-- While admittedly dating himself, Philadelphia Phillies President David Montgomery spoke Thursday with appreciation about his hockey memories in the city he has called home for his entire life.
Montgomery smiled when he mentioned the names Bobby Clarke
and Bill Barber
. He recalled his excitement about the Flyers not only coming to town in 1967, when the NHL expanded from its Original Six, but the team then being able to compete with the Rangers, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Bruins, Maple Leafs and Canadiens in a matter of just six years.
But during a press conference at Citizens Bank Park, Montgomery went even further back than that -- all the way to the late 1950s.
"If the South Philadelphia sports complex has a bucket list of events it would like to have, this is going to be pretty special to check off, the Bridgestone Winter Classic." -- David Montgomery
"Actually, my first hockey memories go back to the Philadelphia Arena at 46th and Market (Street) and the team was the Philadelphia Ramblers," Montgomery, 66, said during a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. "My guess is there were probably 16 rows of seats around the ice, about eight downstairs and in the upper deck. My guess is our attendance (for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic) will be 20 times what it was for a Ramblers game."
Montgomery will be among the thousands in attendance Monday when the Flyers and Rangers take the ice for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. He and his wife, Lyn, will be sitting in the same box they use to watch Phillies games while a dozen of their family members will be out in the stands, having been given tickets to the game for Christmas.
The Phillies also confirmed that centerfielder Shane Victorino and pitcher Kyle Kendrick will be attending the game. Montgomery said more of the players would attend if they lived in the area during the winter.
"If the South Philadelphia sports complex has a bucket list of events it would like to have, this is going to be pretty special to check off, the Bridgestone Winter Classic," Montgomery said.
Montgomery has been closely watching as his ballpark has been turned into a hockey rink. It has allowed him to reflect back to the days when the ballpark was still under construction in 2003 and 2004, when he used to walk the concourse and imagine what a baseball experience would be like here.
2012 WINTER CLASSIC
Flyers win EA SPORTS' Classic simulation
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer
Using its NHL 12 simulation engine, EA SPORTS has a forecast for the outcome of the Jan. 2 game at Citizens Bank Park between the Flyers and Rangers. READ MORE ›
"You hoped and prayed that some of the aspects of the baseball experience that you envisioned would take place, but frankly we didn't allow ourselves to go beyond that," Montgomery said. "Yes, we thought beyond our 81 games we would be able to bring other events here and how successful will we be, and concerts come to mind. It would have been beyond expectations to think about this (a hockey rink)."
Montgomery said he's been amazed at not only what he's seeing, but the organization that goes into what has become such a huge event for the NHL since the Winter Classic debuted in Buffalo in 2008. He spoke to Red Sox President Larry Lucchino about what it was like for them at Fenway Park in 2010, but it just isn't the same as actually seeing it first-hand.
"Understanding the depth of this event, it's hard to believe in my mind when I see the amount of organization that takes place, that it's just Year 5," Montgomery said. "Clearly the NHL has developed a property that is indeed special."
However, hosting a Winter Classic also is a challenge.
Montgomery said the most difficult message he had to deliver was to Mike Boekholder, the Phillies' head groundskeeper. Telling Boekholder that two rinks -- the main rink and an auxiliary ice sheet -- as well as several staging areas, studio booths, broadcast perches and even a set of temporary bleachers big enough to fit 1,500 more people into the ballpark would be built on top of his field just wasn't fun.
"The reality is we knew we were going to sacrifice the field, but that's a price we will pay," Montgomery said. "It's going to be a little challenging because when we re-do the field normally here we re-do it in the fall and the growing season goes from Nov. 1 straight through (the winter), so this will be a little shorter. But we studied that substantially and we're confident by early April that our field conditions will be fine for baseball."
Montgomery also pointed out that the week between Christmas and New Year's usually is the slowest for all of the employees that work in the ballpark, "so, several of our departments -- our special-events group, our ballpark operations group, our IT group and then our video services, who will do the scoreboard -- are having a very different week."
To Montgomery, though, hosting the NHL's biggest regular-season event is worth the overtime and the crunch it'll put on Boekholder and his staff later this winter because it's another way to showcase Philadelphia and its passionate sports fans on a national stage for several days.
More than 400 credentials have been approved by the NHL for media to cover the Winter Classic on Jan. 2, but many will also be here for the sold-out Molson Canadian 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game set for Dec. 31 (1 p.m., VERSUS). The AHL contest between the Adirondack Phantoms and Hershey Bears on Jan. 6 also is sold out.
The estimated capacity for the hockey games is 47,000.
"We've had an opportunity to have some pretty special concerts here, such as Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Billy Joel, and not only that but now guys like Bobby Clarke
and Billy Barber will have a chance to play at Citizens Bank Park," Montgomery said. "That's pretty special to a guy who has been in this sports scene for quite a long time."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl