The blanket of clouds over Fenway Park turned an evening shade of blue Monday as the hockey players who’d taken over the field emerged from the dugouts for the final period of the 2023 NHL Winter Classic.
The home team emerged with more of its season-long magic, two third-period goals from Jake DeBrusk erasing an early deficit to win, 2-1, and secure the Bruins’ 29th win when the Penguins’ final, frantic goal came after time had expired.
An appropriate dose of magic on an overall magical day. Slushy ice, strange sight lines, unseasonable warmth, and occasional sloppy play notwithstanding.
“You don’t grow up thinking you’re going to play a hockey game at Fenway Park,” said Weymouth’s Charlie Coyle, a teenage spectator at the Bruins’ other 13 years ago. “To do that was really special. We’re all going to want to do that over and over again, but you don’t know when the next one is, if ever.
“Once the game is over, you can breathe again, and really take it in.”
From the outset, it was clear this was one of those different Boston sports days, the kind people talk about and remember for years. From the kids who tearfully tore open their tickets on Christmas morning to the grown men and women who clogged the entrances of area bars and restaurants long before the 2:30 p.m. puck drop, they created a sea of black and gold dense enough to swamp the familiar red, white, and blue of Fenway Park.
The Winter Classic is not the stop-the-presses novelty it once was, the natural byproduct of repetition and the all-too-human penchant of becoming jaded. The weeklong buildup didn’t feel quite so electric, the pregame hype not quite reaching the fever pitch of Winter Classics past. But make no mistake: This is still a big-time event, filled with wonder and joy. A moment for the NHL to honor not only the outdoor pond hockey roots of its game, but with this particular setting, enjoy a nostalgic crossover with baseball.
The league outdid itself Monday.
“Just a storied park, and so proud of the guys, especially for our fans to get a win,” Nick Foligno said after his first Winter Classic experience. “These are the moments you remember, the things you cherish. . . . I will look back at this as one of the best memories of my career.”
There the Bruins were, stepping off the team bus single file, wearing throwback Red Sox baseball uniforms that coach Jim Montgomery perfectly described as “like ‘Field of Dreams’ and a combination of ‘Eight Men Out.’ ”
“We thought it was a perfect idea — to acknowledge all the history of Fenway and the Sox, to wear those,” captain Patrice Bergeron said.
With wooden bats slung over their shoulders and turn-of-the-century leather mitts on their hands, the team made its way into the bowels of one of baseball’s storied treasures, making their temporary home right alongside the ghost of Ted Williams and a century of Red Sox inside their locker room.
In true Boston sports fan spirit, there were angry reminders issued to Red Sox owner John Henry — also the owner of the visiting Penguins, and of Boston Globe Media Partners — that it’s not OK to spend like it’s years past, exposed by a particularly on-point fan outside who greeted him with a plea: “Pay Raffy. Pay anyone.”
Henry was treated no more kindly by the fans in the stands, who smattered him with boos.
The Bruins, if wise, will mind the negative blowback of the Red Sox letting Xander Bogearts leave for San Diego, and of leaving fellow homegrown star Rafael Devers to twist in the wind, and make no such mistake with David Pastrnak. Their 26-year-old whiz kid with a stick who deserves whatever it takes to make it a career in the Hub.
Pasta, already the best-dressed Bruin, predictably showed out with his equipment Monday, a Fenway-themed Green Monster stick complete with a ball-strike count and the face of David Ortiz.
“He helps us be who we are,” Montgomery said of his superstar scorer. “If you look at Bruins’ swagger, you look at David Pastrnak.”
Fits were on fire all day. The Bruins took the ice wearing an ode to their past, the old bear logo on their sweaters surrounded by bright gold accents undimmed by the clouds overhead. The uniforms looked great as the team lined up on the rink’s adjacent ice baseball field for the national anthem and the ceremonial puck drop.
Finally, after Bobby Orr emerged to swipe a puck from the “pitchers mound” to a waiting Jason Varitek behind “home plate,” the business of hockey was at hand. But not before a moment to let it all sink in.
“Relish the moment, stay in the moment,” was Montgomery’s advice to his players. “We believe that if we are thinking about the details of our game, and stay in the moment, that allows us to excel, but if you’re in the moment, it’s also OK to embrace the fact that we’re at Fenway Park, a wonderful event and we are lucky to be a part of it. That’s not not being in the moment, that’s embracing it.”
The field itself was an image worth embracing. This massive rink dropped so perfectly between the first- and third-base lines. The television broadcast sets dotted strategically in the corners. An area for the musicians of the Boston Pops laid out so they could back the anthem singers or return for renditions of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard.’
There were mini rink-end bleachers set up for the ice crew. Dry black pathways laid from each dugout, amid white drop cloths that made the entire field appear covered in snow. There was a small ice park in left field, dubbed the “Wintah Classic,” replete with two stuffed penguins and a bruin. Behind them, the traditional American League East standings were replaced by the Bruins-led Atlantic Division ones. Young kids were at the ready to change the manual scoreboard, where innings became periods.
It may no longer be groundbreaking, but the Winter Classic can still deliver.
“An amazing event,” Bergeron said.