On July 29, with the scorching summer heat in full effect, the NHL held a press event at Gillette Stadium featuring Bruins, Canadiens and League personnel, along with New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft.
Even with the 90-degree temperatures on the field, it was not hard to imagine how historic New Year’s Day will be, with the two historic franchises meeting for what will be the 910th time.
The very first meeting between the rivals came on Dec. 8, 1924 at the old Boston Arena. Even amidst endless regular season and playoff games, the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will mark the first time the teams are playing each other outdoors.
Longtime radio play-by-play announcer for the Patriots Gil Santos fittingly emceed the press event, with his legendary voice booming into the stands, where a crowd of reporters was gathered.
“When you think about rivalries that perfectly summarize the excitement and passion of NHL hockey, the enduring legacy of the Bruins and Canadiens merits lofty status as well,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in his opening remarks to reporters.
When considering the history behind the Patriots and the events that have happened at Gillette Stadium as well, the narrative takes even greater shape.
“Through their combined 34 Stanley Cup and Super Bowl, the Patriots, the Bruins and the Canadiens have all been dominant in their respective sports,” said the Commissioner. “The majesty of their accomplishments set against this spectacular backdrop promises a truly memorable New Year’s Day for 2016 and a truly special celebration for our sport.”
“It’s only fitting that these two teams continue this rivalry on one of the NHL’s biggest stages,” said Delaware North Chairman and Boston Bruin Owner Jeremy Jacobs. “I don’t think the NHL could have delivered a better matchup for fans in New England.”
“This will be a historic Winter Classic and playing in this magnificent stadium gives us an opportunity to expose so many of our fans to the game of professional hockey in the great outdoors.”
“I want to thank the Boston Bruins fans. It was their loyalty, enthusiasm and support that really brought this event back to New England. I’m fully confident that the team will repay that loyalty with a convincing win over our friends from Montreal…I look forward to Gillette being a sea of Black and Gold on January 1.”
The anticipation for another Winter Classic has been building in New England ever since the 2010 event at Fenway Park made a lasting impression. On Jan. 1, 2016, the Bruins will become the first team to host two Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic games.
“Couldn’t be happier. This is going to be a great theater,” said Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, as he gestured at the stadium that surrounded him. “Two really storied franchises, playing outside on New Year’s Day. It’s going to be great.”
Fans remember well the finish to the 2010 version of the Winter Classic, with the Bruins defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in overtime off Marco Sturm’s winner.
“When we had it at Fenway, it was such a great experience, the atmosphere was unbelievable,” said Bruins President Cam Neely. “So you look at this space and building here and how many people are going to be in this stadium, it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
“I know the players - every time any player plays in the Winter Classic, they all talk about how it brings them back to their youth and how exciting it is, but you know, to have an Original Six team, a Canadian team, playing in the Winter Classic in this stadium here, I think it’s going to be phenomenal.”
Prior the the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, the tradition of an alumni game will continue with Bruins and Canadiens legends taking to the ice on Dec. 31. Bruins alum and Hall of Famer Ray Bourque was in attendance for the press event as an alumni representative, with Yvan Cournoyer representing the Montreal alumni.
Bruins players Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug and Jimmy Hayes were also on hand. All have previously competed in an outdoor game in some fashion, with Bergeron the lone Bruin at the event having competed in the 2010 Winter Classic.
“You have to enjoy it, you have to soak everything in and enjoy the moment, because it’s definitely something special and something I’m sure you’ll never forget,” said Bergeron.
“All eyes are on us, and it’s a great challenge that I take a lot of pride in and you definitely want to put on a good show and win, and you’re at home in front of your fans in a different venue, but still the fans are there and you want to deliver and win the game.”
Krug found himself on an outdoor stage when he played NCAA hockey for Michigan State, facing off against the University of Michigan in “The Big Chill” at Michigan Stadium in 2010.
“We’re bringing two historic organizations together on a big stage, in a big setting, in a beautiful building, so it’s going to be a fun one,” Krug said.
“Being on the stage where you know all of your family and friends are coming together and they’re celebrating a new year and they’re going to watch myself and my teammates play hockey, is definitely a special feeling.”
Hayes hit the ice at Fenway Park in 2010 as a Boston College Eagle, when he played against Boston University in the “Frozen Fenway” game. For Hayes, becoming a member of his hometown team has been a thrill, and being at Gillette Stadium as a Bruin only added to his excitement.
“It’s really exciting and just to be able to have the chance to play in an outdoor game in college and now to play at the highest level with one of the biggest rivalries in the NHL,” said Hayes. “It’s going to be incredible, especially in this unbelievable stadium.”
“I’ve been to a couple of Patriots games and the energy here is incredible, and now that we are able to have that energy with one of the biggest rivalries is going to be even more insane.”
A group of season ticket holders in attendance for the press event were already feeling that energy.
“Wicked excited,” said Christine Ray of Bolton, Mass., a season ticket holder since before the Cup run in 2011. “It doesn’t get any better than that. I mean, to start off the new year, Winter Classic, Bruins versus Montreal, I’m really excited.”
“A lot of excitement,” added season ticket holder and Brockton, Mass. native Steve Shoemaker, on what he took from the event. “A lot of excitement from the NHL, and Bridgestone, and Bob Kraft - he was pretty pumped up.”
During the press conference, Mr. Kraft personalized his own attachment to the Bruins and their rivalry with the Habs.
“Since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, we’ve been fortunate to host many special events, but I don’t think I have ever been more excited or thrilled when I learned that our friends from the Bruins and the NHL wanted to bring this Classic to the stadium,” Mr. Kraft remarked. “Growing up in Boston, you develop an appreciation for the power of sport. Passion that fans have here for all their teams, but especially against their special rivals. The Bruins-Canadiens is as special and intense.”
“On a personal note, it is one that first stoked my interest in sports years ago, in the early fifties. It really was a big part of turning me into a sports fan in this region. By dating myself with my reference, I’ll tell you that I remember as a young boy being under the covers of my bed late at night with my transistor radio under the pillows, listening to the likes of Milt Schmidt and ‘Sugar Jim’ Henry against ‘Boom-Boom’ Geoffrion and Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard. So, for me, a little kid from Fuller Street in Brookline, listening to those games and then having these two teams come here, it’s a great thrill.”
“It’s a great honor for us to host this game,” he added. “It’s actually a great thrill, given where our roots go back to.”
The 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium between the rival Bruins and Canadiens would not have been possible without the backing from the Krafts.
“When I met with both Jonathan and Mr. Kraft about possibly having the game here, they were genuinely excited about the opportunity to host the Winter Classic,” said Neely.
“And there are some kids in their family that play hockey that love the sport - they come to the games, they support us, so they bent over backwards to try and get the game here, and fortunately for us, it worked.”