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Showcase Time at Fenway

When the NHL [1] debuted outdoor hockey on New Year’s Day 2008, the Boston Bruins [2] were not exactly on the radar of those planning showcase events for the league.

But as the sun shone down on Fenway Park [3] on Wednesday, the spotlight could not have been brighter or more welcome for Boston and its beloved hockey team.

Not only did it appear real summer weather had arrived in Boston after a brutal spring, but it appears the NHL [4] is warming to Boston as a showcase city for its sport on the world stage. The Bruins will play the Philadelphia Flyers [5] on Jan. 1, 2010 in the NHL “Winter Classic.”

“This is so great for the organization,” Bruins Vice President Cam Neely said [6] following Wednesday’s ceremony atop the first base dugout. “It’s great for our fans. We’ve kind of been working our way out of where we were maybe up until the last couple of years. I think this is just another great stepping stone for us being relevant, not only here in the local market, but league-wide.”

Neely certainly remembers the days when the Black and Gold were more than relevant. In 1988 and 1990, Neely starred, along with Ray Bourque [7], on teams that made the Stanley Cup [8] Finals, only to lose to the powerhouse known as the Edmonton Oilers [9].

The goal of the franchise is to get back there and while there will be no Stanley Cup Finals tickets punched on Jan. 1, there will be the chance for the Bruins to shine on a global stage.

“It’s been a great couple of years,” Neely said [10]. “The experience that our guys’ have gotten with the way we’ve played the last couple of years has been fantastic. Then to add this game and for our guys to be proud to be Boston Bruins and represent us the way we want them to represent us, I think it’s going to be fantastic.”

“We’ve been doing a lot of steps forward in the past few years and this is another showcase for us to show we’re going in the right direction and that we have a good team,” added center Patrice Bergeron [11]. “We have to credit to the Jacobs family and the Bruins organization to set this up and doing everything that was in their power to have a game here at Fenway Park. I’m just happy to be a part of that.”

Expectation is high for the Bruins, despite losing a heartbreaking Game 7 to Carolina in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Expectation for this one game is nearly as high for the players taking part.

“I stick around here all summer, too, so I get to come to a few games,” said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton [12]. “And it’s definitely my favorite ball park to come watch a game. So, to be able to play it here. I can’t wait to see what’s it’s like with a rink out here and look around and take it all in once we get started.”

Owner Jeremy Jacobs took his shot at putting the upcoming event at Fenway in perspective.

“Last year a reporter from USA Today commented that being selected for this event is like being awarded the NHL’s version of the Olympic bid,” Jacobs said [13]. “You know, he had it right. In Boston, we have been home to more than our fair share of great sports moments. And on New Year’s Day, 2010, we will be adding another indelible memory to that long list.”

And like the Olympics, the whole hockey world will be watching.