BOSTON -- The IIHF World Junior Championship captured the attention of those closely following Hockey East over the past two weeks, but there is another marquee event now taking center stage.
After the U.S. captured World Juniors gold in epic fashion Thursday night in Montreal, the first four of eight Hockey East teams take the game outside for the conference’s fourth installment of Frozen Fenway beginning Sunday afternoon.
The Boston University-UMass and Boston-College-Providence contests were originally scheduled for Saturday, but the impending snowstorm forced a 24-hour postponement. Next Saturday’s contests feature Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Northeastern.
Even though the Eagles have participated in the event in each instance since playing archrival BU before a sold-out crowd back in 2010, it still made head coach Jerry York’s call to end Friday afternoon’s practice at the ballpark a difficult one.
“I enjoy it,” York said during a media availability session following practice. “It’s hard to get the players off the ice because they want to stay on, take pictures and just enjoy the environment, and there was no wind, which made our practice a lot better (than in some past years). … I really look forward to it.”
The BC and BU rosters boast a combined 14 Massachusetts natives, including respective senior captains Chris Calnan and Doyle Somerby. Thus, the opportunity to play hockey on one of the most hallowed grounds in sports doesn’t get old.
“This is our second time doing it, but seeing all the guys out there for the first time was really cool,” said Calnan, who attended Noble and Greenough School. “Obviously, playing at ‘America’s Most Beloved Ballpark’ any time you can, it’s an unreal experience and we’re all real excited.”
Growing up in Marblehead, Somerby was an avid baseball player and made the short drive to Fenway to watch the Boston Red Sox as often as he could.
“It’s extremely unique to be able to play on Fenway in the first place, but to be from Marblehead and grow up coming here a lot, it’s a really special thing,” Somerby said. “I came a lot, as much as I could. I was a big baseball player growing up.”
BU’s Kieffer Bellows, Patrick Harper, Clayton Keller, Jordan Greenway, Charlie McAvoy and Jake Oettinger, BC’s Colin White, Casey Fitzgerald and Joseph Woll, and Providence’s Erik Foley were all members of the U.S. team that captured World Junior gold, while Dante Fabbro was just the third-ever Terrier to represent Canada in the event.
The postponement allows the World Juniors participants an extra day of rest and it is expected that all will be in the lineup for their respective teams Sunday.
Foley rejoined his teammates at dinner time Friday as the aforementioned players returned to Boston during the late afternoon hours. “The gold medal was weighing his neck down, so we told him to get some sleep,” head coach Nate Leaman said.
When asked if his seven World Juniors players would have their minutes monitored upon returning to the ice, Quinn’s answer was simple.
“You know, no,” Quinn laughed. “They can rest later.”
Joking aside, it’s an exciting time on Commonwealth Avenue after BU’s overtime win over Union and the U.S. team with so many local ties capturing gold Thursday night.
In fact, Keller led the Americans with 11 points during the tournament and the seven participating Terriers combined for 30. Keller, Greenway and BC’s White were honored Team USA’s top players, while Keller and Greenway were named to the All-Tournament Team.
“For our little two-mile radius on Comm. Ave., it was certainly a special night,” Quinn said. “With the win (Thursday) at Agganis, everybody having an eye on what was going on up in Montreal. … There was an electricity in our building and a reaction that you felt was pretty cool.”
Even though World Juniors left York’s team shorthanded for the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh as Jesper and Julius Mattila played for Finland, other players had the opportunity to step into more prominent roles for the Eagles. The experience is a benefit for all involved.
“I think it helps in a couple different ways,” York said. “The leaders at World Juniors have a great experience with their own age group, and even though they’re some really talented players they’re all the same age. For the players that got more ice time here, they grow also. It’s a win-win for us, but it will be good to have them back though.”
As the focus for all the participating teams returns solely to the college season, there’s only one way to sum up what the experience of taking the ice Sunday afternoon will be like.
“I’m not from around here, so Fenway is a place that you see on TV and it’s a mystery,” UMass freshman goaltender Ryan Wischow said. “There’s just so much history, and so many great baseball players have walked out that tunnel. You get chills going out there.”