Anson Carter never did have the good fortune of playing in a Winter Classic during his 10-year NHL career, which included one partial and three full seasons with the Bruins.
But the “NHL on TNT” studio analyst’s deep appreciation for outdoor NHL games comes in part from firsthand experience as a broadcaster, rather than a player.
“My first outdoor game that I actually worked was at Dodger Stadium, Ducks versus the Kings,” said Carter, citing one of the four “Stadium Series” matchups that took place at baseball or football stadiums in 2014. “I remember sitting next to the late Dave Strader [who died in 2017] and sitting in Vin Scully’s seat and doing that game. It was amazing. Just amazing. Thinking about it now is kind of surreal.”
Carter will be part of TNT’s coverage Monday beginning at 1 p.m. from Fenway Park when the Bruins host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2023 Winter Classic. It turns out that Dodger Stadium isn’t the only baseball-turned-hockey venue that has in-person familiarity to Carter.
“I caught a bunch of Red Sox games when I was playing for the Bruins,” said Carter.
“I used to love sitting out in right field, though I have to admit, I knew a few people so sometimes I got the hook up,” he added with a laugh. “Sometimes I’d be behind home plate or in someone’s suite or something. Fenway is one of those iconic places that you can never get enough of. I’ve loved it every time I’ve gone there.”
The Bruins are making their fourth appearance in the Winter Classic and their first at Fenway since 2010. (It was held at Gillette Stadium in 2016 and Notre Dame Stadium in ‘19.) It has been part of the NHL schedule since 2009, save for one-year postponements in 2013 (Michigan Stadium, due to the lockout) and 2021 (Minnesota’s Target Field, due to the pandemic).
While the novelty of the event may not be what it was at the beginning, it has become a delightful tradition, and Carter says a welcome opportunity for players to have a little fun.
“I think it’s getting better,” said Carter. “The matchups are always tremendous, and if you talk to the players, I don’t think anyone ever gets sick and tired of playing outdoors, because it breaks up the regular season. It can become so long, 82 games, and usually when you get into January, even late December right after Christmas, it can become the dog days until you get to All-Star Weekend. I think this gives players lucky enough to be involved with it something to look forward to.
“The teams playing, they’re fighting for 2 points, of course, but it’s always been more than just a game. It’s a big event, it’s an experience, and it’s great for everyone.”
Carter said he loves one of the organic offshoots of the event over the years — the players taking the opportunity to dress in outfits representing a particular time period or event. In 2019, for instance, the Bruins dressed for the game like characters from the television show “Peaky Blinders.” And in 2021, when they participated in the two-game NHL Outdoors event at Lake Tahoe, they wore the garish pastels of ‘80s skiers.
“The way the players get dressed walking into these events, you can tell it’s just not a normal game,” said Carter. “And I love the fact that players and coaches and management and ownership, everyone fully embraces the moment.
“There was a time with our sport where you could say that hockey was pretty stiff, and they’re afraid to think outside the box. Commentators would talk down to players for them trying to be themselves and trying to be an individual away from the rink, which had nothing to do with being on the ice at all.
“Now our sport is fully embracing that. Social media helps to amplify that message. I’m dying to see what Charlie McAvoy is going to walk in wearing, or David Pastrnak. That’s part of the show, and it’s great.”
Carter is in his second year at TNT, having moved over from NBC (where he had been part of its coverage since 2013) after the network took over partial NHL rights before last season. He’s part of an eclectic studio team that includes host Liam McHugh (with whom Carter worked at NBC), Rick Tocchet, Paul Bissonnette, and a relative television novice named Wayne Gretzky. The personalities have different backgrounds and experiences, but the chemistry and camaraderie is obvious, in part because Gretzky carries himself as one of the guys.
“I think it works because we legit love hanging out with each other, and that’s legit, it’s authentic, and it’s sincere,” said Carter, who says they have a robust group chat that is like an extension of the show.
“It’s funny, my friends always give me a hard time because they’re like, ‘Dude, I can’t believe you’re chirping Gretz. Do you feel bad?’ You forget that he’s Wayne Gretzky. I mean, you know that he’s Wayne Gretzky, all these incredible records and accolades. But when he’s on the desk, he’s fair game. And I think that’s the way he loves it. He’s one of the boys. If he came in with this huge head and you couldn’t make fun of him or give him a hard time, it might be a little awkward. But that’s a full credit to Gretz, and I think it’s one of the things that made him so special as a hockey player. He just wants to be a good teammate and one of the guys.”