BOSTON (AP) — Fenway Park, the majors’ oldest active ballpark, was transformed into an outdoor hockey arena for the NHL’s 14th annual Winter Classic on Monday afternoon.
With the logos of the two teams — the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins — hanging high atop the seats above the park’s fabled 37-foot Green Monster, the league’s annual marquee New Year’s event returned to Fenway for the second time.
Those usually clad in red and blue for the Boston Red Sox were replaced by thousands wearing black and gold (actually, the colors of both NHL teams), and they lined up around the soon-to-be 111-year old park hours before the faceoff.
The championship banners of the Red Sox, that usually hang along the outside of the third-base side of the park, were replaced by banners of the Bruins, Penguins and the Winter Classic logo.
About 4 hours before the game, Bruins’ fans lined the gates along the players’ parking lot just behind home plate, looking to get a glimpse of their stars before they entered.
Bruins’ players joined into the baseball theme, too, coming into the park wearing vintage white Red Sox uniforms with “Boston” in red letters across the front. Some played catch in front of the home dugout, which had “Boston Bruins” across the top on the first-base side. The visitors had “Pittsburgh Penguins” on the roof.
The team’s official souvenir store was filled with Bruins and Penguins Classic gear, with most of the Red Sox stuff pushed to back racks.
The rink stretched from just beyond what’s usually second base across the middle of the diamond, over the pitcher’s mound where Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez worked for the Red Sox, and toward the visitors’ dugout on an unseasonably warm afternoon with temperatures in the upper 40s.
Last season’s Classic was played at Target Field in Minnesota — the home of MLB’s Twins — and saw the temperature drop to minus-5.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Before the game, a free concert that featured country music star Sam Hunt was held in a parking lot across the street from Fenway, where fans could play a giant table-top hockey game and take a challenge of ingesting hot sauce before sitting in a penalty box for two minutes along with other free events.
Hunt sang his hit song “23” in his nearly hour-long performance, bringing up the start of 2023.
In an interesting twist to the game's venue, the Penguins are owned by Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Red Sox. They were sold to the group that’s headed by Principle Owner John Henry in December of 2021.
So, Boston’s professional hockey team faced Henry’s NHL team in his MLB park.
Some fans picked up on the moment.
“It’s kind of strange, but I knew they were going to play the Penguins,” said Andy Holt, 58, from Merrimack, New Hampshire, who was wearing a Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron No. 37 road jersey.
One fan even had some advice for the Red Sox with star third baseman Rafael Devers after they lost shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who signed a $280-million, 11-year deal as a free agent with the San Diego Padres last month.
“John Henry, the traitor. I don’t love it,” Ally Ryan, 29, from Marshfield, Massachusetts, said of the Bruins facing Henry’s NHL team. “They better sign Devers.”
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Ken Powtak, The Associated Press