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Pre-Winter Classic Family Skate a Success at Gillette Stadium

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

FOXBORO — It was cold, and it was overcast, but it Thursday afternoon still made for a perfect day for the Bruins’ Family Skate at Gillette Stadium.

For the first time since the ice was installed earlier this week, the Bruins players, coaches, staff and their families had the opportunity to skate. And by all accounts, the ice passed with flying colors.

“It was good, for a first day like that,” said forward Max Talbot. “You’ve got about 100 people skating around for 45 minutes, but it’s good. With the weather we had yesterday as well, they’re always doing a great job putting this event together, and the ice — they’re doing a good job.”

This isn’t the first time Talbot has been down this road. Back in 2008, he and the Pittsburgh Penguins competed in the inaugural Winter Classic event in Buffalo.

Of course, the ice these days is a bit more sophisticated than it was eight years ago.

“I think the technology got better,” Talbot admitted. “They’re used to doing these type of games, and they’ve been doing so many. When you pull off a game in California, I’m sure they’ll do good here.”

As they prepare to face the Canadiens on Friday at 1 p.m., there is plenty of work that awaits Talbot and the Bruins. Wednesday, however, was simply about fun and family.

“It was awesome to see how happy they were,” said forward Frank Vatrano. “I had my brother come in from Singapore, and my mom and dad were here, my niece and nephew, so for them to enjoy the experience with me and see the smiles on their faces, I think they’re even happier than I am. It’s great.”

When Vatrano received his first NHL recall in early November, the Winter Classic was the furthest thing from his mind. He didn’t even know if he would still be in Boston by January 1. But the rookie has made a lasting impression on the club, and he has earned his spot, and here he finds himself, gearing up to play in the annual New Year’s Day game just a little ways away from his hometown of East Longmeadow, Mass.

“Everyone who’s a hockey fan obviously watches the Winter Classic and dreams of playing in it, and I’m having the opportunity to play in the game, so it’s a dream come true,” he said. “I remember watching all those games, especially like that one when [Sidney] Crosby scored that shootout goal [in 2008], so now to be a part of everything — it’s incredible.”

Back when Vatrano received his first career recall, his brother Sammy — who lives and works in Singapore — immediately booked his plane ticket back to Boston in the hopes he would have the opportunity to see Frank play at Gillette.

Not only will he have that opportunity on Friday, but he also got the chance to skate on the ice himself. That, Vatrano said, was probably more special than anything else.

“He’s really happy for me, and for him to be able to enjoy this with me and my family — [I] couldn’t have wished for anything better than for him to be here,” he said.

Gillette Stadium looked a bit different on Wednesday than it usually does in the middle of an NFL season. There was no turf, and no Patriots. But for those members of the Bruins who have frequented NFL games over the last few years, there was one common thread: the weather.

“I’ve been to a couple games where the weather’s been just like this, but a little bit more snow,” Vatrano said with a smile. “It’s going to be probably just as cold in the stands as it’s going to be on the ice.”

Jimmy Hayes, who grew up in Dorchester, Mass., has been to Gillette quite a few times. When he hit the ice on Wednesday, he made sure to take a look around at all of the banners hanging throughout the stadium.

“[I] stood right in the middle and see where Tom Brady conducts his offense here, and how Tom Terrific can do it,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”

For months, Hayes and his teammates have been attempting to tune out the hype surrounding this game — the second Winter Classic in Boston, another chapter added to the most intense rivalry in sports. They had other business to attend to, right up until Tuesday night at about 10 p.m.

But now, with their last home-ice win of 2015 behind them, they are finally able to focus on Friday’s game. They are finally able to get excited for it.

“It will be a ton of fun,” Hayes said. “It will be a great event. I know everyone is excited, and a lot of hype behind it, and it will be a big game for us.”

The mood was even better on Wednesday considering Tuesday night’s resounding 7-3 win over the Senators to pull within a point of Montreal in the Atlantic Division standings.

“Everyone’s in a good mood, and winning puts everyone in a good mood,” Hayes said. “It was good for our team to get the confidence and get our swag back and get going, and continue to build on it.”

On Thursday, the Bruins will practice on the Gillette ice for the first time. Wednesday, though, wasn’t about practice. It was about savoring the experience — something the Bruins haven’t had much time to do over the grind of the last three months.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Hayes said. “It’s nice to see the little kids have all smiles on their faces, and it makes for a great day.”

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