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Looking forward to cold one

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / July 16, 2009
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The National Hockey League made it official yesterday, announcing that its popular Winter Classic will land at Fenway Park Jan. 1, which from a news perspective was almost as current as the grand ol’ ballpark itself (97 years old and counting, if you didn’t hear).

On a gorgeous summer day highlighted by blue sky, bright sunshine, and some de rigueur verbal stumblings by Mayor Tom Menino (Hizzoner nearly labeled it an NFL event and even referred to the tilt as the “World Classic’’), Boston was assured that the Bruins and Flyers will drop the puck at 12:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day, with the center ice faceoff dot expected to be almost directly over second base.

“We’re the focal point of a day that was all about college football,’’ mused NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, relaxing in a luxury box along the first-base line soon after the news conference. “Now it’s about us, and that’s a good thing.’’

Fenway, in fact, will be No. 3 in a series of Jan. 1 NHL games that began with the 2008 game in suburban Buffalo, played before a crowd of more than 70,000, and continued last Jan. 1 in Chicago, where 40,000-plus crammed the friendly confines of the Wrigley Wrink to watch the Red Wings battle the Blackhawks.

As for some of the critical details pertaining to the Fenway game, neither NHL officials nor Red Sox boss Larry Lucchino would divulge much. Menino proudly announced that two days of public skating will be incorporated into the event, but he did not say whether that would be before or after the New Year’s Day game.

“It’s a civic celebration open to everyone,’’ noted Menino, no longer wearing the air cast on his right foot he was sporting a week earlier at an event just up the street at Boston University. “Parents and children will be able to experience the ice just like their favorite players.’’

Ticket sales and pricing for the game? According to the league’s COO, John Collins, those details won’t be divulged for at least a couple of weeks, and Bettman stressed that one sure way of obtaining seats Jan. 1 would be to become a Bruins season ticket-holder. Ergo, the longer the delay in announcing details about Winter Classic tickets, the longer Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs can keep open the Causeway Street box office, hoping to solicit season ticket subscriptions.

A conservative estimate on pricing would be $250 per seat, in line with what the league charged for the game in Chicago. Many seats in suburban Buffalo, for the much bigger venue of Ralph Wilson Stadium, were priced just below $100. Cost varies by city, by venue, and, Collins explained, will factor in what fans already are paying for other pro sports events in Boston.

“Some of the things we consider are World Series pricing, NFL games, Bruins and Celtics playoff pricing,’’ said Collins. “All of that is part of the rationale.’’ For the game in Chicago, the league said it logged 250,000 ticket requests.

It is expected both teams will wear specially-designed vintage uniforms, but those were not displayed. Nor did officials supply details about a much-talked-about college hockey tournament or a Bruins alumni game, to be held on a separate date, that is rumored to be bringing together the surviving members of Boston’s revered 1970 Stanley Cup team.

All in all, it was a news conference bare bones in detail, designed first and foremost to officially put the date on the sports calendar and direct eyeballs to nhl.com and bostonbruins.com for ticket information and details about the ancillary events. The Hub of Hockey is anything but a dead zone this summer.

The Bruins brought a sizable contingent to the event, which was held on a stage built on top of the Red Sox’ first base dugout and protruded a few rows into the updated red field box seats.

Jacobs and son Charlie, the executive vice president, were there, along with general manager Peter Chiarelli, prince of passion Cam Neely, and old faithful Harry Sinden. Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Shawn Thornton, Marco Sturm, and David Krejci, as well as defenseman Aaron Ward, also were on the stage. Flyers boss Peter Luukko (ex- of Worcester, Auburn, and UMass), GM Paul Holmgren, and coach John Stevens were joined by players Brian Boucher, Braydon Coburn, and Ray Emery. NBC’s No. 1 hockey voice, Mike “Doc’’ Emrick, acted as MC.

“It’s the first time that our sport comes to this hallowed place,’’ said Emrick, who reverently noted the iconic red seat in the right-field bleachers that marks the spot of a Ted Williams home run.

After the event, the senior Jacobs, recently recovered from a serious health scare, eyed the second-story NESN luxury box as the place he hopes to watch the Winter Classic.

“It will be an interesting game,’’ he said. “I don’t think people will be saying, ‘I wish I could sit on top of the Green Monster or over in right field’. Wherever they are, they’ll be glad just to say, ‘I was there.’ ’’

With the thermometer teasing the 80 degree mark, and Fenway greener than a rookie’s swing, Jacobs was asked if he would choose hot chocolate or cognac as his preferred beverage upon returning to the expected Back Bay chill Jan. 1.

“Oh, hot chocolate,’’ he said emphatically. “I’m not a cognac guy.’’

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