Frozen Fenway Set to Make College, Hockey East History


Jan 8, 2010

Frozen Fenway Set to Make College, Hockey East History With Hockey East boasting the past two national champions and a highly anticipated outdoor hockey event at Fenway Park on Friday, it would be easy for league commissioner Joe Bertagna to sit back and soak in the success.

Instead, Bertagna is keeping an even keel.

"We are on a pretty good run," Bertagna said the day before the big event. "I've always said that things go in cycles. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down, and you don't gloat when you're doing well, and you don't despair when you're in a bad cycle."

Still, with one of the bigger events college hockey in the Northeast has seen set to take place, Bertagna is extremely happy with where the league is and what kind of exposure the outdoor games will bring.

"It's big in so many ways," Bertagna said. "The uniqueness of the venue, the media attention, not only through NESN but with the NHL Network picking up the NESN feed, is going to bring the game to a lot of people that might not otherwise be watching college hockey this weekend.

"I think Fenway Park, being the star of this game, is going to allow us to reach people beyond our core group," he continued. "And I think we're going to set a record — we've never had a college hockey crowd in the East that's approached 35,000 to 38,000 people, which is what we expect on Friday night, so that's terrific."

Tickets for the doubleheader, which will feature a women's game between Northeastern and UNH and a men's game between longtime rivals Boston College and Boston University, sold out in less than a week. That was something that not even the most optimistic planner could have expected.

"I think people would be less than candid if they said they knew that was going to happen," Bertagna admitted.

Yet in hindsight, when presenting the greatest rivalry in college hockey in one of the most famous venues in sports, it only makes sense that fans of the schools and of the game itself were clamoring to get a seat.

"At the time we were planning this, we had no way to know what the demand would be — I guess we underestimated what the draw would be of the ballpark," Bertagna said. "I think the feeling was, 'Let's put our best foot forward, let's make sure we do everything possible to maximize that this game will get banged out, and to do that we've got to get a matchup that we think has the most general appeal.' The fact that they are the last two defending national champions also gave us a little something extra by which to sell it.

"And I think having Jack Parker and Jerry York as two coaches that have won over 1,600 games, they continue to be very popular in getting media attention and getting more interest in the game, so I think they did the right thing."

Of equal importance to Bertagna was including a women's game in the event. His personal history with the women's game goes back to the '70s, when he helped launch the women's hockey program at Harvard University — his alma mater — and served as the head coach for two seasons. Later, he helped build the stage on which women's collegiate hockey is now played, establishing a women's league in Hockey East and setting up women's leagues in Division I and Division II while he was working at the ECAC.

"I really wanted to see that. I've just been around women's hockey from the beginning," he said. "It's been a very easy thing for me to push the women's interests when those opportunities have come."

Though the men's BC-BU matchup at 7:30 p.m. will steal most of the attention, the women's game can't be overlooked. The tilt features two of the top teams in the country, with No. 4 UNH (12-2-4) taking on the No. 9 Northeastern Huskies (11-4-2).

Of course, in New England, any outdoor game is subject to the mercy of Mother Nature. Last week, much was made about whether or not rain would postpone the New Year's Day game between the Bruins and Flyers. Yet when the puck dropped, conditions were ideal. That scenario has helped Bertagna handle the forecasts this week a bit better.

"I guess I'm trying not to get myself worked up on the snow part of it," he said. "Like I tell goalies that I coach, 'Don't worry about the things that you can't control.'"

Hockey fans will likely agree with Bertagna in hoping that an outdoor event — whether it be at Fenway Park or somewhere else in the Boston area — would be something that the city would embrace. Whether or not the event has a future, though, is unknown. After the event is over, officials will take a step back to assess how well the economics of the event worked and what the effects were to the field itself — after all, the Red Sox open their season in just 62 days. The league also benefited from being able to hop right on a local outdoor rink that was already built for the NHL's Winter Classic, which is a luxury they won't have on a year-to-year basis.

Yet regardless of the future, there's no denying that the present is a good time for Hockey East. And if the games go as well as they should, there's reason to believe it won't be the last time you see a pair of college hockey teams taking the ice outdoors in Boston.

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