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Bruins Excited to Head Back Outdoors

Boston will take on the Blackhawks in 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Notre Dame

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / - Cam Neely remembers well the raging winters he endured while growing up in Saskatchewan. The brutal cold and relentless snow could sometimes be hard to handle.

The payoff, however, was that the frigid temperatures made for ideal conditions for some outdoor hockey.

"The years we lived in Saskatchewan, that's all we did is play outdoors. It was cold enough to have ice eight or nine months a year," Neely said with a chuckle. "[Playing] outdoors was something you did a lot…anybody played, no matter who it was, how old. If they had skates and a stick they were part of the game."

The memories of lacing them up at the local pond or in the backyard live with hockey players forever, and it's why the NHL's Bridgestone Winter Classic has become one of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the year and a staple of New Year's Day.

The Bruins know this well, having played in the event twice before. And now it's time for the Black & Gold to head back outdoors.

The National Hockey League announced on Saturday during the Notre Dame-Navy football game that the Bruins will take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

The B's three appearances will rank second only behind Chicago, which will be playing in the Winter Classic for the fourth time. It will also be Boston's first Winter Classic as the visiting team, having hosted the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park in 2010 and the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium in 2016.

"Anytime you get to play outdoors, whether it's the Winter Classic or Stadium Series, I think it's a big deal for the organization," said Neely. "I know the players love it, the fans certainly love it. Having the opportunity to play Chicago at Notre Dame, I think is going to be pretty special."

The Original Six matchup between the 2013 Stanley Cup Final opponents will be the second Winter Classic held at a college football stadium, joining the 2014 game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium. Notre Dame Stadium, home to the Fighting Irish, was opened in 1930 and its current capacity sits at around 77,000.

"Well, we get to play where Rudy played," Neely quipped as he reference the classic film. "I think it's pretty cool. We had an opportunity, as everybody knows, to play at Fenway and then played at Gillette. Now we get the opportunity to play at Notre Dame. I'm sure there's a player on our team that will be pretty excited about that."

Neely was referring to rookie forward Anders Bjork, who played three seasons at Notre Dame and whose parents and two sisters are also Fighting Irish alums.

"I'm sure he's gonna be very excited to play at his former grounds," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "It's a special place…I'm sure it's going to be pretty loud and the fans are gonna go nuts."

Video: The 2019 Winter Classic will be played at Notre Dame

Chara is one of only two Bruins on the current roster to have played in both Winter Classics the team has been involved with, joining alternate captain Patrice Bergeron.

"Any time you're playing in such a special game and event like that, it's very exciting," said Chara. "Playing Chicago, it's going to be very cool and you're having these two Original Six franchises playing at Notre Dame, a great place to have a hockey game."

"It's always fun to take part in those events," added Bergeron. "It's very exciting and it's going to be no different again next year. I've seen the movie Rudy…but I know there's a lot of history behind that school and that program. It's going to be special and looking forward to taking it all in once we're there."

The only other Bruin on the current roster remaining from the 2010 Classic is David Krejci, who missed the 2016 edition because of injury. Brad Marchand has missed both Winter Classics, as he was in the midst of a stint with Providence during his rookie season in 2010 and was suspended for the contest in 2016.

The B's have seven other players who suited up against the Habs at Gillette Stadium, including Matt Beleskey, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Tuukka Rask, Ryan Spooner, and Frank Vatrano.

"Being Original Six, especially in New England, I think a lot of people have probably skated outdoors or played some pick-up hockey outdoors," said Neely. "To be able to watch an NHL regular-season game outdoors, it brings back a lot of memories, not just for the players, but for anybody that's played outdoors.

"I think it's a pretty special environment. We're fortunate this is our third time, but you've got to take advantage any time you're asked to do it."

Boston won their inaugural appearance in the Winter Classic, with a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over the Flyers at Fenway on Jan. 1, 2010. Mark Recchi tied the game with 2:18 remaining in regulation, before Marco Sturm won it just under two minutes into the extra session with assists from Bergeron and Chara.

"It brings the memories back from when you were a kid playing outside," said Chara. "Having that feel of fresh air, there is something special about it, no doubt…those were always fun moments."

The Bruins' second go-around with the Winter Classic was not as enjoyable, with Beleskey grabbing the only goal in Boston's 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Habs in Foxborough on Jan. 1, 2016.

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