Flyers and Bruins visit Fenway Park
The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins took their first look at Fenway Park - hockey-style - less than one month before the clubs meet in the NHL's Winter Classic.
The atmosphere was light as players and personnel from both teams were given a guided tour Sunday of the uncompleted rink, the locker room and other facilities.
Fenway Park, the 97-year-old home of baseball's Boston Red Sox, is in the early stages of being converted to a hockey rink that will host the New Year's Day game between the visiting Flyers and the Bruins.
The NHL is staging the outdoor Winter Classic for the third straight year.
Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, hosted the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks last year. Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the NFL's Buffalo Bills call home, was the location in 2008 when the Pittsburgh Penguins visited the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bruins were tourists in their own city, talking about going out to see the Green Monster - Fenway's famed 37-foot-high wall in left field - and asking a ballpark guide to see the locker of Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz.
``It's my first time walking on the field or even going to the field,'' Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. ``I'm just excited to see the surroundings.''
Other players, such as Bruins rookie goalie Tuukka Rask, had been to Fenway to see the Red Sox, but the field never looked like this. Forward Daniel Paille, acquired early this season by the Bruins, played in the 2008 Winter Classic while with the Sabres.
``It's huge,'' he said. ``I played before in Buffalo, and just the atmosphere of everyone screaming, it's just awesome. It's an amazing experience.''
And that experience will help Paille prepare this time. He is well aware of the difficulties associated with playing hockey outdoors in January in cold weather.
``It's not heated. At an outdoor rink you just sit there and get that breeze, indoors you're pretty much warm the whole game,'' Paille said.
The weather on game day isn't the only potential problem. Snow the previous two years affected the construction of the rinks.
When the NHL held the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton, Alberta - the league's first regular-season outdoor game - 52 loads of snow had to be removed from the ice by Zamboni on the day of the game between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers.
For that reason, the crew in Boston built in an extra ``snow day'' just in case.
As rain fell Sunday, the players on hand joked with each other and the assembled media. They wondered if they could hit the Green Monster with a puck during warmups, or if 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, the NHL's tallest player, would be able to fit through the tunnel leading from the locker rooms to the field.
The Flyers, already in town for their Monday night game against the Bruins, bumped into their opponents while touring the stadium. The pleasant greeting between old friends didn't reveal the fierce rivalry that exists between the teams.
Despite leading the Flyers by nine points and eight spots in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins believe the Flyers provide a challenge on the ice. Boston lost in a shootout at Philadelphia in October.
``They're a tough team to play against. It'll be a tough game,'' Rask said. ``We've had some good battles against the Flyers and I think it will be great.''