College Hockey at Fenway

Today, after a week of speculation, Hockey East announced a college hockey Winter Classic to be played at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, January 8th 2010. Seven days after the Bruins take on the Flyers (and former UNH standout and #2 pick in 2007 NHL draft James Van Riemsdyk) defending National Champions Boston University and 2008 NCAA Champs Boston College will take the ice in an 7:30 PM game. That battle of Beanpot rivals will be proceeded by the first major outdoor women’s college hockey game ever when my UNH Wildcats take on the Northeastern Huskies at 4 PM. 

Fenway Sports Group, Hockey East, and the NHL held a press conference today at Fenway to formally announce the college games that will extend the Winter Classic for another week. There were also representatives from each school and coaches. BU coach Jack Parker said “”We’ve been talking about this game over a number of years. This will be the biggest crowd, bar none, in BC and BU history.” 

The interesting part of the press conference to me was the expansion of the 2010 Winter Classic. The NHL has done a fantastic job with this event over the past few years. This is quickly becoming a one of the signature events not just in hockey, but all of North American professional sports. They have made perfect selections for cities that have added to the success of the event. Buffalo has a passion for their NHL team that rivals any community in Canada, Chicago has a great sports culture and the beautiful setting of Wrigley Field, and now Boston which is not only a place that is rabid over their pro sports but also follow college hockey religiously. The decision of the NHL to move the Winter Classic away from football stadiums and into baseball parks also was a great choice, because it gives them more of an opportunity to create more events around the marquee event of the NHL game. NHL VP of Marketing Brian Jennings mentioned this at the presser today, “One of the benefits of doing it in a baseball stadium like this is that you don’t have to worry about the scheduling like you would in a football stadium because of playoffs or what have you. So that is a huge advantage and the fact that we will be able to have the rink set-up from December 18 to January 10 gives us the opportunity to do so much more with the event and really reach out to the community and involve them.” Along with the college games there will also be public skating and other carnival type events set up around the Winter Classic it should be a great few weeks at Fenway and creates yet another revenue stream for Fenway Sports Group .

My impression on the college games is that this should be an amazing event. Not just for the 4 teams and universities involved but also for Hockey East, college hockey, and New England in general. This event will get national coverage mainly for the unique venue of Fenway Park. However, due to the limited size of the venue this duo of games wont draw what the Michigan State-Michigan game drew a few years ago when over 75,00 watched the Spartans and the Wolverines take to the ice in one of the best atmospheres in collegiate sports history. (Here is a great video of that game: THE COLD WAR MSU-MU HOCKEY

But now imagine that video with the Green Monster as a backdrop.

I have to give it up to Hockey East if. Especially for including the Women’s game. I bet the NHL and FSG people wanted just the men’s game but Hockey East did a great job getting a marque women’s event. There is a chance that this could be the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s hockey game. I did a pretty through search and couldn’t find any game over 20,000 especially for college. That includes frozen four championships and even Olympic Gold medal games. To have a game like this can only help increase the women’s game which is great hockey. I personally had never seen a women’s game until i arrived at UNH, but these girls are athletes and top level collegiate women’s hockey is a great sport and every game  has a family atmosphere that some other collegiate sports fail to produce.

The only surprise that I see is the inclusion on the Northeastern women. BU and BC are the big draw in men’s hockey in Boston and will draw large crowds and for a women’s program UNH is a premier team only an hour away from Fenway so they are a natural selection, but Northeastern’s women’s team is far less of a draw than BC. The Eagles have made the frozen four in the past few years and has established a nice rivalry with UNH. Also considering that all of BC Athletics sponsorships and popular “Eagle Travel” promotion is operated by Fenway Sports Group i’m surprised there aren’t 2 BC teams in the 2 games. UNH-BC would have been a great game. I understand that Hockey East probably wanted to showcase as many teams as they could, but I think having a competitive high level women’s game would have been more beneficial to the league, the game of women’s hockey and the fans. Against Northeastern my Wildcats should run away with a W on the grounds of Fenway.

I am very curious about how the money of this event will be divided. I hope Hockey East and the teams get a percentage of the profits. With the crowd that BC-BU can draw the game should net ticket sales and concessions larger than a Red Sox game, but with 3 hands (FSG, NHL, Hockey East) in the pot the money getting to Hockey East will probably be last out.

Also I am interested to see how the school’s release tickets to their fans. There are many different options from giving season ticket holders first crack at purchasing to including tickets to Fenway Games in mini plans (I think this would work better for UNH and Northeastern who can use the event to help boost sales for the women’s hockey teams home games by bundling Fenway tickets with 3 or 4 other games) Also I am curious to see how many student tickets are allocated for each school. BU and BC will get the lions share but how many will that be. The folks at Fenway Sports Group probably would rather sell tickets to the general public where they could charge more. This is something that will be interesting to watch throughout the fall as tickets are set to go on sale September 17th. (VIA UNH PRESS RELEASE: Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Thursday, September 17 beginning at 12 p.m.  Tickets for the double-header will start at just $5. For more information on the event and details regarding ticket availability, please log on to www.tickets.com/fenwayhockey)

Also here is a view of what the rink set up will look like. Rink Idea #2 What hasn’t been released yet is just how the temporary bleachers will be set up.

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