Since 2006, John Wentzell has been the president of TD Banknorth Garden. On Tuesday, he was part of the volunteereffort at the buildingís 13th annual Table of Friends event, billed as ďthe biggest Thanksgiving dinner in Boston.Ē The event feeds more than 500 Boston-area homeless people this season, and brings entertainers, former Bruins, and former Celtics together to help feed the hungry.
TC: How much work does it take to put this event on every year?
Wentzell: Itís a labor of love, and there is some labor. Itís a wonderful event, and it pulls our team together. We look forward to doing it; itís literally a building-wide endeavor. It involves not only the Garden, but the Bruinsí front office, and everyone from the people that work to prepare the food in the kitchens to our bull gang and the laborers that set it up and take it down. Itís truly a team effort top to bottom within the Garden.
TC: One of the great things about the event is youíll have a former Bruins player to the left of you, a Zamboni driver to the right of you, a former Celtic over there, and the president of the Garden over here. A lot of people get involved to make this happen.
Wentzell: There are some people like myself who get to play a little more front and center, but it really does involve everyone. It takes a lot of folks to bus the tables, to clean up afterwards, and literally to set up and put the special touches into place, which we try to do every year.
TC: These are rough times. Is it even more important to have this event this year than maybe in years past?
Wentzell: I think so. Itís now a very special tradition for us at the Garden, but it addresses a very sad reality in homeless individuals in and around our neighborhood here in Boston. Given the economic times, we prepared expecting that there may have been a bigger need this year. Itís hundreds of people, and sadly we see some of the same faces each and every year, and there are new faces. Weíre reminded each year that this can affect anyone at any time.
TC: In much happier news, youíve got two first-place teams playing at the Garden. It kind of feels a little bit like old times on Causeway Street, doesnít it?
Wentzell: Itís happy days. Itís been terrific. Weíve obviously seen both teams playing extremely well. Itís been exciting. Weíre fans first here, and Iím stating the obvious, but itís been a lift in business, too. Itís been wonderful on both fronts.
TC: What was it like having the NBA championship decided in your building?
Wentzell: Iíve said many times before that championships and banners, particularly for us in the Boston area and the Garden specifically, are defining. Weíve been missing ó up until last year ó having that championship type of memory in the new Garden. Obviously weíve accomplished that with the Celtics, and weíre looking forward to raising a banner for the Bruins here sometime soon, too. It creates memories and makes things extra special in the environment and the building. After all, we sell experiences, and who could ask for a better experience than what basketball fans got to go through last year?
TC: The Red Sox won their two World Series on the road, and the Patriots have done it in neutral-site Super Bowls. Kind of nice to have that final game in town for a change, wasnít it?
Wentzell: You couldnít have scripted it any better. Obviously, having the Lakers brought it to an incredibly high pitch, but then to come back for Game 6 and to win it here was terrific. It made it that much more special.
TC: You talked about the Bruins being next in line. We got a taste of it with Game 6 of that series with the Canadiens last spring. I think everyoneís hockey blood is boiling a little bit again.
Wentzell: It did a lot from the momentum point of view for fans. I think it garnered a little extra attention from the media and got people talking. It seemed to have done something to the players, too. Not lost in all of this is what has happened in the first quarter of this season.
TC: We all remember back in the Bruinsí glory days, it wasnít just wins and losses but how the team played. Whatever ďitĒ is that fans want from this team, it seems like this current group of Bruins has it.
Wentzell: There really has been an interesting transformation in the team over the last two seasons. Youíre right, it isnít just winning, itís the journey in getting there. Itís been a lot of fun. We have great sports fans in this town, thatís well documented, and hockey fans are no different. They know the game, they appreciate the edgier, hard-fought type of game, and weíre getting that. Iíll tell you, if we not only keep winning but do it in the fashion we are for the balance of this season, itís going to be a lot of fun for all of us.
TC: Timing is everything, and with the Celtics and Bruins playing so well right now, a lot of fans are coming back into the Garden and seeing the improvements in the scoreboard and the sound system and the changes that have been made.
Wentzell: I said earlier that we sell experiences, but we know we can only do so much with the physical part of the experience. Weíve invested millions over the last few years back into the building, after just 10 years here, to try to add to and enhance that experience. But at the end of the day we needed the ingredients of winning and championships, and weíre starting to get that, too. Itís all coming together nicely.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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