I had my doubts about Frozen Fenway, the 16-day-long "ice event" held at the venerable old ballpark, starting on New Year's Day. It was inspired by the success of the NHL's Winter Classic, annual regular-season NHL games played in the open air of baseball stadiums (the 2010 version pitted the Bruins and the Flyers at Fenway), but I was sure that Frozen Fenway would be fun during the public skates, but that actually watching hockey games there would be less than ideal. Happily, it turned out that while I was right, nobody cared. The night that I was there, for a college hockey double-header that included the Maine Black Bears facing the UNH Wildcats, was one of the loveliest evenings I have ever enjoyed on the Fens.
Given the unseasonable warmth in the early part of this winter, "Frozen Fenway" was somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, out on the rink, set up just past the pitcher's mound, the ice was frozen, but the game-time temperature was 50 degrees. Maybe that's bad news for the polar bears and Al Gore, but if you're watching a nighttime hockey game outside, it's great. In fact, I can remember being way colder at one early April Red Sox game several years ago, when there was a mist in the air and whipping wind. The warmth just helped the beer go down smoothly, and added to the jovial atmosphere that lasted for most of the night, as people, including a healthy contingent of warmly dressed children, wandered around, eating Italian-sausage sandwiches and taking tons of pictures. The University of Vermont fans, whose team played UMass in the first game, were particularly easy to spot. Their ubiquitous yellow and green scarves made them look like rejects from Hogwarts; but, despite their Catamounts losing an overtime squeaker to the Minute Men, even they were having fun. It was impossible not to.
By the time UMaine and UNH faced off, I noticed something amazing for Fenway: the crowd looked like Maine. That was something I had thought to expect, but it made sense, and as a former UMaine Black Bear, it was cool. I mean, that crowd was Maine. Each season the Red Sox have one home game designated to honor each of the six New England states, but other than some politician or dignitary throwing out the first pitch, you'd never be able to tell which state was being honored from the crowd. But on that night, was as if Fenway Park had been magically transported to the Fryeburg Fair. Carhartt jackets, John Deere hats, work boots, and goatees were everywhere. It was sweet. There was a palpable sense of home state community, however short-lived and loosely bound together.
The game itself was a whiz-banger. UNH got the first goal a minute in, but UMaine countered immediately. The second period saw a three-goals flurry in just over 60 seconds. The rest of the contest was back-and-forth. The Black Bears had the upper hand a couple of times, and UNH managed to even the score at four-all by the end of regulation, but it didn't last. UMaine senior, and Massachusetts native, Brian Flynn, scored the game-winner a minute and a half into overtime.
Then I heard "The Maine Stein Song" begin, and, in another surprise, lyrics I hadn't thought of in years found their way to my mouth: Raise the stein to dear old Maine/Shout til the rafters ring/Stand and drink a toast once again/Let every loyal Maine man sing.
What a beautiful night.
Rick Wormwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.