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Winter Classic 'can't go wrong' with Bruins, Canadiens

by Shawn Roarke

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A more perfect summer day could not have gripped the Boston area Wednesday. Temperatures soared into the low 90s with an occasional cooling breeze and the region was baking under a strong sun that rarely darted under cloud cover.

It was a day made for golfing, or perhaps hitting the famed beaches stretching along the coastline of nearby Cape Cod. Yet at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots of the National Football League, the talk was about hockey, specifically the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens that will be played here on Jan. 1, 2016 (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"[Patriots owner Bob Kraft] promised me it would be at least 60 degrees cooler on New Year's Day," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in his opening remarks.

There was little need on this day to conjure up the anticipated cold and possible snow that could greet the Bruins and Canadiens when they take to the playing surface placed in the middle of Gillette Stadium's football field to continue their fierce rivalry. A glance at the outline of the ice rink in the middle of the turf, and a look at the scoreboards in each end zone displaying the NHL Winter Classic logo, was enough to send most of those on hand on their own trip down memory lane.

Cam Neely is president of the Bruins, but in his playing days he was one of the lead characters in the passion play that is the rivalry with the Canadiens. As an executive, he experienced the 2010 NHL Winter Classic intimately when the Bruins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in overtime at Fenway Park.

Five years later, the memories remain fresh and came flooding back when Neely reported for the press conference to start the build up to one of the NHL's signature regular-season events.

"After being through it and seeing the other [outdoor] games on TV, just the atmosphere is spectacular," said Neely, who played in the alumni game between the Bruins and Flyers at Fenway. "To stand here -- and we are essentially almost on the blue line -- and look up [into the stands] and knowing it is going to be packed and playing our biggest rival in this setting is going to be pretty special."

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin was an assistant coach for the Chicago Blackhawks when they played the 2009 NHL Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field, a game marked by bitterly cold temperatures and a raucous atmosphere as the NHL took the outdoor game to the tighter confines of a baseball stadium for the first time.

"It's going to be fun for the players, exciting for the fans," Bergevin said. "Montreal is not that far away, so I expect a lot of Montreal fans here for the game.

"Montreal-Boston is always fun, it's always special and they can't go wrong in bringing those two teams together here."

The rivalry will be one the major story lines of the 2016 NHL Winter Classic.

"When you think about rivalries that perfectly summarize the excitement and passion of NHL hockey, the enduring legacy of the Bruins and Canadiens would merit lofty status as well," Commissioner Bettman said


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The Jan. 1 game will be the 910th time they have played in the regular season or the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Boston-Montreal, you cannot miss," said Yvan Cournoyer, a former Canadiens captain who will help coach Montreal's alumni team in a game on Dec. 31 at Gillette Stadium.

Kraft, a football guy through and through as a former season-ticket holder of the Patriots who became their owner for a run of four Super Bowl titles, admitted to being caught up regularly in the maelstrom of passion that defines this bitter hockey rivalry.

He relayed a story about how he and his son, Jonathan, drove to Montreal in 1980 as part of Jonathan's 16th birthday celebration. Kraft said he scalped tickets to the game upon arrival, and he and his son watched in dismay when the Bruins lost a lopsided decision to the home team. Thirty-five years later, Kraft said his family still discusses that trip.

Now, thanks to the 2016 NHL Winter Classic, new memories will be added not only to the Kraft family history, but to a rivalry that has few peers in the world of professional sports.

"No two teams have played each other more often in NHL history; they have had more regular-season, playoffs and Game 7 matchups than any other two teams," Kraft said. "Many of these games have been truly epic and memorable battles, highlighting what makes this sport so great.

"I'm very optimistic and hopeful that is what we will have right here on this field on Jan. 1 right out here. And I promise you, the temperature will be a little different. Maybe colder than you really want it."

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