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Classic officials return to their New England roots

by John McGourty /
BOSTON -- If Chris Rooney hears a fan at the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Friday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) call out, "Wicked bad call, ref," he'll feel right at home.

Rooney, from South Boston, was chosen to referee the game along with veteran Kerry Fraser. New Hampshire's Brian Murphy will be one of the linesmen, along with Lyle Seitz.

The whole crew is looking forward to the game with great excitement. They know they'll be part of a rare historical event and they're soaking up every minute of the pre-game excitement. Thursday, they were asked by NHL ice guru Dan Craig to test the ice and gave him their evaluations.

Boston is a consolidated city, so neighborhoods like Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park were once separate cities. To say you're from South Boston or Dorchester is overly broad and the city has such a large Catholic population that specific area identity is by parish. So, when Rooney said South Boston, he was asked, "Gate of Heaven?"

"No, St. Augustine's parish in South Boston," he said, which is less than three miles from Fenway Park. A longtime Red Sox and Bruins fan, Rooney has the background to understand the importance of the Winter Classic in Boston and understands the local excitement surrounding the event.

"It's huge, just huge," Rooney said. "I don't think it's really set in for me yet. I think tomorrow, when they have the fly-bys and the national anthems and I step on the ice, that's when it will hit me.

"For the city, it's great. Who would have ever thought, 50 years ago, that we'd be playing ice hockey at Fenway Park?"

Rooney was told many people will be sitting in the stands, watching the game and pointing out to their children various sections of the park and the historical things that have happened there. Rooney was pointed toward the first-row seats in right field that Dwight Evans fell into while making a great catch of a Joe Morgan drive in the 1975 World Series.

"Dwight Evans there, the Pesky Pole, Bucky Dent's home run went right up there. Carlton Fisk's home run landed there," said Rooney, gesturing to different locations around the park. "A lot of players made their living off that wall. Guys who couldn't make it in other parks could hit a double off the wall here."

Rooney attended the local hockey powerhouse, Catholic Memorial, in West Roxbury, in the southwestern part of the city. Jim Carey, the former Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins goalie, was starring for local coaching legend Bill Hansen when Rooney went there. You couldn't pick a tougher team to try out for.

"I figured I wasn't very good at playing, so I put the stripes on and concentrated on that," Rooney said. "I didn't make the varsity, so I didn't play for Bill Hansen, but he's a good guy."

Rooney has 10 brothers, so he sent out quite a list of invitations to join him in the test skate on the Fenway rink Thursday.

"Either I have to invite everybody or I can't invite anybody," Rooney said. "Six of my brothers are here and another 15 nieces and nephews."

Growing up so close to Fenway Park, Rooney is a lifelong Red Sox fan.

"Oh yeah, I've got season tickets with two of my brothers," he said. "I come to about 15-20 games a year. I grew up rooting for Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice, in the early 1980s. I was born in 1975 so I was pretty caught up in the Red Sox by the time I was 10."

Rooney is amazed by the transformation of his favorite baseball park into a hockey facility. Dan Craig's outdoor rink passed his test.

"They have done an amazing job here," Rooney said. "Hopefully, they'll keep doing this in other cities. The fans have really caught on. Everybody who has ever played hockey, has played outdoors on ponds so the NHL deserves a lot of credit for making this idea work."

Rooney is excited to be doing the game with Fraser, who will retire at season's end.

"This is a feather in his cap to be doing this game," Rooney said. "He definitely deserves it. It's fun for me to get out there and do the game with him. He's been around a long time and done a lot of things, Stanley Cup Finals, Olympics, he's done it all. We all want to do what he's done. That's how I'd sum it up."

Murphy has a connection to another New England coaching great, former University of New Hampshire coach Charlie Holt, a two-time collegiate coach of the year during his tenure from 1968-86.

"I grew up about an hour north of here in Dover, N.H.," Murphy said. "My dad and mom used to take me to baseball games here every summer. That was my dad's big thing, he'd go to a couple of games here every year and stop on the way home at the Hilltop Steakhouse on Route 1. To be here and part of this, is unbelievable."

Dover is adjacent to Durham, N.H., home of the University of New Hampshire. It was there he met Holt, although he didn't play for him.

"I went to UNH and graduated in 1986," Murphy said. "I used to go with my family to the old Snively Arena. After I got into the NHL, I got to be good friends with Charlie and we used to play golf. He helped my golf game. We used to play at Pease (AFB) golf course at 6 a.m. and we had a lot of fun."

Murphy is still involved in southern New Hampshire youth-hockey.

"I played for Dover Youth Hockey and my daughter, Shayna, plays defense for the Dover Youth Hockey Bantams," Murphy said. "Her sister, Casey, plays soccer at Dover High School. In my little spare time, I help coach the Dover High School hockey team. We just won a couple of games and the kids are a lot of fun to be around. I really enjoy being a part of that."

Gregson took a few minutes Thursday to go over all possible eventualities with his officials before Fraser skated out to center ice and pointed at the Winter Classic logo.

"Where do you think center ice is, in terms of the ballpark configuration," he asked.

Told we were probably a little bit behind second base, Fraser turned toward home plate and did a slow 360-degree turn, taking in the whole scene.

"This is a great way to finish. I had a choice negotiated in my succession planning with (referee-in-chief) Terry Gregson," Fraser said. "I had my pick of venues. This is America's ballpark and one of the greatest cities in the league. I love Boston and considered moving here. To finish up with an outdoor game in my final season, in the place that I wanted to do it, I hit it out of the park."

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