No matter the age you started playing the game of hockey, there is a chance your early introductions to the game included playing in an outdoor neighborhood rink with your friends.
Even though I never played organized hockey, there was nothing better than slapping the puck around on Century Street in South Brewer, Maine, or going to the outdoor skating rink on Pendleton Street, where an elementary school sits today.
Like them or not, outdoor games are now a major part of the landscape of the game, and this winter, the University of Maine will experience that for the third time since 2012.
“Frozen Fenway,” which brings college hockey teams to historic Fenway Park, will see the Black Bears lace up their skates on Yawkey Way again this season, as coach Red Gendron’s club will join Hockey East foes Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Connecticut, Providence, New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the fourth Frozen Fenway event.
As has happened in the past, the event will likely consist of two four-team doubleheaders over two weekends. The Black Bears are unbeaten in Frozen Fenway games, having defeated UNH in a 5-4 overtime thriller in 2012 and routing Boston University 7-3 in a 2014 event that saw the game delayed by thunderstorms. Maine’s opponent has yet to be determined, and the Black Bears’ 2016-17 schedule will be released in the coming months.
Whether or not you like outdoor hockey games, playing in another Frozen Fenway event is a major plus for UMaine’s hockey program and its fans. There was a lot of excitement among Black Bear Nation upon learning of the news on Tuesday afternoon.
These outdoor games are extremely enjoyable, and are throwbacks. The first go-around in 2012, we were blessed with outstanding weather conditions with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees. Seated in the pavilion club, the only time my wife and I had to utilize our option to go inside was to order drinks, food or to visit the restroom.
In 2014, we weren’t so fortunate, as freezing rain throughout Maine on game day kept us, and many other fans, from making the trip south. But when was the last time you saw a thunderstorm at a hockey game? Hell, I’ve been to tons of Red Sox games over the course of my lifetime, and have never seen the tarp brought onto the field to interrupt a game, even during a drizzly game we attended last summer.
As we all know, UMaine’s hockey program is in the midst of building its program back to championship contender status, not just in Hockey East but on a national level. Gendron’s Black Bears have a talented class of recruits coming in this fall. No matter what Maine’s record is, Black Bear fans love to travel en masse to support their team, and this Frozen Fenway should be no different. Look for a much improved UMaine team once Frozen Fenway rolls around in January.
Of course, outdoor games have their quirks. I get that Fenway is not a “modern” stadium like, say, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, which hosted the NHL’s Winter Classic in January. I know, the ballpark has all those darn poles that block views, those wooden grandstand seats that resemble seats found in ballparks during World War II, and in some seats, you can’t even see the rink.
Be that as it may, Frozen Fenway is a popular event, not just among Maine fans but college hockey fans throughout New England. While fans of the Boston schools are just a few Green Line stops away, fans of UMaine, New Hampshire, Providence, UMass and UConn will, without question, travel from far and wide for these games. It also serves as a great excuse to head down to the big city for a weekend. The players thoroughly enjoy skating on the same grounds on which David Ortiz has hit many a clutch home run as well.
What memories will the 2016-17 Black Bears make on the Fenway ice? They’ll certainly have some good history on their side with Maine’s 2-0 record at Fenway. While the opponent has yet to be determined, getting another chance to play in Frozen Fenway is already a victory for the University of Maine’s hockey program.
Any guesses as to who the opponent will be?