BOSTON -- Snow, heavy at times, fell on Fenway Park today, setting the perfect backdrop for a perfect outdoor hockey day. Outside the famous ballpark, fans gathered in Spectator Plaza, an area set up by the league with games and vendors and a bunch of free stuff. There were a ton of Flyers fans mixed in with the Bruins faithful, but it was one of those Boston fans who summed up the atmosphere perfectly.
"It's like the Super Bowl," said Mark, who's last name I did not get. "It's a once in a lifetime sort of thing that might not happen for another 20 years." I asked him about how it felt to have so many Flyers fans invading his city for what is, at its core, still a Bruins home game. "It's equal, he said, adding that there are tickets distributed to fans from each team.
While it's not for a championship and it isn't a neutral site game, the similarities between this Winter Classic and an event like the Super Bowl are definitely there. As Mark alluded to, the fans are out in full force regardless of the team they support. At the Super Bowl, you'll see fans from just about every team in the league around the festivities, and I've seen supporters of the Capitals, Penguins, Coyotes, Sharks, and Devils -- just to name a few -- all around Boston the last two days.
This isn't just a regular season game between the Bruins and Flyers. Everybody cares about this event.
"I haven't seen this much media in here in a long time," said Arron Asham.
From a hype standpoint the NHL has really gone to every length to make the Winter Classic their premier event, much like the Super Bowl is to the NFL. Practice was broadcast live (with commentary!) in a four-plus hour special today on NHL Network. How often does that happen? There are probably six or seven stores around the ballpark that display the Winter Classic logo and exclusively sell merchandise for the game. There are banners and flags all over town and everywhere you look you see signs of the game, be it on the subway, in Chinatown, on TV, or anywhere really.
The league is going to every length to set the tone for the game and truly turn Fenway Park into a spectacle. From the snow covered field (when it was forecasted there wouldn't be real snow, at least) to the addition of the Bruins retired numbers next to those of the Red Sox to the changing of the AL East standings on the Green Monster to those of the Northeast Division, the attention to detail is fantastic.
Word is that puck drop won't be until around 1:40 PM tomorrow, meaning there will be about 40 minutes of pre-game festivities. Dropkick Murphys are slated to perform, as well as James Taylor performing the American anthem and Daniel Powter performing the Canadian anthem. There will be a fly over and a ceremonial puck drop. Calling this stuff hype is an understatement.
While it may not be the Super Bowl, it's quickly becoming clear that the Winter Classic is here to stay and that the NHL is proud of the event they've created.
"I think it's great," said Paul Holmgren after having a chance to skate around the ice following the Flyers practice. "I think the NHL does a tremendous job in preparing venues like this for this game. Obviously there's no control over the weather, but it was certainly handled very well today with the Bruins practice before us and our practice. The ice is tremendous. The setting is tremendous. We are all looking forward to tomorrow."
"I remember when they played the first one and Mr. Bettman talked about how we're not sure we're going to do this all the time. I think we should do it every year."