FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Before the NHL kicks off 2016 on Friday by adding another chapter to one of its oldest and most heated rivalries, it will cap 2015 with an event-filled New Year's Eve at Gillette Stadium.
The kickoff events to the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will be played on New Year's Day between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens (1 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, SN), include each team's practice, two exhibition games that could fill the stadium, and a party on the plaza outside the stadium.
The Bruins are scheduled to practice at Gillette Stadium at 11 a.m. ET. The Canadiens will begin their workout 90 minutes later.
Practice the day before the Winter Classic is essential to the players and coaches because it gives them a chance to learn the nuances of the ice and the quirks that stem from the unfamiliar sightlines they'll experience playing a game outside in a football stadium.
"You can't just get into this game without practice," said Bruins forward Max Talbot, who has played in two Winter Classic games (2011 and 2012). "It's such a different atmosphere with the wind, the weather and lighting. You have to find your bearings, so you have to take these two days, even the family skate [Wednesday], to get into the groove of everything."
The practices also are important for Dan Craig, the NHL senior director of facility operations and hockey operations. Craig is in charge of the rink for the Winter Classic, and watching the players in practice gives him an idea of any tweaks he needs to make before the game.
"I watch their skates and see how things react in different areas of the ice surface," Craig said. "I'm watching their expressions, because I know how a lot of them play the game, and even in practice I know what the drills are supposed to be. I watch what people are looking for and I'll make my notes as to what areas we have to check. If someone takes a turn and looks back and is like, 'What was that?', those are the things I have to look for."
A new wrinkle to the Winter Classic experience is the Outdoor Women's Classic presented by Scotiabank, which is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. The Boston Pride of the National Women's Hockey League and Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women's Hockey League will play in the first Outdoor Women's Classic. Fans will be allowed into the stadium at 1:30.
"Having the women's game in there will be absolutely fantastic for everybody that comes into the building," Craig said. "They're great athletes and it's a high-skilled game for them as well."
Once the women's game is over, the NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game presented by Molson Canadian will take place. Puck drop is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
Former Bruins including Ray Bourque, Mark Recchi and Cam Neely, and former Canadiens including Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau and Alex Kovalev will put the equipment back on to add a different chapter to the Montreal-Boston rivalry.
Don Cherry, Mike Milbury and Derek Sanderson are among the coaches for the Bruins alumni. Yvon Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur and Jacques Demers are on the Canadiens coaching staff. John Bucyk and Eddie Sandford are honorary Boston coaches.
The alumni held a get-together Wednesday night.
"I know a lot of the guys we are going to playing against and a lot of the guys we will be playing with; it's a lot of guys that I haven't seen in a while," Bourque said. "It's going to be a nice get-together and the game will be fun. The setting doesn't get any better. For us, it will be a nice couple of days where we get to experience what it is like playing out there as well as the game the next day and the two nights in between will be a lot of fun and a lot of catching up with different people."
Outside the stadium, the NHL will be putting on its annual Fan Festival. Spectator Plaza is a free family-friendly event featuring games, attractions, live music and special appearances. It is open from 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Friday.
The stadium will go quiet for New Year's Eve, but it'll be filled to capacity by 1 o'clock Friday as the Bruins and Canadiens ring in 2016 with the latest chapter in their storied rivalry.
One point separates them in the Atlantic Division standings.
"The rivalry is definitely there," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "The history by both teams is there. The standings speaks for itself. So it's going to be a big game."