By now, you've heard and read just about everything you want to know about yesterday's Winter Classic at Fenway Park featuring the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, so I have just a few observations.
First off, it was an unbelievable event with a great deal of effort spent on bridging the past with the present and the future as well, as you know those kids on the minor hockey teams who were invited to the game and allowed to skate down on the field had the experience of a lifetime. Give all the credit you can to the NHL, Bruins, Flyers, Boston Red Sox and everyone else who worked to make this the blue print for all future WC games from here on out.
Tim Thomas had the kind of game that served as a microcosm of his career. He had little respect from the fans in attendance and watching all over the world when he lost his cool and chose to punch Scott Hartnell from behind rather than do his job and track the puck. The shot went by him as he was lunging forward, and at that point, his head didn't look to be in the game. It could have gotten ugly, but instead, Thomas re-focused and shut the door the rest of the way. Stopping several breakaways and making a huge save on Jeff Carter late in regulation and on Daniel Briere in OT moments before Patrice Bergeron fed Marco Sturm for the tip that ended it.
When Thomas joined Boston in early 2006, nobody wanted him. He didn't have much respect from anyone in the NHL. Four years later, he's earned it the hard way, by winning people over grudgingly (though a portion of fans will never be convinced no matter what) through his never-say-die attitude and undeniable success. Yesterday, he went from goat to hero, and if you paid close attention to how that game went, it really is a symbol of the way things have gone for him in the NHL.
And, to cap it off, he came back out on the ice for an encore wearing his Team USA jersey for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Thomas has made no bones about the fact that growing up, his first dream was to be a U.S. Olympian, not an NHL player. So, for one day at least, regardless of where you stand on Thomas in the debate, you have to tip your cap to the magic he made at Fenway yesterday. He made up for his early mistake, and was huge in Boston's come-from-behind victory. Which is all anyone wants from their goaltender in each and every game.
Seeing Mark Recchi and Marco Sturm come through in an event so huge serves as a reminder that even though they aren't producing a lot of offense this season, both have a flair for getting the big ones at crunch time. The tying marker with about 2 minutes left was vintage Rex: he won the battle for the puck in the corner, then got up, went to the front of the net, put his stick on the ice and deftly redirected Derek Morris' shot/pass in behind Michael Leighton. On the ledger, it was No. 553 in Recchi's storied career, but I'm sure it ranks as one of the biggest goals in his 21 years of NHL hockey because of what it represented.
Sturm, who was ice cold a month ago has heated up and his 14 goals leads the team right now. He's got an outside shot at 30 or more if he can limit the scoring slumps and be a little more consistent. But, there is no doubting the guy's heart and seeing the look on his face when he put it in to send Fenway into bedlam is why so many love and respect the German. He wears his heart and passion for the game on his sleeve, and while the Bruins got fleeced in the Joe Thornton trade four years ago, the last remaining direct piece of that deal still in Boston has proven that he can be counted on in the clutch. Even with all the points and accolades Thornton has in San Jose, his team hasn't gotten any further in those four seasons than Boston has.
All in all- it was the kind of experience that lived up to all the hype and then some. The weather didn't conspire to ruin all of the work and effort that went into it, and the players clearly saw it as more than just the 40th game in their schedule of 82. Too often, pro athletes get jaded by the years they spend in their leagues, so for one day at least, it was great to see the likes of Recchi, Morris, Ference, Marc Savard, and other longtime veterans enjoying themselves like the children they used to be...when the game was larger than life.