Commentary

Fenway Park sweetens hockey rivalry

Updated: January 8, 2010, 1:35 AM ET
By David Albright | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- Two points.

It's easy for that small but not-so-insignificant detail to get lost in all the anticipation and fanfare surrounding Friday night's college hockey game between Boston University and Boston College.

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David Albright/ESPN.com Boston University hits the ice at Fenway Park for practice Wednesday.

Anytime the Commonwealth Avenue schools get together on the ice, it's a big deal around the Hub of Hockey. But the Jan. 8, 2010, renewal of the rivalry will be one that's talked about, well, forever.

Officially, the Terriers and Eagles have played each other 247 times, with the first meeting taking place back on Feb. 6, 1918, at Boston Arena (which is now Matthews Arena on the campus of Northeastern). BU leads the series 123-107-17, and BC won this season's first meeting 4-1 at the ultra-modern Agganis Arena back on Dec. 5, 2009.

But all anybody in New England can talk about are the historical setting and the unique atmosphere surrounding get-together No. 248.

Fenway Park. Outdoor game. Under the lights. Standing-room-only crowd pushing 40,000.

It will be one of those games for which the number of people who claim they were inside the 98-year-old ballpark at 4 Yawkey Way will probably double the reality.

And although the nostalgia factor can't be denied, the fact remains that Friday's game isn't an exhibition or tournament game. It counts in the Hockey East standings, and both schools need the two points.

BC (10-5-2, 7-3-2 Hockey East) comes into it in much better shape, as the Eagles are in second place only two points behind league leader New Hampshire.

Defending national champion BU is another story. If the season ended right now, the Terriers (5-9-3, 3-7-2 Hockey East) wouldn't even qualify for the Hockey East playoffs.

Suffice it to say that every one of the 15 remaining league games has real meaning for BU.

"I think, if anything, that's something that's easier to focus on," BU captain Kevin Shattenkirk said. "There's no question in my mind that everyone in the locker room will be ready to play. So I think just keeping set on the fact that it's a league game won't be too hard. It's just something where everyone's going to show up to play because there's a lot on the line and it's a great setting."

The players enjoyed an up-close look at the setting Wednesday afternoon when both schools got one hour of ice time to familiarize themselves with the surface and the environment.

The visiting Terriers took to the temporary sheet first, and it was evident by the smiles and sounds that the cold and wind didn't take away from the moment.

"Just being outside in this atmosphere, everyone was having a lot fun playing out there," BU assistant captain Eric Gryba said. "I think the guys really enjoyed it. You could tell guys were having fun. We seemed like a bunch of 12-year-olds out there playing hockey again."

Not surprisingly, the sentiment was the same for the home team Eagles, who will dress in the Red Sox clubhouse and enter the ice from the first-base dugout.

"Emotionally, it's unbelievable," BC captain Matt Price said. "It's really exciting. I know from last year, after season and hearing rumors about it and having the anticipation building; it's so exciting to get out there and be on the ice."

"Right now, the kids are still buzzing about hitting a puck off the left-field wall or the wind," BC coach Jerry York said after practice. "It was the hardest time we've had getting the players off the ice when practice ended. No one wanted to leave."

Two players who missed out on the skate were BU's David Warsofsky and BC's Chris Kreider. Both were returning from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where they helped Team USA win a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship with a 5-4 overtime win against five-time defending champion Canada on Tuesday night. But both are expected to be in uniform for their respective schools on Friday night.

As distinctive as Friday night's game at Fenway will be, it's not the first time the two schools have played each other outdoors. The only other meeting -- a 9-0 Eagles win -- took place on Feb. 4, 1920, at BC's University Rink.

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David Albright/ESPN.comBoston College takes a knee Wednesday -- and maybe a moment to enjoy the Eagles' surroundings.

Frozen Fenway will be a first for BU and BC, but it marks the third major outdoor college hockey game in the past nine years. Michigan State skated to a 3-3 tie against Michigan in "The Cold War" on Oct. 6, 2001, in front of 74,554 fans at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. And Wisconsin beat Ohio State 4-2 at the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic on Feb. 12, 2006, in front of 40,890 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

And there are two other outdoor college hockey games on the schedule: Next month, Wisconsin will host Michigan in the Camp Randall Hockey Classic on Feb. 6 in Madison, where the crowd could reach 80,000; and next season in December, the Spartans and Wolverines will play at a renovated Michigan Stadium in front of what should be a crowd that exceeds 100,000 in Ann Arbor.

But there's only one Fenway Park. And for the 13 players on the two rosters who are from Massachusetts, and for the others who understand the significance of the venerable park, it will be an experience to remember.

"I think this atmosphere is going to make it a pretty special game," Shattenkirk said. "I think for us right now, every game is big, and then you're playing BC, so it's obviously a huge game for us. We have a chance to play on a big stage and we're going to be excited, and we need to remember that it is a league game and how important that is to us."

Think of it as two very big points wrapped inside a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at espncaa@gmail.com.