(Boston, MA) - The Green Monster was the star of the show Sunday afternoon as members of the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins toured Fenway Park as part of a Winter Classic sneak peek.
These teams, which play Monday night in a regular-season game at TD Garden, will reconvene here at Fenway on New Year's Day to take part in the 2010 edition of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). Players from both teams took advantage of the quiet before Monday's clash to check out the early preparations for the game.
And, while it was impressive that the ice crew already has the roadways inside the park built and have laid out the footprint of the actual playing surface in preparation for board installation Monday morning, it was the iconic Green Monster -- a 37-foot, two-inch monstrosity in left field that drew the eyes of virtually every player that made the trip.
"Those are going to be the best seats in the house," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton told teammate Michael Ryder.
Those two Bruins were joined by veteran center Marc Savard, young goalie Tuukka Rask and grinding forward Daniel Paille. Philadelphia was represented by Claude Giroux
, James van Riemsdyk
, Darroll Powe, Jon Kalinski
and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.
That innocent comment about the Monster sparked a conversation between the two players as to whether or not they could shoot a puck from the playing surface -- which runs from the third-base line to the first-base line -- over the Monster, much like the city's baseball players, who become heroes by sending baseballs over the wall and out onto Lansdowne Street.
Thornton, a lower-line grinder not known for his shot, said he doubted he could do it, but said Ryder, a two-time 30-goal scorer, might have the shot to do it.
"I don't know; you got the boards, as well as the glass," Ryder said. "You gotta get it up there quick."
"It's gotta be a flipper, I think," said Thornton.
"Yeah, a flipper," Ryder said. "You've got a good flipper."
"Yeah, I do have a good flipper," Thornton said as he stood in the home dugout, eying the Monster that loomed just 320 or so feet away through the steady rain pelting Fenway.
Then, it was suggested that the team's goalies -- Rask and Tim Thomas -- could be dispatched to left field during the morning skate on New Year's Day and field the pucks that bounced off the Monster, much like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski or Manny Ramirez.
"I'd love that," Rask, the rookie goalie from Finland, told NHL.com.
The Monster also dominated the conversation of the visiting Philadelphia Flyers, who arrived in Boston after a Saturday night loss to New Jersey. van Riemsdyk and Powe walked the warning track along the base of the Monster, looking up in awe and talking back and forth.
So, James, could you get one of the Monster?
"I don't know, that looks pretty tough," van Riemsdyk said. "We might have to get a shooting gallery out here and try to bomb some pucks out there and see what happens."
While the Monster stole the show, the sneak peek allowed the players to begin the process of developing a mental picture of what awaits them in a little less than three weeks.
It's pretty cool to get out here and get a feel for how things are going to be. It looks like it is going to be pretty incredible." - James van Riemsdyk
"Now I can see what it will be like a little more than I could today coming here," Ryder said. "Looking at the rink, and all that; it's going to be a lot of fun -- especially with the fans being closer. The way it is set up, it'll be a lot more intimate.
Despite being a rookie with the Bruins, Rask has already been to a few Red Sox games, so he knows how intimate a setting the game will be. He knows the fans -- especially those in the Monster Seats and just past the dugouts on both baselines -- will be right on top of the action.
Now, the Finnish goalie has to convince his countryman back in Finland that the Winter Classic will be a can't-miss event.
"They've seen the (Winter Classic) games on TV before and they have seen that there are tens of thousands of people watching. Especially in Boston, it's something special and different. I'm going to have to tell them that it is even bigger than usual."
Most likely, the players from both teams that took time out of there Sunday to see the early stages of Fenway's transition from baseball stadium to hockey rink will carry the same "bigger Than usual" message back to teammates that decided to forego the trip to the ballpark.
"It's pretty cool to get out here and get a feel for how things are going to be," van Riemsdyk said. "It looks like it is going to be pretty incredible."