‘Pot Puck Drop – Previewin’ the Weekend Action at Frozen Fenway

Before we delve into the extravaganza at Fenway, there are already some mid week contests in HE…proverbial “trap games” if there ever were.  After prevailing in the Florida Classic, the Maine Black Bears took care of business versus last place Vermont last night in Burlington. The Catamounts will limp into the Saturday match-up with UMass at Fenway while Maine continues its 2nd half hot streak as they load up the buses in Orono for the evening tilt against rival UNH.

UMass heads down to Schneider to take on Providence; both teams will be looking to rebound from Holiday week losses as they begin the final stretch in Hockey East. In the last four meetings, the Friars are 2-0-2 against the Minutemen, including a 6-4 triumph on October 15 at Schneider Arena.

I really felt that in order for UMass to turn their season around, they needed to beat Maine and bring back some momentum. The key tonight and for the remainder of the year for the Minutemen is solidifying their team defense.  When allowing 4 or more goals this year, UMass is 0-7-1, however, when cutting that to 3-or-fewer, UMass is 6-1-3….a ridiculous stat to say the least; how about just pointing out the fact that UMass has allowed 4 plus tallies 8 times this season.

Massachusetts (6-8-4, 2-6-3 Hockey East) at 
Providence (8-8-1, 6-4-0 Hockey East) 

Providence College’s Take

UMass’s Take

Sun Life Frozen Fenway

 Massachusetts (6-8-4, 2-6-3 HE) vs Vermont (4-13-1, 1-9-1 HE)

4PM EST 

Maine (9-7-2, 6-6-1 HE) vs. New Hampshire (6-10-2, 4-7-1 HE)

7:30PM EST

FENWAY PARK – Boston, MA

The pundits and the malcontents have been loqacious in their bemoaning of the match ups slated for this Saturday’s “Hockey Day in New England.” Granted, I am sure the organizers are glad the tickets were dolled out prior to the start of the season before the ill fated first halves of the HE season played out for the four state universities. That said, this Saturday’s slate is the main attraction of the 16 day activity calendar as the four flagship universities in New England will for once take center stage.

I would even argue that Frozen Fenway would’ve sold out even if patrons were aware of the records of all four participants. People love “events” and although this weekends games are not of a superbowl level, the weekend pegged “Hockey Day in New England” has a soiree, grandiose feel to it. Combine the passionate nature of Boston hockey fans with the allure of a baseball cathedral like Fenway Park and you have yoursleves a winner. I had heard that Penn State played an outdoor game in Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia this week that only drew approximately 5,000 fans (college hockey does not appeal to Philadelphia’s neanderthal fan base)….wouldn’t happen in Boston where hockey is part of our culture as much as Fenway Park is.

In most other sports sectors and in other parts of the United States, the flagship state universities rule the roost and take a backseat to nobody. Can you imagine the University of North Carolina or even the University of Michigan (both clear flagship universities in their respective states) sharing the media spotlight and on a parallel front, the recruiting base, with the likes of UNC-Asheville or Central Michigan. ..NOT HAPPENING!!! Hockey East provides a stark contrast to this as the likes of hyphen Universities like UMass-Lowell and smaller, parochial colleges like Merrimack continue to outrecruit and even outrespect the flagship institutions like Vermont and Massachusetts. I for one will be glad to see the UNH, Maine, UMass and Vermont take the spotlight in Boston even if its only for one moment in time.

What does it all mean for the four school’s in Saturday’s gala at Fenway?

In a nutshell, this game represents a one time shot at a Beanpot like atmosphere for these school’s and I would argue offers an even better opportunity to garner attention than the largely provincial Beanpot. The Beanpot tournament is arcane by nature and its significance is understood by only local Bostonians who have grown up with the tradition of the event engrained in their minds. For most non- Boston markets, the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic (Canada’s version) represent the most unique and recognizable hockey event that ever was and for the NHL has turned into a ratings cash cow in a sport sector that is known for embarrasingly low ratings compared to other major sports. All four of these universities must harness this current fervor for outdoor hockey and utilize is as a means to enhance their recruiting not only in the Boston area but across the US and Canada. 

For UMass, this game is their Beanpot, their chance to take the ice on a big stage and promote their fledgling program in the ultimate commercial played out in one of the most historic sports landmarks in the country. UMass sports have forever been a stepchild to the Boston School’s and only briefly did John Calipari change this phenomenon in the nineties before plummeting the basketball program back into anonymity and beyond. The hockey program has floundered at the bottom of the standings  since the so called “modern era” began in 1993. They briefly caught lightning in a bottle with the recruitment of Jonathan Quick, now of the LA Kings, took the Minutemen to the NCAA finals.

