Hockey East on Thursday announced what surely will be the coolest game in league history — a doubleheader of outdoor college hockey action at Boston’s hallowed Fenway Park on Friday, Jan. 8.
At 4 p.m., Northeastern will face New Hampshire in what is believed to be the first outdoor women’s hockey game in the sport’s history. At 7:30 p.m., the last two national champions will play in a chilly nightcap, as Boston College plays archrival Boston University under the lights.
Although a BU-BC matchup at Fenway Park has been discussed for several years, recent renovations at the venerable stadium thwarted early efforts. Now the National Hockey League’s decision to set up a Boston Bruins game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 1 made it relatively easy for Hockey East to make these games happen.
The sunny, muggy weather for a morning news conference — held in foul territory on the first-base side of the field — matched the fever pitch of all parties involved. “Growing up here, I always thought I’d make it here as a shortstop,” BC coach Jerry York said. “But the pitchers got a lot better, and I’m awful glad to be here coaching. When I speak to [Boston Herald writer] Jocko Connolly and other sportswriters, I always say that BU and BC could play on Victory Field in Watertown and have a great crowd. I never quite envisioned that we’d come here to Fenway Park. We’re very excited about it. It’s a terrific opportunity for our coaches, fans, and players to take part in this spectacle. It’s going to be outstanding.”
“We’ve been talking about this game for any number of years,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “We’re very, very fortunate that the NHL is coming here because that allowed us to come on their coattails and make this game together. I know it will be quite a show for our fans and the city of Boston, but I think the greatest thing of all will be for the players involved to play here in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in a venue that we all know and love so much.”
Diminutive UNH women’s coach Brian McCloskey joked that the microphone should have been set at “Pedroia height” for him, alluding to the Red Sox second baseman. “If you told a western Canadian boy that he’d be coaching women’s hockey for a living, I’d probably think you were drinking. But if you told me I’d be doing it in Fenway, I know you’d be drinking.”
The players all expressed near disbelief as to how fortunate they are for this event to occur during their playing careers. “It’s unbelievable,” said Northeastern senior Lindsay Berman, a defenseman on the women’s team. “I’m so glad I’m still here for it. The exposure we’re going to get, the opportunity. ? I can’t really believe it. It started as a rumor, and we were hoping it was true — didn’t want to get our hopes up too much — and then we heard it was going to be announced today. Now it’s real, but it’s still kind of surreal. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like on game day.”
Given that women’s teams typically play in front of modest crowds, it should be a stark contrast on Jan. 8. Fenway holds roughly 35,000 fans. Even if only a third of those fans are in attendance for the early game, it would be the largest crowd ever to see a women’s college game.
“We usually play in front of a couple hundred at Matthews, and that’s exciting to us,” Berman said. “It definitely will be the biggest crowd ever for us — and maybe for women’s hockey. The national championship brings a lot of people, but I think this will beat it.”
“I’m ecstatic,” UNH senior Micaela Long said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and great for women’s hockey. The adrenalin will be pumping, so I’m not sure how much we’ll be thinking about the crowd or the ice surface. I think we’ll be just focusing on the game. The opportunity is unbelievable.”
Although the men are more accustomed to large crowds, they seemed no less awestruck about the opportunity. “Growing up in the Boston area and being a Red Sox fan, I don’t think words can express how excited I am about being part of this atmosphere,” BU sophomore defenseman David Warsofsky said.
“I think we’re all excited,” Eagles goalie John Muse said. “Growing up in Boston as a huge Sox fan, playing at Fenway has always been something that you’ve heard about, so to have it happen is a dream come true.”
The weather is already the most intriguing topic to mull. For once in their long careers, York and Parker will be poring over weather forecasts as part of their strategic preparation. Not everyone is on the same page as to what they hope the conditions will be. “I don’t know what I’m hoping for,” Muse said. “I think it’s going to be cold just because it’s a night game. I hope it doesn’t snow because that would be kind of difficult to play if it’s snowing. Hopefully the weather’s good and we get the game in.”
“Wind’s going to be a factor, but I picture a crystal-clear January night, 15 degrees,” York said. “Both Jack and I will have our tuques on.”
“I think the worse the weather is, the better it will be,” Parker said. “We need snow. The game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo with Pittsburgh was fabulous when it started snowing. That’s how we used to play hockey — that’s how the game started.”
“I’d like for it to snow a little bit in warm-ups and then clear up,” Berman said. “I think we’ll wear a little extra clothing underneath. I think my hands will be cold. The only thing I really worried about it is my face. There’s no real way to keep that warm, but I think the adrenalin will take over.”
“35 would probably be ideal,” Long said. “Not too hot, not too cold.”
“I think snow would be fun,” Warsofsky added. “Obviously it will be cold, but it will be fun whatever the weather is.”
It certainly will be fun for college hockey fans as well. Tickets will go on sale to the general public at Noon on Thursday, Sept. 17. Prices will range dramatically, starting at a mere $5 for bleacher seats and going up to $90 for seats in the private suites or on top of the Green Monster. The field itself will feature one goal in shallow left field and the other in shallow right field, with the center-ice faceoff landing right around second base.
The games will count in the league standings, and the men’s game will be broadcast on NESN. This will be third men’s college hockey game to be held in the outdoor area. Michigan played Michigan State on Oct. 6, 2001, and Ohio State faced off against Wisconsin in Green Bay on Feb. 11, 2006.
Wisconsin is planning a doubleheader for Camp Randall Stadium on Feb. 6. Its men’s team will play Michigan; its women’s team will face Bemidji State.