BOSTON – The NHL’s Winter Classic, Version 3.0, couldn’t have been more of a hit if every storied slugger of Red Sox lore brought all of their collective batting prowess to a t-ball marathon.
In its third year under the official brand, the outdoor game at baseball’s Fenway Park between the hometown Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers was the pinnacle of the evolving event – an even better experience than the 2009 edition that took place at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and the 2008 version at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The placement of the rink itself was closer to the infield than it was in Chicago, heightening the sense of intimacy and providing top-shelf views for the sellout crowd of 38,112; legendary singer James Taylor and native Bostonian contributed a stirring version of the American national anthem; the ice was in pristine condition, allowing the players to skate at full throttle; and the weather – 39.6 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the game – was ideal.
Of course, the final score (2-1 in favor of the Bruins) was of ultimate importance to the teams involved, but as an entertainment package, as a method to produce an unforgettable afternoon for both veteran hockey fans and newcomers to the sport, the Winter Classic continued to surpass even the most optimistic expectations.
As was the case at Wrigley last year, the Fenway game represented an underscoring of the host franchise’s rejuvenation as a big league hockey town. But there were individual stories of resurrection as well – most notably, in the person of Flyers defenseman Danny Syvret.
Syvret, a 2005 draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers, former Ontario and Canadian League defenseman of the year – and the player who scored the gold-medal-winning goal for Team Canada at the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship – finally netted his first goal in 44 career NHL games.
Syvret’s goal fulfilled the prophecy of Hockey Hall of Fame photographer Dave Sandford, a friend of Syvret who told the blueliner a day earlier he would break the goose egg on this historic day. More importantly, it was a wonderful reward for a player who didn’t make the jump from the American League as soon as some expected.
“Dave is a friend of mine and he told me there’s no better place to score your first goal,” the 24-year-old Syvret said of Fenway. “It’s a mental battle (to focus on making it to the NHL), but you have to believe in yourself and concentrate on the things you can control and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. And to get that first goal is certainly an amazing feeling.”
Another Flyer who has seen his share of tough times, yet stood out for the right reasons on the Fenway ice, was goalie Michael Leighton.
The journeyman netminder, now on his second tour of duty in Philadelphia, held the Bruins off the scoresheet through the first 57:42 of the game and extended his shutout streak to 154:07 before Mark Recchi scored to send the game to overtime. (A Marco Sturm tip-in gave the Bruins a come-from behind victory at 1:57 of overtime.)
Until that point, the fans in the stands didn’t have very many opportunities to empty their lungs and give their team a hometown advantage. But the truth of the matter is that none of them made the trek to Fenway simply to bear witness to another Bruins victory.
No, they showed up because, for the third consecutive year, there was only one place on the planet any hockey fan in their right mind wanted to be.
Outdoors. On New Year’s Day. Watching the best game there is – and rediscovering the elemental joys of taking in the elements.
VIDEO: THN Shootout – Winter Classic wrap-up
From Fenway Park in Boston, The Hockey News’ Adam Proteau is joined by the Canadian Press’ Chris Johnston to discuss the atmosphere at 2010 Winter Classic… The unsung heroes stealing the show… And speculate on where the Winter Classic will go from here. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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