Somewhere in heaven, the late Jack Falla is loving every second of the countdown to the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park and the celebration of outdoor hockey that is taking place on Yawkey Way and in the city of Boston.
In 1982, Falla built a hockey rink in his backyard in Natick, Mass., a winter tradition he would continue until he passed away at the age of 62 in September of 2008. The rink was named Bacon Street Omni, after the street where Falla and his family lived for 34 years. Falla’s kids were raised skating on his backyard rink and Falla held numerous games of shinny with his family and friends, including the annual “Molson Cup” every New Year’s Day.
Despite holding many incredible jobs — public relations director for the NHL, covering the NHL for Sports Illustrated, teaching communications at Boston University — his most treasured moments occurred at the Bacon Street Omni, and that’s why he decided to write a collection of essays chronicling those memories and turning them into a must-read for any hockey fan: Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds.
"That was really what he loved most about his outdoor rink, the moments he shared with his family and friends and just the experience of it all,” Falla’s brother, Patrick, told NESN.com. “It was those memories and just the pureness of the experience that outdoor hockey and his rink created for him.”
That’s why Jack Falla would be in his element this week if he were alive to experience the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park. As his brother pointed out, Falla couldn’t believe his eyes when he was watching the first Winter Classic at Buffalo on TV. For Falla, the Winter Classic was probably the best marketing move the struggling NHL could have made, and he was thrilled that the league was realizing how valuable the roots of the game could be.
“He loved the Winter Classic idea and the first year he ended up calling his son Brian and said, ‘Are you watching this? Are you watching this? This is unbelievable,'” Patrick Falla said of his older brother. “He thought it was great and recognized — probably because he was the former PR director of the NHL — what a great thing this was for the game. The Stanley Cup doesn’t always draw the audience because it is in June, but this in the height of winter — New Year's Day, as people sit at home and can watch some football and hockey on TV. Marketing-wise, it’s just great.”
Ironically, the Fallas started a New Year’s Day tradition when they first built their outdoor rink. They decided to hold a pick-up hockey tournament with the winner hoisting a beer keg instead of the Stanley Cup.
“Myself and our other brother had borrowed an empty keg and sent it to Jack the first year he built the rink and we challenged him to the Molson Cup,” Falla recalled with a laugh. “We had a tournament on Jan. 1 of that year and it took off from there every year, for about 10 to 15 years. We would call it the Molson Tournament. We would continue to do it every year and put the names on the old keg and it was like 2-on-2 pond hockey.
"So it is amazing how the Winter Classic has become a tradition on New Year's Day," Patrick added. "It is the epitome of his rink and what he has been writing about all these years in his essay book. Of course, for us it was just a bunch of guys getting together and playing outside. But he would have gotten a huge kick out of this and would have enjoyed the old-time feel of the whole thing.”
The Bruins and Flyers have done a great job over the last week incorporating their alumni into events surrounding the Winter Classic, from the First Skate with Bruins legends on Dec. 18 to a media forum including former Flyers and Bruins that played in the classic 1970s battles between the two clubs.
That is what outdoor hockey and the Bacon Street Omni was about for Falla — taking a trip back in time by telling stories and building new memories in the process. Patrick thinks that is probably the part of the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park that the late Falla would have enjoyed most.
“He came from a different era of hockey where people didn’t travel all over to play, and it wasn’t as cutthroat and everyone basically knew each other,” Patrick said. “It was fun — his tournament and rink was something for the kids to do. You get the feeling of sandlot baseball or pond hockey and make up your own rules and just go.
"This is something that he would have been king of the pond with all the media coming into town that he has been friends with his entire professional career," Patrick added. "It would have been something with them telling some great stories. He is watching and I am sure and he is thinking 'this is great.'”
NESN.com's James Murphy has answered one Winter Classic question each day leading up to the event.
Wednesday, Dec. 30: How will Denis Leary make the Legends Classic game better?
Friday, Jan. 1: The Winter Classic
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