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Pre-game ceremonies set the tone at Fenway

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON  -- Once again, the opening ceremonies for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic proved well worth the price of admission.

Well before the opening faceoff for the 2010 outdoor classic, fans were given a pregame treat as the NHL unleashed yet another entertainment bonanza that had the place rocking as players from both the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers prepared for their 168th meeting.

With the temperature at a balmy 39.1 degrees, festivities began just outside the rink and on home plate when Boston's longest-serving mayor Thomas M. Menino, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued a proclamation that declared Jan. 1, 2010 as Winter Classic Day in the City of Boston.

After honoring numerous local organizations for their civic service to the City of Boston, including area members of five branches of the U.S. military, Boston's own Celtic punkers, the Dropkick Murphys, performed their signature song, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," to the delight of the raucous capacity crowd. The band, incidentally, will go on tour Jan. 20 and will make a stop at Boston's House of Blues.

Fenway actually holds the Major League Baseball record for consecutive regular-season sellouts (550) through Oct. 4, 2009. Well, historians might as well make it 551 straight as major league's smallest and oldest venue never looked and sounded so good in the wintertime on New Year's Day.

The Bostonians offered one of their loudest ovations when Hockey Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke met at center ice for the ceremonial opening puck drop. The two shook hands and then each skated off as players from the Flyers and Bruins entered the surface. They returned to the center ice circle when U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ryan R. LaFrance was ready to drop the puck between the two old combatants.

Orr won two Stanley Cups with the Bruins -- in 1970 and '72 -- and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP both seasons. His team was defeated in the 1974 Stanley Cup Final by Clarke's Flyers in six games.

The fans roared with approval and, quite honestly, disbelief at what was transpiring right before them. But it was only the beginning.

Singer-songwriter James Taylor performed the U.S. National Anthem and singer Daniel Powter performed the Canadian anthem -- both singers were joined by members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

"It was the first time I've been asked to sing the Canadian (anthem)," Powter said. "But for something like this, I'd have to be a village idiot to turn it down. I'm just really honored and happy to be involved, especially with the NHL because I'm a huge hockey fan."

Said Taylor -- "I never would have foreseen this, ever, in a million years, that I would be singing the Star Spangled Banner in Fenway in the snow (during his soundcheck Friday morning). It's made me think about the anthem a little bit. I've studied on it a little bit and it's really a great national anthem."

As the vocalists belted out their hymns, a United States Air Force B-2 Spirit flown by the 509th Bomb Wing of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and the 131st Bomb Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard soared overhead. It was certainly a sight to behold as the cameras flickered amidst the fantastic backdrop of the 37-foot high, 231-foot long Green Monster.

Fireworks emanated from atop the stands behind home plate as players prepared for the opening face-off.

Let the game begin.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com