Commentary

New challenges for BU, BC

Longtime rivals take their game to Fenway Park

Updated: January 7, 2010, 9:59 AM ET
By Brian MacPherson | Special to ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The weather wasn't the hazard most of the time Burt MacArthur played outdoor hockey for Boston University.

MacArthur -- who scored 13 goals for three World War II-era teams -- and his Terriers played their home games indoors at what is now Matthews Arena, but frequently braved the elements on road trips that took them out of the Boston area.

But the real hazard often was the noise. The University of New Hampshire's outdoor rink was located next to a railroad track -- just as its Whittemore Center is today -- and the trouble came when a scramble in front of the net coincided with a passing train.

[+] EnlargeBoston College Hockey
David Albright/ESPN.comBoston College got in some practice time Wednesday at Fenway Park.

"It sometimes got a little hairy," MacArthur said. "We'd be playing and the officials would be blowing the whistle, but there would be a train going by and you don't hear the whistle."

MacArthur didn't get to watch much of the New Year's Day game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park, the first in a series of outdoor hockey games at the decades-old home of the Boston Red Sox. He won't get to watch much of Friday's game between Boston University and Boston College, either. He's now legally blind -- he has a projector that helps him read the newspaper -- and can't follow the puck the way he once did.

But while most of the Eagles and Terriers will be experiencing organized outdoor hockey for the first time Friday night, playing under the open sky was routine for their predecessors, who played at a time when the BC-BU rivalry was just as intense as it is today. ("Many times there were quite a few penalties," MacArthur said.)

"Sometimes we might be playing on an outdoor rink, and there would be a pretty good wind blowing," MacArthur said. "You'd be skating into the wind and having a little difficulty one period, but you'd have the wind at your back another period."

BC goaltender John Muse isn't worried about the wind. (He probably should be, though, given the biting chill that whipped through Fenway Park on Wednesday.) He isn't worried about the noise.

He is, however, wondering how he's going to see the puck.

"It'll be interesting to see how it is with the lights," Muse said. "I've never played outside at night with a bunch of lights on, other than playing baseball. It's going to be difficult picking up the puck, I think, and especially if the puck's in the air just because it's going to blend into the sky."

Muse spent his share of time out on frozen ponds as a youngster but hadn't ever worn his goaltender's gear outdoors until BC practiced at the Larz Anderson rink in Brookline a year ago. Coach Jerry York has tried to hold one practice a year on an outdoor rink -- weather permitting -- since he became the Eagles' coach in 1995, to take the game back to its roots.

It was bright and sunny when the Eagles practiced outdoors a year ago. The forecast for Friday calls for a snow shower and temperatures around 30 degrees.

"I assume it would be a little difficult if it's snowing out," Muse said. "Obviously, everybody wants to see an outdoor game, but hopefully it doesn't snow and is clear out. It might be a little difficult if there's snow."

One thing's for sure: The BC goaltender will not be sporting the NFL-style eye black both the Bruins and Flyers wore on New Year's Day.

"I'm not a big fan of eye black," Muse said with a chuckle. "I don't know how much it works."

Eye black smudged the cheeks of Boston University captains Eric Gryba and Kevin Shattenkirk after they finished their first practice at Fenway Park on Wednesday. Jack Parker's Terriers had never practiced outdoors before their afternoon skate Wednesday, but when the Flyers borrowed BU's Agganis Arena for practice the day after the Winter Classic, Parker made sure to pick the brain of Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette.

"They kept looking up for the scoreboard to the game and were like, 'Oh, there's nothing to look up to,'" Parker said. "You have to look over your shoulder [to center field] if you want to see something, and I imagine that'll be a distraction for the players as well."

[+] EnlargeJack Parker
David Albright for ESPN.comBU coach Jack Parker talks to his team during Wednesday's practice at Fenway Park.

Said Shattenkirk: "To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect. It was definitely a lot different than playing inside an arena. Certain places you lose the puck, certain sight lines. The boards bounce a little differently. That's just something a lot of guys are trying to get used to, and that's another part of this game on Friday. It's just a completely different atmosphere."

Parker and York first floated the idea of a BC-BU game at Fenway Park six years ago after Michigan State hosted Michigan at its football stadium, drawing close to 75,000 fans. It didn't come together, however, until Hockey East was able to piggyback its game onto the NHL's Winter Classic. Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna -- a former hot-dog vendor at Red Sox games -- did not rule out a return to Fenway Park in the future.

Other schools would like a piece of the action. Parker and York made persuasive arguments that the pre-eminent rivalry in college hockey made sense as the first outdoor Hockey East game. The other coaches in the conference, however, didn't necessarily see it that way. Massachusetts coach Don Cahoon, previously an assistant coach under Parker, even called to give his old boss a hard time.

"He said, 'I heard it had to be BC-BU or you were going to take your ball and go home, Jack,'" Parker said in an exaggerated imitation of Cahoon. "I said, 'Yeah, Don, that's exactly what happened.' Fenway would be crazy not do to this again with different teams, not BC-BU -- maybe an invite for Vermont and New Hampshire to come down and play against UMass and Northeastern -- or maybe Northeastern and BU playing two western schools or something like that. You could guarantee yourself an attraction."

The players wouldn't even have to worry about passing trains.

Brian MacPherson is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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