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Bruins to host Winter Classic

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 10, 2009

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The Bruins, lobbying for months to bring the NHL's Winter Classic to Boston, have been given the go-ahead by commissioner Gary Bettman's office to host the game Jan. 1, 2010, despite mild, perfunctory protestations from Causeway Street that plans for the popular New Year's Day game have yet to be finalized.

Pending a last-second hiccup, the game will be staged at the near century-old Fenway Park, with its iconic Green Monster serving as the backdrop to the boards, Plexiglas, and 85- by 200-foot sheet of ice. The league gave the Bruins the official go-ahead Wednesday night.

According to a source familiar with negotiations involving the NHL, players, and the Bruins, Boston likely will host either the Washington Capitals or the Philadelphia Flyers. It has long been rumored that the next Jan. 1 game would include a Canadian-based team, with the Montreal Canadiens the probable partner for a game in the Hub of Hockey.

But a number of sources indicated it is highly unlikely the Habs will be part of the show, and the likely partner will be the Capitals, whose playoff-bound roster includes superstar winger Alexander Ovechkin, the game's most exciting player and No. 1 goal scorer the last two seasons.

Provided the game is at Fenway, there is little doubt it will sell out, no matter the opposition. It is expected the Bruins early next week will confirm the game, its venue, and the process for purchasing tickets, which could be tougher to obtain than tickets to recent World Series games at Fenway.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, if contractual details can't be worked out at Fenway, the game might be at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. NHL officials in recent months toured both venues extensively, eschewing the opportunity to review Harvard Stadium, and came away suitably impressed by both.

Gillette, which seats 68,756 for the Patriots games, would offer far greater seating capacity than Fenway, with its seating of some 36,000 for Red Sox games. However, Fenway is the hands-down winner for history, intimacy, and its downtown location, a short jaunt up Storrow Drive from the Bruins' home on Causeway Street.

Gillette also could present a quirky fit for a Jan. 1 game because of potential conflicts with the Patriots' regular-season schedule and the playoffs. The NHL needs upward of two weeks to set up its portable outdoor rink, then another week to tear it down - possibly a tight fit for the perennially successful Patriots.

"Contrary to published reports, at this time we have not finalized plans for a Bruins game at Fenway Park on New Year's Day," said executive vice president Charlie Jacobs in a statement issued by the club in the afternoon. "It is no secret that I would love to bring the Winter Classic to the city of Boston - and I have been working with the NHL to consider a number of venues in the area. We believe we are close to accomplishing this. Bruins fans deserve to have an outdoor game, and we hope to deliver one to them in the near future."

The decision not to have a Bruins-Canadiens matchup, according to a source well-versed in the preferences of NBC, the Winter Classic's broadcast partner in the United States the last two years, was made to try to beef up ratings in the United States. Apparently, as much as Boston-Montreal is considered by many hockey fans to be akin to Red Sox-Yankees, NBC believes two US-based cities have a greater chance of attracting eyeballs to American TV screens Jan. 1.

A source with contacts in the Flyers front office last night reported that the Broad Streeters have been told they are not being considered for the game. Meanwhile, a source in the Washington front office reported that the Capitals, owned by Ted Leonsis, formerly of the now-defunct Wang Laboratories, have told the league they are very interested in playing but have not been informed if they have been chosen.

The Canadian-based sports website tsn.ca. also reported that the Jan. 1 game will be in Boston. The Boston Herald reported it, too.

The game will be the fourth staged outside an NHL venue. The Nov. 22, 2003, game in Edmonton attracted 57,167 fans to Commonweatlh Stadium to see the Canadiens beat the Oilers, 4-3. With NBC aboard as a partner, and Ralph Wilson Stadium the venue just south of Buffalo, a record 71,217 turned out to see the Penguins edge the Sabres, 2-1, in a shootout on a snowy Jan. 1, 2008. And last Jan. 1, a sellout of 40,818 crammed into the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the Red Wings pinned a 6-4 loss on the Blackhawks.

If the game lands at Fenway, no telling where the rink will be placed. In Chicago, it ran lengthwise between the left- and right-field foul lines, with the center ice faceoff dot placed on a straight line back from second base. At least half the seats in the house had poor sightlines, in large part because the rink's boards blocked the action from anyone not seated some 15 feet above the field. The Wrigley bleachers afforded some of the best looks at the action.

In the early '60s, when the Patriots played at Fenway, the gridiron was placed lengthwise along the first base and right-field foul line, with one end zone near the visiting dugout and the other close to the bullpens. Temporary bleacher seats, with room for thousands of fans, were erected along the length of The Wall. If the NHL places the rink similarly, the temporary and permanent bleacher seats would be among the best in the house.

The NHL will determine the price of seating for the Classic as well as the method of ticket availability and distribution. Based on the Wrigley experience, a ticket lottery is likely, with choice seats priced $250 or more.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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