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Ice Guru: ‘Good Lord couldn’t have done better’

01.01.10 at 12:22 pm ET
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When you play an outdoor hockey game on New Year’s Day in Boston, sometimes you need some divine intervention.

The Bruins, Flyers and NHL got just that on Friday when the weather turned out perfect for the Winter Classic – and most importantly the ice at Fenway Park.

“Awesome,” NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig said of the ice. “The Good Lord couldn’t have done better for us right now.”

This isn’t the first time Craig has found religion for the sake of playing an outdoor hockey game.

“Buffalo for me, was very stressful,” he said of the 2008 classic between the Sabres and Penguins. “[I was] praying that we could have a good game. Chicago [2009], with our new equipment, [I was] nervous but confident in our equipment and the crew and knowing we were going to have a good game, which we did. And today, it is a calm confidence that we are going to have an awesome, awesome day at the park.”

Many fans assume that the colder the better for the ice. Not necessarily. If it’s too cold, the ice gets too brittle. Last year at Wrigley Field the temperatures hovered in the low 20s. So the forecast for 38 degrees at face-off work well for Craig and the NHL.

“Today is different from Chicago, due to the weather and how warm it’s going to be,” Craig said. “My crew can monitor ice conditions as they’re happening on the field of play. I will be in tune with them and with the engineer on the truck because I have to make sure that the truck goes down slowly in temperature as the temperature rises outside.

“Right on target – within tenths of a degree of the target, which is 24 degrees. We’re right where we want to be.”

Read More: Bruins, Flyers, NHL, Winter Classic

Picture Gallery From Fenway Park For NHL Winter Classic

01.01.10 at 11:20 am ET
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NHL facilities operations manager Dan Craig took a final skate around the rink at Fenway at 11:20 and indicated the ice is ready for hockey at the Winter Classic. “We’re right where we want to be,” Craig said when asked about temperature of the ice. “The Good Lord couldn’t have done better for us right now.”

Courtesy of WEEI.com’s Graig Woodburn, here are pictures of the final preparations leading up to the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on Friday:

Already an ‘amazing’ experience for Bruins

12.31.09 at 4:09 pm ET
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On cue, the snow, the Bruins and the excitement, arrived at the Winter Classic ice rink at Fenway Park Thursday.

And from the moment they left the locker room ‘€“ make that the dugout ‘€“ the Bruins were enjoying the moment.

‘€œIt was amazing when we walked up the stairs, the snow was coming down, seeing Fenway Park in the background,’€ center Patrice Bergeron said. ‘€œIt was amazing. A great day, a great moment, great experience for me, I’€™m just glad to be part of it.’€

After posing for a team picture – one with knits hats, one without ‘€“ the players and coaches became reacquainted with simple concept of outdoor hockey. When it snows, you shovel.

‘€œI remember when I was a kid that was my first job,’€ Bruins center Marc Savard said. ‘€œI think I was around 13 years old and shoveled the outdoor rink and opened and closed the shack.’€

Things were a little different Thursday, as pro athletes and coaches jumped into grab snow shovels, although the team’€™s young guns seemed to be handling most of the snow removal duties.

‘€œI kind of noticed that the younger guys had grabbed shovels, I figured I better help out too,’€ said rookie Adam McQuaid, obviously a quick study at the ways and means of young NHL players.

He was not alone.

‘€œI was just doing what I was told, I remember it from the old days,’€ second-year forward Blake Wheeler said. ‘€œBack in the day, when it was snowing that hard we’€™d just go inside and wait for it to clear.’€

The snow certainly added to the atmosphere inside Fenway, as did the up-tempo music and sea of fans making there way to the ‘€œFree Fan Festival’€ across the street.

Seat cushions were in place, albeit with a dusting of fresh snow. The left field scoreboard had replaced the American League East standings with those of the NHL‘€™s Northeast Division.

Home plate had been transformed into a music stage, set for James Taylor to sing the US national anthem, Daniel Powter the Canadian version and the Dropkick Murphy’€™s to punctuate the day with ‘€œI’€™m Shipping Up to Boston.’€

There was no doubt, the Winter Classic was in play.

‘€œIt’€™s crazy,’€ said Steve Begin, ‘€œIt’€™s fun. The ice was unbelievable. It was special. I haven’€™t skated in snow in a long time.’€

While the snow was fun for practice, players were in general agreement that it would not be a good thing for the game itself.

‘€œHopefully we are going to get some clear ice out there because with the snow it makes it pretty interesting,’€ Wheeler said. ‘€œIf not, that’€™s the way it is and we have to adapt to it and play the game accordingly.’€

Aside from the obvious changes from a regular NHL game, the outdoor contest presents some interesting qualities.

