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BC fans enjoyed the pageantry of the Frozen Fenway Classic, if not the final score. (Photo by Justin Knight)

A Frozen Field of Dreams

It’s always special when BC and BU clash on ice. But when the game takes place in one of the most famous baseball stadiums of all time, it’s a classic
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By Reid Oslin | Chronicle Staff
Published: January 21, 2010
Just before the opening face-off of the Jan. 8 “Frozen Fenway” classic – played on an outdoor rink in Boston’s Fenway Park before a record college hockey crowd of more than 38,000 cold but rollicking fans – Boston College head coach Jerry York and his Boston University counterpart Jack Parker walked to center ice for a brief television interview. York and Parker, the winningest active coaches in the sport, stopped for a moment to survey the pulsating vista that would provide a magical backdrop for this special night in the city’s rich sports history.

“How lucky are we to be involved in this?” asked Parker.

“Boston certainly has been good to us,” nodded York.

Good, indeed.

The teams proceeded to play a scintillating game – won by the Terriers 3-2 – in the 248th renewal of this long-standing and always closely-contested Commonwealth Avenue rivalry. But this night’s contest was to be more than a mid-season college ice hockey game; it was a true Boston event.

Here are a few observations from one reporter’s note book.

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At 5:30 p.m. – some two hours before the game’s start - Kenmore Square was taking on the appearance of a giant, well-shaken snow globe, with flakes falling at a steady rate through the bright lamps on top of the tall light towers guarding Fenway and its environs. Each arriving trolley deposited legions of students and fans – almost all of them decked out in the maroon-and-gold or scarlet-and- white colors of their favorite team.

“This game was originally scheduled to be played in Conte Forum on the first weekend in December,” noted Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna. Hockey East had suggested the “Sun Life Frozen Fenway” college event as a way to follow the NHL’s wildly popular New Year’s Day “Winter Classic” outdoor contest between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

“I thought the [schools’] athletic directors did a great thing because they had to give us permission to change the schedule,” Bertagna said. “The instant sell-out and everything that has followed is proof that we did the right thing.”

Tickets, ranging in price from $5 to $90 each, were scooped up in hours as soon as they were placed on sale in September, Bertagna said.

“This is a big event, a big, big event,” observed a “self-employed” ticket broker who was hawking some hard-to-find ducats to fans along Brookline Avenue. “We’re going to be able to go home early tonight,” he confided to a fellow scalper. “Need a pair on the red line?” he shouted to a passerby. (Note to scalper: With the rink configured from roughly first to third base across Fenway’s baseball diamond, there were no seats within 50 yards of the mid-ice red line.)

By 6 p.m. there were long lines to get into every restaurant, gin mill and music hall along Lansdowne Street. Even “Chi-Chi’s Sausages” – the famed late-night sandwich purveyor to BC’s Lower Campus residents — had set up a vending cart on the walkway outside Fenway’s left field wall and was doing a steady business in the greasy delights as fans from both schools poured into the area.

Thirty minutes before face-off, the Fenway grandstands were still sparsely populated. Snow flurries continued to swirl in the bright lights and chilled ticket-holders huddled under cover. As the start time drew nearer, however — with the temperature dipping to 21 degrees — the fans almost magically appeared in the seating area, swaddled in all manner of parkas, wool hats, blankets, mukluks and, presumably, thermal underwear.

The Fenway Park organist serenaded late-arriving fans with the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

“Aw, it’s not that bad,” scoffed BC rooter Jim O’Brien, a 1960 graduate who watched the rink from the BC section on the third base side of the field as the wind chill reading dropped into single digits. “It feels like its 34 or 35 degrees to me.”

In pre-game ceremonies, both schools were represented by honorary alumni captains from each institution’s long and storied hockey tradition. For BC, it was Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch along with NHL career stalwarts Craig Janney and Marty McInnes – all three of whom are US Olympic Team veterans; BU countered with Olympian Mike Eruzione, NHLer Tony Amonte and the inspirational Travis Roy.

Boston College student Ayla Brown ’10 delivered a stirring rendition of the National Anthem as a huge American flag was unfurled and cascaded down Fenway’s left field “Monster” wall. Even the most jaded BU partisans joined in a long and loud standing ovation in appreciation of her show-stopping performance.

Both teams came out on the ice in specially-designed game jerseys, or “sweaters” in hockey parlance. BC’s choice was gold with a subtle green stripe dropped into the traditional maroon trim as tribute to Fenway’s famous color; BU had their usual “BOSTON” on the front of bright red sweaters in a script identical to the lettering on Boston Red Sox uniforms.

Sharp-eyed fans noticed an additional collection of toques, head-warmers and turtlenecks augmenting various players’ gear to combat the wintry weather. Many skaters wore football eye-black to cut down the glare from the powerful arcs. Even the on-ice officials wore gloves, and goal judges eschewed their traditional barstool-like perches behind the glass to stand and stamp their feet for warmth until game action headed their way.

The Boston College Band – some 50 members strong – contributed Fenway favorites “Sweet Caroline” and “Shipping Up to Boston” to the traditional “For Boston” fight song. “I have never played an instrument that was covered in snow before tonight,” quipped a BC sousaphone musician who identified himself as “just Jeff.”

“The valves keep freezing up on us,” he said. “I tried to blow on them to keep them clear, but even your breath is freezing,” he chattered.

Jeff kept his instrument mouthpiece warmed in his gloved hand until it was time to play. “My lips will stick to it if I don’t,” he observed wisely.

With bands playing, thousands cheering and a competitive game between two old rivals on view, the stands took on an electric party atmosphere perhaps surpassing even the celebration of a World Series game, noted John Conceison ’83, a sports copy editor for The Worcester Telegram & Gazette who has covered contests at the old park. “It’s possibly college hockey’s finest moment,” he said.

Vendors sold lukewarm clam chowder to patrons in addition to the usual ballpark fare. In spite of the plummeting temperatures, sales of cold beer were as brisk as the weather.

The ice surface was continually maintained by a platoon of black-suited rink attendants who skated onto the rink during every extended stoppage in play with wide-blade scrapers and watering cans, removing any accumulated snow and repairing nicks in the pristine frozen surface.

“The ice was great,” said BC sophomore defenseman Tommy Cross. “I didn’t even notice it, so I guess that means that it was good. The lights didn’t bother me at all, either,” he said. “I don’t think I lost the puck in them even once.”

The Terriers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but York’s Eagles caught fire late in the second period, and drew within a goal in the final session before launching a furious attempt to knot the score and send the game into overtime. The down-to-the-wire finish had fans from both schools screaming for their favorites.

 “We told our team before the game tonight that this was going to be a memorable experience for both teams,” a disappointed York told media members after the game. “But it’s going to be a significant experience for the team that wins,” he said.

“The game was everything that it was made up to be,” said Cross, a native of Simsbury, Conn., who counts himself as a life-long citizen of Red Sox Nation and frequent visitor to Fenway. “I know that it is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”