Christmas was a little less than a week ago, and yet it was after the holiday that I got the best present a hockey fan could ask for; a trip to the NHL Winter Classic to see the Canadiens play the Bruins. Arriving late in the evening on December 29, the intimidating structure known as Gillette Stadium dominates the landscape, with its bright lights cutting through the light snowfall and fog.
Actually arriving at the stadium the following day was beyond belief, as big as the stadium looks passing by, it looks twice as large when standing in the parking lot looking up at it.
After meandering through the labyrinth beneath the thousands of seats, I found my work spot for the week of games, a gorgeous view out over the rink and all the flair that goes along with it. Not long after that was the Bruins family skate, which featured dozens of tiny humans, and Hallmark moments like Tuukka Rask pushing his young daughter along the ice.
It's hard to not be awe-struck down at ice level. Standing in the media area by the main entrance looking up into the nosebleeds left me breathless. As if being field level wasn't enough, I was one of the privileged few who got to spend an hour out on the ice. It's hard to put into words the feeling of knowing I was seeing the same view that Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban would see the next few days.
The following day was a whirlwind of interviews, photos, and running for a rather slow press elevator. It started with Don Sweeney and Brad Marchand addressing his suspension, after which I rushed into a media scrum to get quotes from players like Dale Weise and Lars Eller. It's weird to think that I as a fan worship these guys, and when you talk to them they're just like you and I, but living the best dream in the world.
The Women's Winter Classic, for all the bumps in the road along the way, was something special to witness. It's not often a person gets to say that they witnessed hockey history in person, on one of the biggest stages of the year. I hope that next year they give fans a way to watch the game, and let them have the spotlight for themselves. It would be well deserved for the athletes and their teams.
The Alumni Game was a full-on hit of nostalgia. Sure, the players can't skate like they used to, and the game doesn't move all that fast, but it's fun. It is reminiscent of playing pick-up shinny on a backyard pond with your friends, only it's living legends out there having fun. Even with the Habs old-timers falling short in a shootout, something stuck out to me that made the score irrelevant.
Jacques Demers sent Chris Nilan over the boards with the game on the line, and why?
"It's a special moment for him, the spotlight on a guy in his hometown to go out there and do something special, and that's why I did it, the game didn't matter." - Jacques Demers
It may have been an exhibition game, but for Boston native Chris Nilan you could tell it meant the world to him, even if he came up just a little bit short in the end.
While others were out celebrating the New Year, I had trouble even focusing on the ball drop. I was going to be able to witness arguably the biggest non-Stanley Cup final game of the year. Listening to people boo Simple Plan and the guy from FUN, and watching a C-130 bomber glide over the stadium as part of the festivities was incredible.
Part of me wishes I was down in the sea of black and yellow Bruins jerseys and the bleu, blanc et rouge Habs ones, and in a way I was. I could hear the irate fans yelling about penalties, or how "so-and-so took a dive." Every cheer and every boo rang just as loud in the press row as it did in the stands.
People ooh'd and ahh'd every big scoring chance, and the windmill glove save by Mike Condon drew a reaction throughout the press box. Throw in a 5-1 win for the Canadiens, and I wouldn't have believed this week could get any better. Seeing the players in such high spirits afterwards shows just how much the game meant to them. It's almost like Gallagher's infectious optimism spread through the room to everyone in there. Even the notoriously serious Michel Therrien was laughing and smiling during his evening press conference.
In all it was a hectic week, possibly one of the busiest I've had in a long time, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I can't take all the credit for being here, the awesome folks at SB Nation, and our own Marc Dumont gave me the chance to live out one of my bucket list items. So I have nothing but thanks for them for allowing me this chance that quite frankly is once in a lifetime.
I hope you all enjoyed following along with my tweets all week long, and I hope this post brought out your inner fan like the Winter Classic did for me.