Hockey East, Boston Finalize Frozen Fenway Games
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
BOSTON Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna confirmed months of speculation Friday afternoon, announcing a pair of Hockey East games to be played at Fenway Park on January 7, 2012. At 4 p.m., Massachusetts will take on Vermont, with New Hampshire and Maine battling in the night cap.
Bertagna was joined by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston Red Sox Chief Operating Officer Sam Kennedy and Fenway Sports Management in announcing the event, which will mark the second and third men's college hockey games at the 99-year-old ballpark in the last three years. On Jan. 8, 2010, Boston University defeated Boston College, 3-2, in front of 38,472 in the first Hockey East game to be played outdoors.
For players and coaches, the occasion represents a special opportunity, but the league and college hockey will be the ultimate winners should the event succeed. Citing the turmoil that has affected nearly every other conference in Division I hockey, the coaches and Bertagna both believe the ability to schedule these games demonstrates the stability and success of Hockey East.
"Being at Fenway a couple years ago when they played the first Frozen Fenway games, I brought my family, and we went for a skate. It was absolutely thrilling to be in that environment," UMass coach Don Cahoon said. "We were yearning for the opportunity to bring our team here. Knowing that there are many UMass grads in this area, I'm hopeful that they come out in droves to see our program put on a great exhibition. I know they're going to see two very competitive games played."
"[UNH coach Dick Umile] mentioned that this was something we've all been talking about for years," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "Once we started seeing other games come to reality ... we thought this was something that could really happen. In past years, I talked to people on campus about doing this [at other venues], but this is the ideal scenario. It's an event that encompasses all the state schools and great rivalries. More people can come and watch it, and the hosts obviously have great experience running these events."
The BC-BU game sold out within two days, and Bertagna believes fervor for the second edition of Frozen Fenway will be equal given the games on display. All speakers at the event dubbed the day Hockey Day in New England, as the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will host the Vancouver Canucks earlier in the day in the clubs' first game since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
UVM coach Kevin Sneddon will get a chance to inspect the Bruins new hardware next week when UVM alumnus Tim Thomas brings the trophy to Burlington for a day on campus. At Fenway on Friday, Sneddon recalled the last time he was on the field — celebrating his national championship win as a player at Harvard in 1989.
"I was able to step onto Fenway one other time in my life. After we won the national championship, [former Harvard coach] Bill Cleary threw out the first pitch, and we stood behind him to watch," Sneddon said. "I love Boston. We're down here quite often, and we have a great alumni base here."
Since the close of the 2010-11 college hockey season, rumors circulated regarding the games. However, it required the collaboration of officials from all four universities, Hockey East, the Red Sox and the city of Boston to reach final agreements.
"Being from Boston and getting to play against Maine, our big rival, it doesn't get any better than that," UNH coach Dick Umile said.
"The word's kind of been out for a while, but no one was sure," Umile said of the fans in Durham. "But I think everybody is as excited as we are. Talking to our players today coming down here, they're very excited. For our fans and alumni, they're really thrilled for the outdoor game. And it's taking it to another level just playing it at Fenway Park."
Additionally, the programs had to adjust their schedules slightly to accommodate the date decided upon. Initially, UMass was scheduled to travel to Schneider Arena to take on Providence on Jan. 7. That game will be played on Jan. 5, which means the Minutemen begin the second half of their season with games on Thursday and Saturday, rather than just the Saturday game. Also, both UMass and Maine sacrificed home dates to make the event happen. Whitehead commented that this issue manifested itself beyond the competitive component of losing a home date in a wide-open Hockey East.
"We're not a school that has monster revenue coming in from big time sports," Whitehead said. "I was not directly involved with the negotiations, but making sure that this was worthwhile from a financial standpoint for our university was part of it. It was important that our season ticket holders would have a good opportunity to come down and see the game."
At times, Hockey East has taken criticism from fans and others for being too focused on the league's flagship rivalry between BC and BU. However, Bertagna believes the four programs taking part in next season's games will be an equal draw. Promoting four of the league's five public universities — Massachusetts-Lowell being the other — embraces the natural rivalries these programs have developed.
In terms of the league's four programs yet to compete in an outdoor game — UMass Lowell, Providence, Merrimack and Northeastern — Bertagna believes its simply impossible to please everyone. He nor any of of the four coaches involved commented on the possibility of future outdoor games. The success of the first game in 2010 led to this season's games, and Bertagna believes a strong turnout, paired with two entertaining games, will make the possibility of more outdoor events even more likely. He said that the four schools and two matchups for this event represent the best combination of games to produce a similar turnout.
Some have wondered whether or not outdoor hockey represents a fad that has overstayed its welcome. However, Bertagna believes that the demand is there for the event, especially given the matchups chosen and the alumni bases of the four universities.
"I think it will be a legitimate concern, but I don't think we're there yet," Bertagna said about fans growing tired of outdoor games. "We sold the last games out in two hours, because the schools bought up most of them. So there were a lot of people that wanted to come but couldn't. I think in this market, more so than just putting it in an outdoor rink, but that we're putting it in Fenway Park, you can't underestimate that. You might have two-thirds of the tickets go to people supporting the teams, but the other third are going to come because it's a neat thing to do on a Saturday night in January.
"But there will come a time when somebody says 'you tried it one time too many,'" Bertgana said. "As long as we don't do it every year, I think it's got some life."