MONTREAL – Brian Flynn played the role of hockey hero in his collegiate experience playing outdoors.
Back in January 2012, the Lynnfield, MA native was a senior captain at the University of Maine leading the Black Bears into battle against the rival University of New Hampshire Wildcats in the Sun Life Frozen Fenway event at Fenway Park. An estimated 38,456 fans took in the back-and-forth contest on a rather warm day in Boston, which ultimately came to a dramatic conclusion in overtime.
Joey Diamond’s goal 13 seconds into the third period gave Maine a 4-2 advantage, but New Hampshire wasn’t about to let the 111th all-time meeting between the two teams – commonly referred to as the “Border War” – end without putting up a serious fight. The Wild Cats struck for a pair of goals minutes later, finding the back of the net at the three-minute and 4:43 marks of the final frame to tie things up and send the tilt to an extra frame.
The sudden death period lasted just 89 seconds, as Flynn re-directed a shot by Diamond past New Hampshire goaltender Casey DeSmith to lift Maine to a 5-4 victory.
“Any OT goal you score, you remember. They don’t happen very often. To get one in that situation and under those circumstances, obviously that was one of the bigger goals I’ve scored. It’s one I’ll always remember,” recalled Flynn, who put up 69 goals, 156 points and a plus-29 differential in 153 career games in a Black Bears uniform while earning his finance degree. “It was fun playing against UNH. Those are games that you always get up for. I grew up right outside Boston, so I went to a lot of Red Sox games and a lot of Patriots games. It was actually a really warm night. It was in the 60s, I think, so it was different than most outdoor games that are played.”
Different, yes, but it was also particularly meaningful for Flynn, who was fortunate enough to have a good-sized cheering section in attendance for support and to witness a significant moment in his hockey career first-hand. A good group of Black Bears fans also made the nearly four-hour drive down I-95 S from Orono, ME to Boston, too.
“I have a big family and everyone was there, a lot of friends, so you could see them all cheering after the game right over the dugout where we walked back in,” shared Flynn, who was named the game’s first star following the clutch tally. “It’s just fun to play in a venue like that. There are a lot of Boston schools in the league that we’re in [Hockey East], so there aren’t a lot of Maine fans in the area. But, they all travel down, and we always had a good turnout at away games.”
Taking part in the Frozen Fenway festivities also took Flynn back to his younger years learning the subtleties of playing a game that would eventually become his full-time job.
“I think everyone plays hockey outside growing up. In the winter, you find a small pond that freezes quickly, get out there after school or when you don’t have practice, and just kind of go down there with buddies and play shinny hockey and try to put it between two of your shoes as a goal. I did quite a bit of that,” mentioned Flynn, who actually played his Junior hockey in New Hampshire, starring for the Junior Monarchs before beginning his career at Maine. “The ice conditions at Fenway weren’t great, but it didn’t matter. It was so fun.”
Flynn is looking forward to plying his trade outdoors again in a couple of weeks at the 2016 NHL Winter Classic at another one of his country’s major sports venues. Gillette Stadium will be packed to the rafters on New Year’s Day marking another opportunity for the local boy to make some hockey headlines on home turf. This time around, however, he’ll be going up against his hometown team.
“It’s a much bigger stadium [than Fenway]. I’m a huge Patriots fan and the whole family is, too. It will be nice to play a game in front of a lot of family and friends who I don’t get to see that much and share that experience with them,” offered Flynn, who is one of two Massachusetts natives on the Canadiens’ roster, along with goaltender Mike Condon. “I always like playing the Bruins. I like playing back home. Going to a lot of those games when I was younger, watching those games on TV growing up, it’s always special playing there.”
Having already visited the venue for a press event back in late July, Flynn has a good idea of what’s in store for both teams when the puck drops at 1 p.m. EST on January 1. He’ll also draw on past experience to try to help the Canadiens come out on top.
“Once you get going, it’s just a hockey game. We get a lot of fans at our games already. Once you start playing, you don’t notice it too much. You’re just kind of zoned in. You hear the big roars that come with momentum swings and stuff. You can hear the crowd get into it. But, with 60,000 people there, the noise level will be very noticeable,” concluded Flynn. “The rink is in the middle of the field, so you’re not going to really see the crowd that much unless you’re on the bench looking up. When you’re on the ice, though, it’s kind of like you’re out on the pond and there’s nobody around.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Taking it outside