With Tim Thomas likely to get the starting nod in goal, Tuukka Rask could be one of the coldest players on the ice as he sits through the game. But in keeping with his usual calm approach, Rask’€™s taking it all in stride.

‘€œSomeone told me there were seat warmers and you could always drink hot chocolate,’€ said Rask. ‘€œGear up, put a tuc on and enjoy. No stress for me. If I’€™m cold, then I’€™m cold.’€

There has also never been a fight in a Winter Classic game. Former Flyers enforcer Dave ‘€œthe hammer ‘€œ Schultz, was wondering about that while skating at the rink earlier in the week.

‘€œThere’€™s never been one so at this point, I think we should try it out,’€ grinned Schultz. ‘€œFlyers and Bruins ‘€“ its gotta happen.’€

Shawn Thornton would be a potential candidate to drop the gloves for the Bruins, but he wasn’€™t expressing any interest in looking to start a brawl.

‘€œI honestly have never gone into a hockey game thinking about fighting, this is no different,’€ Thornton said while holding court in David Ortiz‘€™s locker. ‘€œI’€™m going to go play hockey as if it were any other game. If something needs to be addressed, it will be addressed. I’€™m sure it’€™s the same on the other side.’€

Fights or no fights, snow or no snow, when all was said and done there was little doubt the Bruins were enjoying the experience.

‘€œIt’€™s great, it’€™s awesome,’€ said center David Krejci. ‘€œI can’€™t wait to go out there tomorrow and see 35,000 people cheering for you and being excited about the game.’€

Drop the puck.

Photos from Fenway on the eve of the Winter Classic

12.31.09 at 11:55 am ET
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Courtesy of WEEI.com’s Graig Woodburn, some photos of this morning’s preparations at Fenway Park for the NHL’s 2010 Winter Classic:

Read More: Fenway Park, Winter Classic,

Getting ready for a Classic

12.31.09 at 9:38 am ET
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Bruins show their true focus

12.31.09 at 1:39 am ET
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Claude Julien wasn’t so worried Wednesday about his team looking ahead to Friday’s once-in-a-lifetime game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park .

The Bruins head coach was more concerned with his team just finding consistency and focus – both of which have been lacking in a season after finishing atop the Eastern Conference.

But on Wednesday night at the Garden, Julien watched from behind the Bruins bench with a smile as his team executed a nearly flawless performance in a 4-0 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

Afterward, Julien, Tuukka Rask and Marc Savard, with two assists in the win, were among those to talk about the win and finally able to look ahead to Friday.

Julien said the team’s focus was much better on Wednesday.

Julien said the Bruins clearly were focused and not distracted by Olympics or Winter Classic.

Tuukka Rask said he thought Atlanta mailed it in once they got behind.

Rask said the team is now looking ahead to Friday against Philly, a team they feel they need to beat.

Marc Savard congratulated fellow Canadian Patrice Bergeron on making Team Canada’s Olympic team.

Savard said it was great to be able to put the Thrashers away.

Savard said the Bruins proved they weren’t distracted by the Winter Classic on Friday.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Flyers, NHL, Winter Classic

Olympic selection thrills Bergeron

12.30.09 at 5:23 pm ET
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It was not just another day at the rink for Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.

The 24-year-old received a message during the team’€™s morning skate that, Kevin Lowe, an official with the Canadian Olympic hockey team had called. Upon returning the call, Bergeron learned a dream had come true and  he was headed to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

‘€œI’€™m pretty happy, pretty excited about it,’€ said Bergeron outside the Bruins locker room before tonight’€™s contest against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Bergeron was the only player selected for the Canadian team that had not been invited to a training camp this summer. Instead, he earned his way into being selected as one of  the 13 forwards on Canada’€™s Olympic squad by playing consistently strong hockey all season.

‘€œI worked hard, it wasn’€™t just for the Olympics, but for the Bruins and I’€™m very happy to get rewarded like that today,’€ said Bergeron, who leads the Bruins in scoring with 29 points and is among the top faceoff men in the league.

Still, the skilled forward was somewhat taken aback to learn he would be helping Canada try to win a Gold Medal while hosting the Olympics in mid-February.

‘€œIt was kind of hard to believe today, it was kind of overwhelming a little bit,’€ said Bergeron. ‘€œMy family is here for the New Year, so I was real happy to have them here with me. I’€™m very honored and very happy. It’€™s a great feeling.’€

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