David Krejci, Shawn Thornton, Aaron Ward and Patrice Bergeron stand at center ice near second base on the field at Fenway Wednesday afternoon. (AP)
The NHL and the Bruins finally officially verified the longest-running rumor in the history of Boston hockey Wednesday, as it was announced the B’s and Philadelphia Flyers will play against each other on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. as part of the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
The pomp and circumstance was raised to an all-time high on Wednesday afternoon at the Fens as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, a phalanx of NHL officials, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, Mayor Tom Menino, as well as Jeremy and Charlie Jacobs, were in attendance to announce the NHL showcase event in Boston.
B’s players David Krejci, Shawn Thornton, Aaron Ward, Patrice Bergeron, and Marco Sturm were also on hand to take part in the event and talk about playing in an outdoor game in January. The players, as expected, were typically excited about playing in such a marquee event at a once-in-a-hockey-lifetime setting like the Lyric Little Bandbox on Yawkey Way.
“It’s an honor to the play in the National Hockey League where there’s only about 700 guys that get to do it — and get that privelige,” said Ward. “Then you add this to that where you’re one of about 40 guys that will play hockey at Fenway Park. We’ll be the only guys that get to experience that, and you never know when it’ll be back because it’s moving around every year.
“We’ve experienced a lot, we’ve been in some great building and played in some big pressure games. But this is something that I don’t think we could have foreseen as a hockey player. If you’re from Boston then you know the weight that this Red Sox team carries and the weight that Fenway carries, and it helps us further inject excitement into Bruins hockey and the NHL as a whole.”
The game also signals the continued return of the Black and Gold franchise to the NHL’s upper echelon, and further proves that pro hockey is back in a big way in Boston. Sources told WEEI.com weeks ago that BU and BC are planning a Jan. 8 outdoor game at Fenway Park to take place a week after the Winter Classic, and Menino indicated there will be two days of public skating offered to those interested in taking a few turns at the Fens. There’s also been rumblings about a women’s college hockey game around the same time, so the NHL officials have plenty of extra activities planned in Boston around the event.
“To be able to play outside at Fenway Park, in a regular-season game, you never thought it would happen,” said Bruins Vice-President Cam Neely, who never dared to dream about a game at the Fens during his playing days. “It’s a great experience to be a part of. Every player in the NHL wants to be part of this. It’s quite a spectacle and great for the fans. It’s unbelievable for Boston and our fan base.”
Some of hockey’s brightest stars — and toughest characters – will be on display at the 2010 Bridgestone/NHL Winter Classic, including the Bruins’ recent NHL Awards winners: Tim Thomas (Vezina Trophy and William M. Jennings Trophy), Zdeno Chara (James Norris Memorial Trophy) and coach Claude Julien (Jack Adams Trophy). The Flyers’ roster boasts marquee talent such as Selke Trophy Finalist Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and the newly acquired Chris Pronger.
The Bruins and Flyers have a long history of hockey hatred between the two teams, with the most recent chapter coming in the wake of a Randy Jones hit from behind in on Patrice Bergeron in October 2007 that knocked Bergeron out for the entire remaining balance of the 2007-08 season.
It’s consistent with the long and contentious rivalry between the two cities. The Flyers earned their first Stanley Cup in 1974 against the Bruins, the Celtics and 76ers battled in the NBA Playoffs of 1981, 1982 and 2002, and the Patriots-Eagles showdown in Super Bowl XXXIX, making this a classic match-up on New Year’s Day.
“Landing the Winter Classic here is something that we have worked hard to achieve for our fans for quite some time.” said owner of the Boston Bruins and Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors Jeremy Jacobs. “In Boston, we have been home to more than our fair share of great sports moments … too many to list. But there is no doubt that on New Year’s Day 2010, we will be adding another indelible memory to that long list.”