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Players in awe of Winter Classic opportunity

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"I think every player probably watched that (2009) Winter Classic. If they didn't watch the whole game, they watched some of it. I can remember watching it and saying, 'That's awesome.' I never thought what it would be like to play in it, but now to have a chance to potentially play in one is really exciting."
-- Flyers goalie Brian Boucher

BOSTON -- Philadelphia Flyers goalie Brian Boucher, a big fan of the Boston Red Sox,  has been a frequent visitor to Fenway Park. But the concept of walking into the iconic stadium on Jan. 1, 2010, as a player mystifies the 32-year-old native of Woonsocket, R.I.

"I'm a Red Sox fan and I'll be here on July 30 to see them play the A's, but this is just unbelievable," Boucher told NHL.com Wednesday following the announcement that the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers will face off in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park.

"I have been out west for the last six or seven years of my career, so to come to Boston was a big event," Boucher said. "Some years you don't come, and when you do it's a big event for your family. Now I'm going to be coming to play at Fenway Park? I mean, it's pretty wild. You come here to watch sporting events, not to take part in them."

The Winter Classic, which debuted in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2008, has become the most fashionable event of the NHL season. NHL Players' Association Executive Director Paul Kelly said players are clamoring to take part in the growing New Year's Day tradition.

"The players really embrace this event," Kelly said. "We hear from our players all the time, 'Is my team going to have an opportunity to play this year?' There is a real special buzz about this event."

Boucher said the talk of the Winter Classic among players around the League picked up tremendously after the 2009 game at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.

The venue, Wrigley Field, set the game apart from the Heritage Classic that took place in Edmonton in 2003 and the first Winter Classic, in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., near Buffalo.

"The game that happened in Edmonton was cool and the Buffalo game was cool, in a football stadium in the snow. But to see it at Wrigley Field, such a historic sporting venue, you're just like, 'Wow, that's awesome,'" Boucher said. "I think every player probably watched that Winter Classic. If they didn't watch the whole game, they watched some of it. I can remember watching it and saying, 'That's awesome.' I never thought what it would be like to play in it, but now to have a chance to potentially play in one is really exciting."

Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward, who has won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes, already is wondering what his nerves are going to be like on the big d ay.

"Sometimes you feed off the excitement of a building, and this will be a different excitement because you're not in a building, you're in a stadium," Ward told NHL.com. "My first thought is, 'What are my nerves going to be like? How am I going to handle it?' When I was younger I didn't really embrace all the opportunities and experiences I had, but as I get older I realize I have to mark it in my brain, put a sticky note on it. It's one of those times where you really have to take the time to embrace it and don't get caught up in the moment. I'm going to have my kids experiencing every event. I have to remain focused that this is still a job and it's two points, but all the excitement and fun that goes along with it has to be part of it."

Along with the spectacle of the Winter Classic, which in some circles has been loosely termed the NHL's version of the Super Bowl, the concept of the event intrigues the players. Outdoor hockey brings them back to their days as a youth.

"This is not a routine thing," Ward said.

For Bruins forward David Krejci, it sparks memories of the 3-on-3 pick-up games he played with his buddies on a frozen lake in the Czech Republic.

 
For Boucher, it brings him back to his childhood in Woonsocket -- about an hour’s drive from Fenway Park -- when he played pick-up games on the local outdoor rinks maintained by the town.

Though he makes his living as a goaltender, Boucher said he was always a forward in those games.

"We would go there and throw the sticks in the middle and get a pick-up game going," Boucher said. "Sometimes they would say the ice isn't good enough and they wouldn't turn the lights on at night so it would end once the daylight is gone, but when the ice was good enough they would keep the lights on and you could skate until they shut them off at 11 at night."

Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, who is from Saskatchewan, grew up four houses from the outdoor rink in his hometown. Instead of boards, the rink was framed by hay bales, and the Zamboni from the nearby indoor rink would come out and flood the small, outdoor rink.

"It was perfect," Coburn told NHL.com. "It gets pretty cold in Saskatchewan, but we muscled through it. It was always more fun outside. It just seemed loose and everyone was having a better time.

"With something like (the Winter Classic), you just want to take it all in. You want to look around and you want to make sure you remember every little moment about it. It's very, very special, and to be part of i t is really an honor."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com