It’s been easy to forget our hockey roots. In the first 10 years of this new century, New England’s culture of hockey got lost in the parades, motion pictures, and epic tomes dedicated to the championship seasons of the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics.
But we are, and forever will be, people of ice, blades, laces, and warm breath blowing through cold air. Yesterday Boston reminded North America that the Hub of the Universe is still, at heart, a hockey town.
And what a heartbeat at Fenway Park yesterday afternoon. In the third Winter Classic, 38,112 stoic souls filled the house of Papelbon and Pedroia and stood in the cold for three hours before they were rewarded with a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on a table hockey, tip-in goal by Marco Sturm in the second minute of extra innings.
”It’s the perfect day for hockey in Boston,” said Bobby Orr as he watched from an upstairs box. “It’s a thrill to see all these pros turn into kids again for one day. This is how we all started playing hockey - outdoors. And this day, here at Fenway Park, truly is a classic.”
The crowd made the day. Ken Burns’s well-worn PBS series on baseball spoke lovingly about the good old days of ballpark crowds when “everybody wore a hat.” Grainy photos of packed Fenway in the days of Ruth feature endless rows of gentlemen smoking cigarettes, wearing boaters, no doubt placing bets on the unfolding action.
You can’t smoke at Fenway anymore, but it seemed that everybody at the park yesterday wore a hat. Owed to comfort more than fashion, most of the 38,112 kept their heads warm with one of the Winter Classic tuques sold at the concession stands. Those hats forever will be souvenirs of one of the most magical afternoons in the history of the 97-year-old yard.
It was 39 degrees at game time (some Sox games have been colder) and many sight lines were terrible, but few complained. Twenty-three-year-old Lindsey Maher made the trip from Allentown, Pa., and scored a front-row ticket behind the backstop, only to learn she was sitting below ice level, 150 feet from the penalty box.
”At least we’ll be able to hear the game,” said Maher, a Flyers fan.
Most of the fans had the same attitude. This was a day to be there. That was enough.
The postcard-perfect afternoon lacked the Currier Ives snowfall that marked Thursday’s photogenic practice session (million-dollar athletes clearing the ice with shovels!), but everything else worked out the way it was sketched on the NHL blueprint.
Orr skated to center ice for a ceremonial pregame handshake with Flyer nemesis Bobby Clarke, then stuck around for both national anthems.
Ever the hockey head chiseled on New England sports’ Mount Rushmore, Orr stood at attention, stick resting on the ice, while Daniel Powter sang “O Canada.” James Taylor was next and the man who sang of snow covering the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston wowed the legions with an acoustic “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Then it was Game On and the pace was intense and urgent, if not peppered with scoring opportunities. The highlight of the nil-nil first period was a dust-up featuring Bruin favorite Shawn Thornton and Philly’s Daniel Carcillo. It was mildly reminiscent of the Rick Porcello-Kevin Youkilis scrum at Fenway last summer, and Thornton got in one good lick before landing on his back (”Down goes Frazier!”) after a right cross by Carcillo.
The Flyers broke through with a goal in the second, but it did little to dampen the spirit of the crowd. Watching from box L-1, Orr thought of his childhood in Parry Sound, Ontario.
”This is hockey,” he said. “We’d go out in the morning and skate in Georgian Bay or on the Seguin River. All of our skating was outdoors. Sometimes you need to be downwind. Our parents just told us to be home for dinner, or when it got dark.”
It was getting dark at Fenway late in the third period when comedian Lenny Clarke came out to lead a singing of “Sweet Caroline.”
The Red Sox magic took over from there when Mark Recchi scored a power-play goal with 2:18 remaining. Less than two minutes into overtime, Sturm (the only player left from the Joe Thornton debacle) potted the winner and it was time to cue up “Dirty Water.” Boston’s winter carnival was barking.
No one wanted to leave. Fans stuck around for the naming of the US Olympic hockey team (Thomas got the nod), then stood and cheered until ushers kicked them out.
It was a magical day in Boston sports. It was the day Fenway put on its snow pants and we all came home to hockey.
At this hour, the Bruins stand alone as Boston’s team of the decade.