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Take it Outside: Tahoe Game Brings B's Back

Bruins remember childhood skates on the pond as they prep for outdoor game

by Eric Russo @erusso22 /

BOSTON - Patrice Bergeron remembers it so well.

Throughout his childhood, the native of Ancienne, Lorette, Quebec, would take to the ponds near his home with his friends and his brother, Guillaume, skating for hours with only the clouds and the trees as a backdrop.

There were no screaming fans, no roof overhead, and no scoreboards or clocks limiting their ice time. Just the soothing sights and sounds of nature guiding them across the frozen sheet.

It was a scene that won't be much different than the one Bergeron and his Bruins teammates will take part in on Feb. 21 when the Black & Gold take on the Philadelphia Flyers in a game during Honda NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe.

"It reminds you of how you grew up playing the game and loving the game," said Bergeron. "It's about remembering playing with your brother, your friends, all the memories. It kind of adds a different element to the game, makes it even more special. I think that's what makes it a lot of fun for us. It brings back the kid in us."

It will be the fourth NHL outdoor game for Bergeron, following the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park, the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, and the 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium.

Bergeron was an instrumental part in Boston's two outdoor victories, notching a goal and an assist in the Black & Gold's 4-2 victory over Chicago in South Bend, while also picking up the primary helper on Marco Sturm's overtime winner in Boston's 2-1 win over the Flyers in the shadows of the Green Monster just over a decade ago.

"It was a great experience, obviously being at Fenway with the history behind that stadium," said Bergeron. "But also being outside on the practice day, it was snowing…it was a very tight game throughout. We made it interesting going into overtime, scoring and forcing overtime and winning the game. I remember my family being there, the crowd being so loud when we won, the fireworks, and us as a team really enjoying that moment."

Video: Bruins set to host Flyers on Lake Tahoe on Feb 21st

This time around, there will be no historic stadiums or championship banners to add to the aura. Instead, it will be the largest alpine lake in North America and the Sierra Nevada in the distance providing views unlike any other the NHL has seen.

The rink will be situated on the 18th fairway of the golf course at Edgewood Tahoe Resort on the south shore of the lake in Stateline, Nevada. The venue has also hosted the 1985 U.S. Open and the annual American Century Championship since 1990.

"We've all played hockey outside growing up, but to be able to play an NHL game outside and to be able to do it in that kind of setting, it's pretty cool," said Brad Marchand. "It will be pretty special. They're all memorable events. Should be a lot of fun, I'm really looking forward to it."

Marchand has played in just one previous outdoor game - the 2019 Winter Classic in South Bend - though like his long-time linemate, the Nova Scotia native is no stranger to skating in the elements.

"I grew up on a lake…it would rain and the entire lake would be frozen, but there would be no snow on it. You could skate the entire thing," Marchand explained. "You did have the trees and the scenery in the background; obviously we didn't have the mountains and that kind of view, but we had a great little spot."

Things were a bit different for Charlie McAvoy. The 23-year-old grew up in Long Beach, New York, and while hockey was a major part of his childhood, it was surfing that took up the majority of his outdoor time. That did not, however, stop his father, Charles, from trying to replicate what so many other hockey players enjoyed as children.

"My dad used to make a little backdoor rink for me as soon as it got cold enough in the wintertime, so that's where I was playing outside" said McAvoy. "I never had played on a pond until I was in Ann Harbor [at the United States National Team Development Program]…I don't have that much experience on a pond or lake, but I'm really excited to see what Tahoe looks like and to be able to take in all the scenery."

McAvoy will be making his NHL outdoor game debut after missing the 2019 Winter Classic with an injury. He is one of eight Bruins on the team's current roster who have not played outside in their pro careers, along with Anders Bjork, Connor Clifton, Trent Frederic, Ondrej Kase, Jeremy Lauzon, Nick Ritchie, and Jakub Zboril.

"The scenery will be very unique and the aspect of not having fans there kind of makes it feel even more so like it used to when you were a kid. You just go out with a couple friends and play," said McAvoy. "I think that aspect of it is going to be really unique and it's just going to be a lot fun to be able to experience that."

On the other hand, Boston does have plenty of outdoor experience. Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, Sean Kuraly, John Moore, David Pastrnak, and Chris Wagner all played at Notre Dame two years ago, while Charlie Coyle (2016 Stadium Series with Minnesota) and Craig Smith (2020 Winter Classic with Nashville) have also suited up outside. Jaroslav Halak did not play in 2019 at Notre Dame but dressed as Tuukka Rask's backup.

Bergeron (three), David Krejci (two), Kevan Miller (two), and Rask (two) have all played in multiple outdoor games. 

"Usually, it's always an exciting day because it's out of the ordinary for us," said Rask, who also backed up Tim Thomas during the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway. "The practice day, the family day, before that a special event for the wives and kids. It's always fun to get out of your routine and do something different. That's a special occasion for players, too.

"It will be different [this time] with no stadium around us. Everybody misses the fans…it will be kind of like a pond hockey game. I'm sure it will look nice on TV."

The tilt between the Bruins and Flyers will also provide plenty of drama on the ice as the two storied franchises are division rivals this season. Boston has won all four of the teams' meetings to this point, but with both squads battling for position at the top of the MassMutual East Division, there will be 2 important points on the line.

"It's going to be a good game," said Krejci. "They are in our division. It's going to be huge. I know we beat them all four times; they will want to come hard and win that game, get the first win against us this year. We'll be ready for them. It will be a great experience, but the 2 points on the line are going to be the most important."

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