Five Minute Major: Setting the Stage for the NHL Winter Classic

4 Sport BostonCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2009

(Originally posted at 4SportBoston.com )

Tomorrow may be the biggest single-day sporting event held in Boston’s rich history as the 2010 NHL Winter Classic is set to drop the puck at Fenway Park between the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Sure, there have been many championships won in Boston by the Celtics and the Red Sox and the Patriots. All of whom have had epic playoff games. Heck, even the Bruins won a Stanley Cup or two at the old Garden.

Tomorrow’s game is different in that it is a singular event with international attention paid to it.

There is actual build-up to the game (well, maybe not if you are WEEI...I mean, why focus on a special event like this when there is so much Jason Bay talk to be had...) with hockey media all over the U.S. and Canada talking about the historic marriage of outdoor ice hockey and Fenway Park and the possible rekindling of an old rivalry between the Big, Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bullies.

Around town, Bruins beat writers like NESN’s James Murphy and CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty have done a great job covering the event as it unfolds, providing updates on the making of the ice, the possible weather conditions, and how the B’s are preparing.

Still, as usual, the Bruins rank at the bottom of the mainstream media’s attention in this town behind Red Sox moves that may or may not pay off 10 months from now (Lackey, Yes...Cameron, No), whether or not the Patriots’ defense can stop anyone in the playoffs (Wild Card round, Yes...Divisional Round, No) and if the Celtics can survive the latest rash of injuries (short term, no...long term, may not be a bad thing to have those guys rested, but I have no idea).

That’s okay, that is what I am for.

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There are five things to watch out for regarding tomorrow’s game. So, let’s throw together a special “Five Minute Major” for the event. I will even write this outdoors just to get in the spirit of things. (Note: No way I am doing that. It will be cold enough tomorrow at the game.)

1. Weather . As Koonoo would say in Forgetting Sarah Marshall , “Oh, the weather outside is weather.”

All week long, the meteorologists have been unsure of exactly what the weather will be like on Friday. I know that is a big change from the usual spot-on forecasts we get around here, but for someone who is planning on attending the game, a little help would be nice. Do I need a poncho? Do I need extra gloves? Do I need to bring goggles?

Last night, there was a 70 percent chance of rain/wintery mix with a high of 40 and a low of 32. Today, I am looking at morning snow with a high of 36 but it will feel like 29.

In terms of the game, if there is going to be precipitation, temperatures below 33 are better. The game can be played if it is snowing lightly, but rain could cause weather delays or even postponement until Saturday.

Don’t forget the Rockwellian awesomeness that a snowfall over Fenway would provide to those in attendance and those watching at home.

That thumping noise you just heard was NBC executives getting excited at their desks over the thought of viewers turning to NBC at noon tomorrow and seeing a “White Fenway.”

The game played in Buffalo was a hit because of the snowy backdrop. Last year’s game at Wrigley Field was impressive because of the visuals of playing at the old ballpark with the city skyline. A light snow tomorrow at the “Lyric Little Bandbox” is the perfect storm (pun partially intended) for this event.

2. Pressure on the Players . Ever since the game was announced for the B’s and Flyers, the players have been hit with questions on what it will be like to play in the game. Never mind ticket requests from family and friends and the media requests like commercials and appearances to promote the game for the bigger name players.

I mean, Milan Lucic was on VH1’s Top 20 Countdown. Has that ever happened to a hockey player? As much as the players try to downplay it as just another regular season game, that is not the case and they know it.

When they come out of the dugouts tomorrow, a very cool visual, they will be doing so in front of 39,000 fans. For most, that will be the most they have ever played in front of.

All the hoopla of the national anthems, fireworks, introductions, ceremonial puck drops will really hit on the fact that this is not a game against Tampa in October. The team who better corrals the nerves and excitement as the best chance to win the game.

3. Fan Involvement . There is no questioning that Bruins fans are a very passionate group. I would even go as far as to suggest they are night-in, night-out the most passionate in the city.

We all know that Patriots fans don’t bring the noise all the time and can see that on CBS every Sunday when half the stadium is empty at the start of the game and halftime.

Red Sox fans created the term “Pink Hat” and most of them spend more time in line for beer than watching the game. There are plenty who care about every at-bat and out, but percentage-wise it isn’t the same as the Bruins.

Celtics fans, well I don’t really know much, as I haven’t been to a game since Rick Pitino was coach. My guess is they get excited at big dunks and when titles are won.

B’s fans, the ones who follow the team religiously and pack the garden for almost every home game, are vocal and don’t need prodding from the PA announcer to make noise when the team kills a penalty or someone blocks a shot.

They know when the team needs a wake-up call and realize how much they add to a game.

The question is: Will this translate to Fenway?

The season ticket holders had access to tickets first, so there should be a lot of them in attendance tomorrow. And the scuttlebutt around the innerwebs is that many diehard fans realize the uniqueness of this event and have paid large amounts for tickets.

Yes, there will still be a percentage of the crowd who is there just because it is an event and they have the corporate seats, but the combination of passionate Bruins fans and the equally as passionate, yet much more abrasive Philly fans should make for an entertaining crowd presence at the Fens.

4. Boxing at Fenway ? Over the years, there have been boxing matches held at Fenway Park. Tomorrow, there is a chance another kind of pugilistic activity will occur.

There has never been a fight at the Winter Classic in its short history. Debate has been held on whether or not the NHL has forbidden teams from engaging in fisticuffs, and that may very well be the case. However, hockey is a reactionary and intense game.

Something tells me if Riley Cote or Dan Carcillo runs Tim Thomas, he will have to face the music. Shawn Thornton has been one of the more amped-up Bruins about this game, and he may look to make his mark in the only way he knows how. If there were ever two teams destined to be the first to throw down outdoors, it is these two.

Over the years, they are without a doubt the two most physical and combative franchises in the NHL. Their team personas are defined by “Big, Bad” and “Bullies.” The idea of these two duking it out on the same ground where Jason Varitek stuffed a Rawlings mitt down A-Rod’s throat and where Pedro Martinez played matador with an old man just has a nice ring to it.

5. Will the cold affect the goalies? Of all the players playing tomorrow, Tim Thomas and Brian Boucher (the expected starting goalies) will have the toughest go of it.

The skaters will have heated benches to return to every 45 seconds when their shifts are done. The keepers will be out by themselves for the 30 minutes it takes to complete a period, standing still often while the puck is down the other end.

Goalies thrive on being warm and active, so getting caught off-guard could happen if a sudden rush occurs back in their direction. Plus, the ice is relatively new and unused in an NHL game. Expect a few weird bounces to change the course of the game.

All that being said, expect a great atmosphere tomorrow at Fenway. The streets will be open early for fans to check out a Fan Festival and so will the bars around Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way.

Every single person in attendance knows they are seeing something special, and should appreciate that. The players know it, too, and should rise to the occasion.

Both teams won big last night, with the B’s downing Atlanta, 4-0, and the Flyers pounding the Rangers, 6-0. So they are coming in with momentum and expect to put forth a good game.

My prediction

Bruins win a close game, 5-4.

Defense suffers most in this type of game with new surroundings for goalies and uncertain ice.

The first period may be the most exciting as the two teams feed of the energy in the park, look for three to four goals in the first 20 minutes followed by the game evening out over the final two periods.

Also, the rain will hold off, making this a perfect event for the 39,000 in Fenway Park...especially me.

What's your prediction?

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