College Hockey:
In spite of it all, players say they loved Frozen Fenway

Workers push water off the ice during a rain delay in the Maine-Boston University game Saturday at Fenway Park (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — At least it didn’t decide a national championship.

Unlike the Frozen Four held at Ford Field in Detroit four years ago, the two weekends of Frozen Fenway hockey affected no more than one game in the standings.

Although after the heavens opened and dumped inches of water on ice already coping with 58-degree weather, even a single league game seemed too much.

“[Playing in] those conditions for league points was difficult,” Massachusetts-Lowell coach Norm Bazin said after his team lost to Northeastern 4-1 on Saturday. “If I had to do it over again, I wish it was a nonconference game. But everyone knew what it was for leading up to it.”

The puck got stuck in puddles, icing became a near physical impossibility, and players picked up what felt like five pounds of water on their sodden jerseys. One almost expected an announcement over the PA system that during an intermission, two Boston-area swim teams would compete in the freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

After last week’s problems with brittle, cracking ice because of the severe cold, about the only thing missing was lightning.

Then that struck in the second game.

“Other than locusts, we’ve had just about everything we could experience,” Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said. “The challenge all day was keeping the puck playable. I don’t think the players were at any risk with the exception of the thunder that got me moving faster than I have in many years.”

The mantra “enough already” could be heard in abundance among media members, and many fans voted by staying home. After an unbroken string of sellouts in all previous Frozen Fenways run by Hockey East, this year’s games attracted 31,569 fans a week ago and 25,580 on this night, both numbers appearing grossly inflated due to weather-related no-shows.

In fairness, the terrible weather on both weekends put a damper on sales. Running the event to include eight teams over two days instead of four teams over one also spread the interest thin.

But no matter how you slice it, the difficulties this year would seem to argue for some respite in future Frozen Fenways. Even Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson commented that the event had lost its novelty.

“That’s [a decision] for another time,” Bertagna said. “When we get a little distance from today, there’ll be plenty of time for conversations on how many games is too many.”

All that said, you’d be hard-pressed to convince the participants that any reduction is in order.

“It was amazing — the whole atmosphere,” Northeastern goaltender Clay Witt said after stopping 47 of 48 shots. “It’s something I’ll tell my grandkids about. The conditions, the buildup, the change in the times [moving them up to try to beat the rain] and all the distractions that go along with it. And doing it with a really good group of guys. It was exactly what you could ask for.”

Not even the buckets of rain could put a damper on Witt’s enthusiasm.

“In the first period, I was wishing it wasn’t raining,” he said, “but looking back it makes it way cooler.”

And for a local kid like Lowell’s Joe Pendenza, not even ending up on the losing side could tarnish the experience.

“It was pretty cool, that’s for sure,” he said. “Even yesterday at practice, I was just soaking it all in.

“[It was] pretty cool being on the same field where we — [the Red Sox] — won a World Series, just being able to see the Green Monster. Being a local guy and coming here a lot of times made it something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Like Witt, Pendenza didn’t feel the conditions diminished the experience at all. Other than ending on the winning side, he suggested only one improvement.

“It would have been cooler to have had snow,” he said.

For Maine’s Devin Shore, whose team had to endure over a one-hour rain delay — yes, a rain delay at a hockey game played on a baseball field — the stunning heroics of the Red Sox last fall made it more memorable than any other Frozen Fenway, regardless of the conditions.

“It means even more because they just won the World Series,” Shore said. “You’re sitting in the dugout, waiting for the game, and [you think] that David Ortiz was sitting right there, picking up the telephone and calling the relievers. It means way more than any other year.”

So while others may disagree, the player votes are in and they’re unanimous and enthusiastic: Frozen Fenway forever.

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  • model94

    I agree, the outdoor thing was cool for awhile, but it has run it’s course.

  • hockeyman41

    Northeastern’s Clay Witt stopped 47 of 48 shots outdoors in the rain yesterday. In soaking wet goalie equipment. For two league points. No disrespect to the other players and I realize it is only January 12th, but The HEA Defensive Player of the year award should be awarded to Witt this week.

  • noonan18

    I agree. Watching the Maine/BU game at home, I thought it was pretty ridiculous with them switching sides constantly, killing the flow of the game as a whole. After a while, it was more about seeing if something unusual was going to happen rather than seeing who won.

    On an unrelated note, if the season ended today, Maine would have home ice in the Hockey East playoffs. I don’t think they are ready to play with the big boys yet, but considering the putrid season they had last year, this has been quite a turnaround so far.

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