For the NHL, this was perfection.
By the time a massive U.S. Air Force stealth bomber flew over Fenway Park shortly before the opening faceoff of the Winter Classic yesterday afternoon, the temperature was a comfortable 4C. There was no sign of any kind of precipitation and even a glimpse of some blue sky among the clouds, as the rollicking sellout crowd of 38,112, many of whom started the party first thing in the morning, gasped and then roared at the sight of the bomber followed by a blast of fireworks from the roof of the press box.
The first 55 minutes of the game could not be called an artistic success, as the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers fought bouncing pucks and traded mistakes. But everyone, even the Flyers' fans, could agree that the ending made up for it all.
The Bruins tied the score with 2 minutes 18 seconds left in the third period on a power play and then won 2-1 in overtime when Marco Sturm scored at 1:57.
"We were trying to yell and scream to each other but you couldn't hear yourself it was so loud," said Bruins defenceman Derek Morris, who set up the tying goal by Mark Recchi to fire up the crowd. "It was amazing. We wanted to win that game for the fans. It's a fairy tale ending. It was pretty special."
One Flyer fan and his buddy, who travelled all the way from Phoenix for the game after paying $400 (U.S.) each on eBay for box seats along third base behind the Boston Red Sox dugout, said they were happy despite the outcome. Chris Medeiros, who grew up in Philadelphia, and Jason Fleming could see the players only from the waist up, and that was only if they stood for the whole game, but both insisted they got their money's worth.
"Absolutely," said Medeiros, sporting a No.12 Simon Gagné Flyers sweater. "It's still worth it to us."
The only down note was sounded by the Flyers, who thought the Bruins had too many men on the ice when Sturm scored the winner. But they still agreed it was a great experience. Perhaps too great, a couple of them said.
"I think it was exciting at the beginning and maybe a bit overwhelming with the show going on," Flyers centre Mike Richards said. "It took a little bit for us to weigh in on the game. Once we got our legs and started focusing on hockey, we played great."
The Bruins could say the same, since they fell behind 1-0 at 4:42 of the second period when goaltender Tim Thomas lost his temper and forgot about the puck. He took exception to a bump from Flyer winger Scott Hartnell and went after him, knocking him down with a cross-check, which left his net open for Philadelphia defenceman Danny Syvret to score his first NHL goal.
"No player forgets their first NHL goal and definitely, scoring at Fenway, I'll never forget this," Syvret, 24, said. "After I shot it, I could see Thomas was not really aware of where the puck was. I'd like to tell you I picked the corner, but when there's traffic in front if you throw the puck there, there's a good chance it will go in."
The players said the ice was good, even though the snow built up thickly in the last half of each period. The ice at one of the faceoff dots in the end zone had to be fixed repeatedly, but it was the strange bounces off the boards that caused the most trouble.
"It was a different type of game," said Flyer centre Daniel Brière, who took a tripping penalty with 46 seconds left in the third period to give the Bruins a big edge in overtime. "The puck was taking weird bounces off the boards. It was tough to get any kind of offence on both sides but overall it was a great experience."
Recchi, who is enjoying a career renaissance with 23 points in 40 games as his 42nd birthday approaches, said yesterday's memories, from the bomber flyover to his big goal, will rank right there with his two Stanley Cups.
"Man, that stealth was unbelievable," he said. "I didn't know what was coming there.
"You could tell our fans were just waiting for something [late in the game] When we tied the game, you could just feel the whole stadium. The vibe was there. You could feel our emotions on the bench go up another level and it was a great thing to be part of."
Someone else who will remember this for the rest of his life is referee Kerry Fraser. He is retiring at the end of this season and, as is the custom of late, will not be working the playoffs. He told a television interviewer it was a thrill to walk to the rink on the same path once trod by Red Sox great Ted Williams.
One notable first for the NHL's third Winter Classic was a first-period fight between Dan Carcillo of the Flyers, who won on a knockdown, and Shawn Thornton of the Bruins. It was the first fight since the outdoor game became an annual event.