On Friday, Hockey East commissioner and one-time Bruins goaltending instructor Joe Bertagna announced the second installment of Frozen Fenway for this season.
Building upon the success of the previous event that followed the 2010 NHL Winter Classic, there will be a Jan. 7 doubleheader of men’s college hockey featuring UMass-Amherst, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.
As a result, New Englanders now have confirmation that there will be high-profile hockey action at a sizable outdoor facility for the third consecutive winter. The two instances of a pond at the Yawkey Yard sandwich the two-week Whaler Hockey Fest that was conducted this past February at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field.
A devout puckhead could get used to this, especially now with the Bruins having returned to the summit of the NHL and reinvigorating local interest in the sport with their Stanley Cup victory.
No telling yet what else might accompany the forthcoming Hockey East doubleheader. But now would be the perfect time to brainstorm other ways to celebrate New England hockey at roofless venues, both this year and in the years to come.
I say do this every year at a select venue somewhere in the region, whether it’s in January or February and whether it’s at Fenway, Gillette Stadium, Alumni Stadium at Boston College or a similarly-sized facility.
Other respected hockey regions are already ahead in this game. Since at least the middle of the last decade, we have seen consistent celebrations of “Hockey Day In Michigan” and “Hockey Day Minnesota.”
But with sufficient effort, New England can easily one-up both of those. After all, this is the region that garnered America’s first NHL franchise in 1924. This is where the Beanpot has been played since 1953. This is a region that currently harbors seven AHL franchises, 20 men’s and/or women’s Division-I college programs and nine Eastern Junior League teams.
With that in mind, there should be a way to incorporate everybody into the spotlight each year. The Bruins might not be able to conduct a regular season game outdoors, but they can at least hold a practice open to the public and bring out their alumni for some 40,000 spectators to see.
For everyone else, from the minor pros to prep school-aged prospects, getting a couple of annual outdoor games should be easy as Boston cream pie.
Even if some ideas cannot be executed at Fenway this January, let us at least throw them out now in order to practice for future opportunities. During an interview on NESN Friday evening, Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy mentioned that he expects to keep the ice up and running for at least two weeks, beginning around New Year’s Day.
As it happens, six of the AHL’s seven New England-based teams are scheduled to play one another one day within that time frame. On Friday, Jan. 13, the Manchester Monarchs shall host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Portland Pirates are visiting the Springfield Falcons and the Providence Bruins are facing the Worcester Sharks.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
It’s a long shot at this point, especially with every team already having sacrificed a pair of home games for this season after league president Dave Andrews whittled the schedule down from 80 to 76 games per team. Odds are the last thing Monarchs, Falcons and P-Bruins management want to hear is a proposal to delete another home date.
But still, other than the Whale Bowl between Providence and Connecticut, the NHL’s top development league has not stepped outside anywhere in its most permeated sector. If it fails once again to go to Fenway like it did in 2010, the AHL will be batting 0-for-2 in the Hub.
Meanwhile, a multitude of EJHL games are presently scheduled to be played in their regular venues in the week following the college doubleheader. What would it take to transplant a couple of those to Boston?
And Bertagna, whose resume includes two years of coaching women’s hockey at Harvard and fostering the Women’s Hockey East Association, must have a plan to give some ice time to female pucksters.
There are 12 Division I teams in the area other than New Hampshire and Northeastern, who preceded the BC and BU men in the 2010 Frozen Fenway event. And the Boston Blades, whose inaugural roster featured the likes of four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero, are slated to embark on their second season in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
But ultimately, it is on the Spoked-B, the most appropriate emblem to describe Boston’s sphere of influence and the Bruins’ influence on the state of New England hockey, to make sure this becomes a regular festival. The Bruins must collaborate with the likes of the Red Sox and Patriots, pledge to put their past and present personnel on a frozen field each year and invite their lower-level neighbors to take a turn while they’re at it.
Heck, I say get the Zambonis going on this and call it the Jack Falla Festival, in memory of the author of Home Ice and former owner of the famed Bacon Street Omni in Natick, Mass.
What better way to embolden a legacy like that?