Nearly 90 minutes before game time Wednesday night, a black and gold line stretched from TD Garden’s west entrance around one corner of the O’Neill Federal Building. It was a mass of Bruins fans, all wearing their favorite player’s jersey and treasured team paraphernalia. They came early for Wednesday night’s game between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. They didn’t want to miss any of the action because of increased arena security, especially not the national anthem. As police officers walked by the line, fans took pride in showing Boston’s strength and exercising the freedom to watch the city’s beloved hockey team.
“I was born and raised here,” said Paul Fitzgerald of Whitman, who was at the game with his daughter, Taylor. “There’s a lot of pride. I want everyone to know you haven’t beaten us. You’ve just pissed us off.”
Wednesday night’s game was the first Boston professional sports event since the marathon bombings. While some fans expressed hesitancy about attending, it was a loud, enthusiastic crowd primed for an emotional night. And they got that before the pick was dropped. A slideshow projected images of hope and tragedy from the marathon finish, then Rene Rancourt started the national anthem. Barely into the song, he let the crowd take over and finish a moving a cappella rendition.
“It’s not your normal game,” said Jeff Slater of Norwell. “This is more than hockey tonight. The hockey game is somewhat secondary to 18,000 people who are saying, ‘We’re not afraid of who did this. We stand united.’ If 9/11 never happened, maybe I’d feel differently. But we’ve seen the healing power of sports. We have seen what our teams can do for our community.”
Slater brought his 13-year-old son, Patrick, to the game because he knew it would be special. That said, he was somewhat worried about having his son there, but only because of the potential extra security hassles. But to fans’ credit, it appeared they came early enough to avoid any major bottlenecks or lengthy delays at security checkpoints.
The line outside the west entrance moved quickly into the building, where Garden staff and other security efficiently directed spectators. “Straight through, straight through,” shouted one police officer. Once inside, fans were greeted by security that included Boston Police, Transit Police, State Police, the Massachusetts National Guard, and bomb-sniffing dogs. There were also several Homeland Security SUVs parked in front of the Garden.
But none of this deterred fans or diminished their excitement.
The game was in such high demand that prices on the secondary ticket market skyrocketed. Two hours before puck drop, a standing-room ticket in the AT&T SportsDeck was going for $175, a Row 14 balcony seat for $185, and, on the most expensive end of the scale, a loge seat at center ice was listed for $595. Tommy Rose of Upton bought a 13th-row balcony seat on Tuesday night for $125 because it was the “cheapest he could find.” The last time he attended a Bruins game, he paid $125 for a loge seat. On Wednesday, some balcony seats were going for $195.
“Clearly, a lot of people are very intent on going to this one,” said Rose. “Knowing it was going to be the first game back after everything kind of helped my decision in purchasing a ticket.”
Like Slater and Rose, The Ferreiras of Cambridge knew the power of sports in times of terror and tragedy. Stephanie Ferreira walked toward the Garden in her favorite Bruins sweatshirt, while David Ferreira wore his 101st Boston Marathon jacket.
“We lived outside of New York City when 9/11 happened,” said Stephanie. “So, we’re well-versed in the attitude of the best way to fight terror is to live your life. Sports can be more than sports. It can be a unifying experience. Cheering for a team can be a unifying experience.”
Added David: “The message is that you can blow up buildings and injure people, but you’re not going to take away our spirit.”
As fans made their way to the concourses, they were greeted by security with metal-detecting wands. Everyone who entered was wanded, an addition to security measures that typically involve bag searches and forbid bringing in food and water. Some fans, like Dan Titus, said they were also patted down. Titus went to the game with his 8-year-old son, Jeremy, who said he was “most excited about winning” and wanted to see Bruins forward Milan Lucic.
Jeremy’s mother, however, was not all that excited to have her son at the game. The Tituses kept their four children away from the news, so they didn’t know exactly what happened.
When asked if he was hesitant to come, Dan Titus said, “The wife more. We were supposed to eat in town, but my wife wouldn’t let me. We’re just going to watch the game and go.”
Others altered game-day routines, most choosing not to linger in large crowds in the city before or after the Bruins played. Fitzgerald did not want to park in the garage beneath the Garden, as he usually does. Any cars that entered the North Station Garden garage during the day were inspected.
“I don’t want to be trapped under the building,” said Fitzgerald. “You don’t want to think that way. But the people going to the marathon, I’m sure they didn’t think anything was going to happen. But I’m not going to stay in my house and let them win.”
Others couldn’t help but take a second look at people in the area with backpacks.
“If you see someone with a backpack, you worry what’s in the backpack,” said Nirva Penbeyan-Renzett, who received tickets as a birthday present. “But I’m one of those people where if it’s your time, it’s your time.”
Duncan Devlin, a season ticket-holder from Fitchburg, went to the game with his girlfriend and a large number of his girlfriend’s relatives. Beforehand, the group expressed some concern that what happened at the marathon could happen at the Garden. But Devlin kept making the point that “Garden security knows what it’s doing.” He also said he has felt more nervous going to games in Vancouver for the Stanley Cup Final, or Montreal, while wearing a Bruins jersey.
“I wear the spoked-B on my chest with pride,” said Devlin. “Tonight, I’m wearing the B to represent the Bruins and the great city of Boston.”
Brian Lawlor and Katie Clark of Medford stood out on the concourse in their running gear. They both ran the marathon for the Boston Bruins Foundation and wore their Bruins race singlets, marathon jackets, and finisher’s medals. Lawlor added his race number. Bruins fans passing by stopped to congratulate him.
“You’re not going to instill terror in us,” said Lawlor, who was stopped a half-mile from the finish line and spent a panicked 90 minutes trying to reach his parents, who were waiting for him on Boylston Street not far from where the bombs went off. “We’ll be there for the 118th Boston Marathon. I’m going to run.”
On Patriots Day, Christopher Walsh of South Boston had his own marathon planned, going from the Red Sox game to the marathon finish line to the Bruins game that was scheduled. He left the Sox game early and headed to the marathon. He was near Kenmore Square cheering runners as they entered the final mile when the bombs went off. He draped an American flag over a Bruins jersey and wore a Red Sox cap to the game.
“I wanted to be as respectful as possible,” Walsh said of his decision to wear the flag. “Bruins fans show their colors of black and gold, but we are all red, white, and blue. Nothing could stop us from coming to our stadium. This is our city. Boston is strong.”