“Just putting games anywhere is not the same as putting games here."
When Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna was asked about possibly exploring other outdoor venues besides Frozen Fenway events, his answer could not have been more clear. Hockey East has chosen Fenway Park because there is something special about Fenway Park.
Even when playing a sport not intended for the venue. Even while the signs of offseason maintenance are everywhere, with the Pesky Pole removed and no right field wall in front of the bullpens. Even when a Patriots game moves all college hockey action in New England ahead two hours, noticeably impacting attendance.
“I think this place has something a little special,” the commissioner said in his news conference after the final college hockey game of the year at Fenway, a 2-2 tie between Northeastern and New Hampshire.
Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan pointed out that Fenway is “in the backdrop of our university.” Indeed, being within walking distance, Fenway Park and Boston Red Sox baseball has always been an element around Northeastern. After all, the Red Sox moved there from what is now part of the university campus, marked by a Cy Young statue where the pitcher’s mound once stood.
New Hampshire coach Dick Umile, in his thick accent, exclaimed “Fenway Park: It doesn’t get better than that.”
The players were equally enamored by the historic baseball venue. Rob McGovern, Maine’s goaltender who grew up in Weymouth, Mass., referenced all the times he had been to the park to see the Red Sox. He summed up the experience as “kind of a dream come true.” His shutout performance likely helped the dreamlike nature of the event along for him.
Northeastern’s Adam Gaudette swung his hockey stick like a baseball bat after his first period goal on Saturday. When asked, he did not say how long he had been waiting to do that.
Ara Nazarian, New Hampshire goal-scorer, mentioned having played at Fenway with Malden Catholic High School in the past. Indeed, the event does extend beyond Hockey East, inviting local high school teams, Division III college teams, and a number of Atlantic Conference teams to play as well in the two week run this year. Although it is still a somewhat new event, Frozen Fenway is becoming a tradition.
While there is no agreement ensuring that the series will continue in the future, there was ample reason to believe that everybody involved would be happy to do it again. Bertagna mentioned that in the future there would be a preference to get away from conference play, as it creates a lot of variables in always-important conference games to schedule them for the outdoors.
McGovern said of Fenway that it “kind of felt like a second home.” There’s some truth to that, and it ties directly to the commissioner’s statement about how Fenway Park is not just an outdoor venue. There is something unique about the building itself.
These days, just about any movie set in Boston will go out of its way to show something related to Fenway Park, almost to be visual shorthand to remind people that yes, this movie takes place in Boston in case anyone forgot. At its core, it is a central shared experience for millions of people around New England.
We may go to different schools and come from all manner of backgrounds, but we’ve all been to Fenway and people generally experience the park in the same way. Even in the press box, there was a palpable excitement.
Tim Williams is a freelance writer based in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @TimWritesSports.