PORTLAND, Maine - The Boston Bruins have been a New England institution for nearly a century. The organization is as much a staple of the region as lobster, lighthouses, and funny accents.
But during the grind of an 82-game National Hockey League season it's not always easy to connect with fans outside of Boston. And that's why, in an effort to spread the game even more across the region, the Bruins set out on the team's first-ever Fan Fest Tour, which will visit all six New England states over the next week.
The tour began on Saturday in Portland, where B's defenseman Brandon Carlo, assistant coach Joe Sacco, and NESN color commentator Andy Brickley kicked things off along with hundreds of Bruins fans at Monument Square.
"It's great. I feel like for a young guy like myself, it's good to get out and shake hands and meet some people and meet the fan base, not only for myself but for the team as well," said Carlo. "It's an honor to be a Bruin and anything I can do to help out is good."
The event attracted Bruins fans from near and far, including Mark and Laurie Colwell, who traveled some six-plus hours from St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, to take part in the festivities.
"We packed up everything and came down," said Mark Colwell, who became a Bruins fan as a kid after watching Bobby Orr. "They've always been my team since Day 1."
"We have a few friends in St. John who are Bruins fans and they're jealous they couldn't come," added Laurie Colwell. "We're bringing the love from Canada, we try to bring love to the Bruins every chance we get."
In addition to mingling with fans, Carlo and Sacco helped outfit dozens of youngsters with some brand new hockey gear. Throughout the Fan Fest Tour, the Bruins expect to suit up over 4,000 kids (ages 4-9), who have signed up for the Bruins Academy Learn to Play program, in brand new CCM hockey gear valued at $500 per player, for a total of $2 million worth of equipment dispersed to local communities.
Carlo and Sacco also took part in Q&A sessions with Brickley, helped scoop some Bruins Power Play Fudge ice cream at the Gifford's Famous Ice Cream tent, and coached some kids through hockey drills.
"You can already tell that they're passionate about hockey here," said Sacco. "Even bringing this program up here makes it that much more enjoyable. It's a great turnout, the weather is great. Overall, it's a good day."
"I had a lot fun, seeing all the fans and doing all this," said Carlo. "I didn't really know what it was going to be like here in Portland, but it was fun for me to come around and experience all the different events here. I got to taste some ice cream, shoot some pucks, and talk to a lot of people. It was a great experience."
With training camp just two weeks away, the tour also acts as a bit of a kickoff for the upcoming 2017-18 season.
"Coming here and doing an event, we're kind of getting back into the swing of things," said Carlo. "I'm excited to get things going, it's been a long offseason, but we're ready to go."
The next stop on the Bruins Fan Fest Tour is at Arms Park in Manchester, N.H., on Sunday, August 27, from 12-6 p.m. Admission is free.
For the full tour schedule and more information, click here.