The game at Fenway provides a platform for UMass to take the spotlight in the Boston area and provide an indelible moment in time for their program. UMass probably has more alumni in the Boston area than BC and BU combined and this game provides the opportunity to play in front of many of these alums who haven’t paid attention to the program since they left Amherst. Saturday’s projected sell-out attendance of 38,472 will be the largest crowd to ever see a UMass hockey game. The previous best attendance mark was 17,565 set twice against New Hampshire in the Hockey East Tournament at the TD Garden in Boston (3/14/03 & 3/19/04).

Its amazing to me how disconnected the UMass alumni base truly is compared to other large universities around the country. Its clear to me that the recent lack of athletic success is the impetus behind a disconnected alumni base. That’s is why UMass alums have to embrace great fraternizing opportunities such as this event at Fenway and help propel the fan base to the level it should be for such an acclaimed school as UMass. Combine this event with the recent upgrade to FBS football, hiring of Charley Molnar, and the exploits of Chaz Williams on the basketball court (In Derek Kellog I trust) and it appears things are moving in the right direction in Amherst.

New Hampshire and Maine have been arch rivals since they first matched up against one another in the first “border war” in 1979. Maine comes into Frozen fenway red hot having won six of their last seven games, are 9-7-2 on the season and 6-6-1 in Hockey East play. New Hampshire enters the game with a record of 6-10-2, 4-7-1 in conference play.  As in any rivalry game, throw out the records for this one and make no  mistake, this game is the prime time feature for a reason. Unlike the other 2 participants in UMass and UVM, Maine and UNH have prominent, nationally recognized programs that have a history of success.

Maine has the most unique blend of local and student followers who perennially electrify the best college barn in Hockey East, Alfond Arena. The Black Bears have been a fixture in the Hockey East tournament for years and I have vivid memories of the caravan like Maine-iacs parading into the Garden for every HE tournament. Frozen Fenway allows these loyal, obsequious fans from Orono with a grand event to be enjoyed by the small town fan base. I expect a loud and boisterous Maine contingent who should be even more fired up given the direction the current club seems to be heading.

For UNH, the season thus far has been a disaster as they have struggled mightily to keep opponents from scoring despite an offense that had acclaimed press clippings at the beginning of the year. Barring an epic run in the HE tournament, the Wildcats will not be making an appearance in the NCAA tournament. As a result, Frozen Fenway provides a  chance for redemption against their bitter rivals from Orono and a means of salvaging an otherwise pitiful season. I was high on UNH to start the year and look for UNH to lay it all on the line on Saturday in what should be a great battle on the most unique of stages. UNH can lay claim to arguably the most veteran “outdoor hockey” player in the history of these events as alum Ty Conklin has serendipitously played his way into 3 straight starting goaltender assignments in both Winter and Heritage Classics with Pittsburgh, Edmonton and Detroit…at least one catgeorical victory for UNH.

Vermont rests solely entrenched in the basement of Hockey East 4-14-1 (1-10-1 HEA) and their coach, Kevin Sneddon might just be fighting to keep his job down the stretch. They just fell to Maine (3-1) at Gutterson to start the second half and despite some talented scores like Conor Brickley (just particpated in the World Juniors) have been a threat to virtually no one this year. Much like UMass and UNH, this is their Superbowl as they will most likely not be participating in any post season play whatsoever this spring. Despite their inept first half, the Catamounts do have a win over UMass and will be looking to take them down again on Saturday.

Great picture of the UVM locker room/ AKA the Red Sox batting indoor cage:

 

The Red Sox are “New England’s” baseball team and Fenway Park is hallowed ground for every follower from northern Maine to southern Connecticut. Thusly, Frozen Fenway will be the ulimate roadtrip for the fanbases in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. I look forward to seeing this unique atmosphere and seeing the expressions on all of these fanbases as we all meld together into this once in a lifetime stage this weekend.

Frozen Fenway TV Schedule:

Sat 7-Jan Massachusetts vs. Vermont (Fenway Park) NESN 4:00pm 628
Sat 7-Jan Maine vs. New Hampshire (Fenway Park) NESN 7:30pm 628

On Sunday, NHL Network will show tape-delayed coverage of Saturday’s Hockey East action at Frozen Fenway 2012, a doubleheader at Fenway Park, site of the 2010 Winter Classic between Boston and Philadelphia. Sunday’s outdoor games will be broadcast in both the U.S. and Canada. The first matchup, between Vermont and Massachusetts will be broadcast on NHL Network on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET and will be followed at 4 p.m. by rivals Maine and New Hampshire.

Each broadcast Sunday of Frozen Fenway 2012 will be blacked out in the Boston market.

 

 

 


 

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