Snow falls, spirits rise in outdoor practice

The Green Monster, white snowflakes and red cheeks.

Fenway Park was all decked out for the Winter Classic, the NHL’s

New Year’s Day skate down memory lane, a journey back to those

iced-over ponds where many of today’s stars played for hours and

hours when they were kids.

“I grew up in Ottawa. That’s all I did, until I got my report

card,” Boston’s Marc Savard said. “Then I had to shut it down for

a week or so and get back to doing homework.”

On Thursday, Savard was concerned about keeping the puck from

sliding off his stick as he carried it through nearly an inch of

snow that had collected. The rink for the Friday afternoon game was

set up across the infield and just into the outfield from foul line

to foul line in the stadium that opened in 1912. The center faceoff

dot was at second base.

The scoreboard on the 37-foot high Green Monster in left field

had the Northeast Division standings where the AL East standings

are listed during the Red Sox season. The flakes started falling,

as if on cue, minutes before the Bruins began their late-morning

practice.

“It was just great timing,” Boston captain Zdeno Chara said.

“It was very cool.”

A lot better than rain, that’s for sure.

“I figure it would be pretty cold landing on the back of my

neck,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said.

Friday’s forecast calls for snow showers early, temperatures

just above the freezing point and a possibility of rain that most

concerns players. The makeup day in case of a postponement is

Saturday, although the forecast for that day is worse.

“Everybody was pretty worried about rain being a factor. I

think we can all handle snow. We grew up with it,” Flyers

defenseman Chris Pronger said. “If the weather stays the way it

was today, we’ll be in for a real good game, as long as the snow is

sparse.”

Enough of it piled up Thursday for Bruins coach Claude Julien,

his cheeks red from the cold, to wield a shovel as he skated

repeatedly from one end of the ice to the other to clear a wide

lane for shooting practice.

“It was a way of getting in shape, I guess,” he joked.

For the second straight year, the Winter Classic is being played

in a storied baseball venue.

“We all came in here like little kids, checking out the

dressing room,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, an Edmonton

native. “I didn’t grow up with the history of the Red Sox … but

it doesn’t take long to understand how important it is to the

city.”

A year ago the game was at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago

Cubs, where Detroit beat Chicago 6-4 on an overcast day with

temperatures around 32 degrees. The first Winter Classic was played

in 2008, a 2-1 shootout win for Pittsburgh over Buffalo as snow

fell at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The NHL also held an outdoor game in Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2003,

when Montreal beat the Oilers 4-3 on a very chilly day.

Temperatures in the high 20s with little sunshine is considered

optimal for an outdoor game.

“If it’s (snowing) they’re going to have to clear the ice a

lot,” Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. “It was pretty tough to

move the biscuit around when there’s that much snow on the

ground.”

Thursday was a day for players to enjoy themselves and marvel at

their surroundings – the park where Ted Williams hit his 521st

homer in his final major league at-bat, the park where Roger

Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners – and soak in their brush

with history.

“Big Papi’s stall. I like it,” said Shawn Thornton, who was

assigned David Ortiz’s locker.

Friday is the time when the focus changes to winning a hockey

game.

The Flyers have won four straight after losing 14 of their

previous 17, a slide that cost coach John Stevens his job and gave

Peter Laviolette the top spot. The Bruins have won four of five.

Both teams are coming off shutout victories Wednesday night.

“It’s finally here,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren

said. “It’s a game on our schedule under very unique

circumstances.”

The Bruins are fifth in the Eastern Conference with 47 points

after beating Atlanta 4-0. The Flyers were tied for eighth with 40

points following their 6-0 win over the New York Rangers behind

goalie Michael Leighton, who has won all four games in the streak

since being claimed on waivers from Carolina on Dec. 15.

He’ll get the start over Brian Boucher, a native of Woonsocket,

R.I.

“He wanted to play, but I think you also understand,” said

Laviolette, himself an area native from Franklin, Mass. “If you

had won four in a row and done a pretty good job doing it, you

would expect to be given it again.”

Thomas will start for the Bruins and is expected to be named to

the U.S. Olympic team later Friday.

“I don’t want to talk too much about it,” he said. “It will

be an honor if I do get named.”

It would be a treat for the fans if they see the mask of Tuukka

Rask, Thomas’ backup, that was made for the game at the home of the

Red Sox. On the front is a painting of the head of a bear with a

torn New York Yankees jersey in its teeth.

Growing up in Finland, Rask had no quarrel with the Yankees but

has caught on quickly to the rivalry that excites fans.

“I didn’t ask for it but I don’t mind it,” he said. “It’s

pretty cool. I hope the fans love it, too.”