Now, it is Fenway's turn, and the Bruins will try to become the first home team to be victorious in a Classic.
"It is the perfect setting, to be honest with you," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said recently. "What better place to get back to your roots, to your childhood, than by playing in an outdoor game? Playing in front of 35,000 people and enjoying yourself out in nature and the elements -- it should be a lot of fun."
Where will Friday's game rank among the cool things that veteran Bruins right wing Mark Recchi has done in his career?
"I think it's right up there," Recchi said. "It's something special. A great showcase for our league. It will be a great atmosphere being here in Fenway. Obviously the tradition here in Fenway Park and everything and getting an opportunity to play a hockey game will be pretty amazing. I came to a lot of the baseball games since I've been here. It's just really cool. You know all the guys who have been here, and the world championships they've won. The historic part of the whole thing is great."
The weather forecast for Friday (low to mid 30s, light snow) is much improved over what it was a few days ago, when rain threatened to wreak havoc on the event.
"Well, I just spoke with [NHL facilities operations manager] Dan Craig, and he said an inch of snow and overcast, so there's no mention of rain," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "I know it can change. But as of right now there's no mention of rain. Again, you can talk to Dan about it, but it would be an inch of snow from midnight till the morning and then a light dusting tomorrow."
The players have envisioned the Winter Classic for months now, but it started to turn into a reality when they took the ice for Thursday's practice.
"Just when we walked out and it was snowing," said Recchi. "You couldn't have asked for anything better, really. We walked out and there were flurries and it was everything you wanted it to be, really. It was a great feeling walking out."
While viewers -- both at Fenway and those watching the NBC telecast -- would probably prefer snow, the players hope for dry conditions. But they are prepared for anything.
"If it snows, it will be hard to control the puck," said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. "Simple plays are going to be key, just to get out of your zone and don't force plays if it's snowing like that."
Friday will be a time for the players to tune out the distractions, as both the Bruins (20-12-7) and Flyers (19-18-2) hope to improve their place in the standings. That made Thursday a time to soak it all in. Several players had their children on the ice before and after the practice.
"You have to enjoy it," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "It is preparation for the game. There is two points on the line tomorrow, but I guess, you know, for most of us, it is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So you have to enjoy it. At the same time, there is business to do and you have to be focused."
The Bruins have moved into the Red Sox clubhouse, while the Flyers will be in the tightly cramped visitors' clubhouse.
It was a bit unique seeing Chara's belongings in J.D. Drew's locker, and Shawn Thornton entertaining a big media scrum in David Ortiz's corner in the back of the room.
"Well, again, the gracious hosts, the Boston Red Sox, they have handled a lot of it from the venue perspective," said Chiarelli. "The Sox have been great in doing everything, and the league, of course, has cooperated. But it is an undertaking, and it is -- even just from a manager's perspective, there's a lot of things that you have to check off the checklist. It's going to be a great game tomorrow, and I'll be happy when we are done with it. But it's been a very good experience."
Without question, it will be a New Year's Day to remember in Boston.
"I think the city has been looking forward to this game a lot, and we are as well," said Bergeron.
And if more of the fluffy stuff falls on Friday, there could be a virtual postcard on the Fenway ice.
"It made for a great picture [Thursday]," said Thornton. "I'm sure the team photographer enjoyed it. That was my first thought. I don't know what it's supposed to be like tomorrow. If it's like that, they're going to have to clear the ice a lot. It was pretty tough to move the biscuit around when there was that much snow on the ground."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.