By Phil Stacey
---- — Two of the premier high school hockey programs in all of Massachusetts will get to play a once-in-a-lifetime game this coming season at one of America’s premier sports venues.
The St. John’s Prep hockey team will face off against three-time Super 8 state champion Malden Catholic at Fenway Park in Boston this New Year’s Eve.
The game, the third in a high school tripleheader at the ballpark that day, is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.
“Everyone — the players, the hockey staff, the school itself — are all excited about this opportunity,” said Eagles’ head coach Kristian Hanson. “How many opportunities do you ever have to be on the field at Fenway, let alone have a sheet of ice put down over the field and you get to play hockey on it — against one of your biggest rivals, no less?”
Rumors began circulating last week via social media that this game could be happening. Fenway Park is slated to have ice for 17 days from Dec. 28 to Jan. 13, and there were open slots for potential high school games. All of the speculation was officially put to rest yesterday when an official schedule of games and events at Fenway was released.
The Eagles and the Lancers will meet in the third game of the day on Tuesday, Dec. 31, following a contest between the Boston Latin and Lincoln-Sudbury boys (10:15 a.m.) and Hingham vs. Duxbury girls (12:15 p.m.). Hanson doesn’t expect any of the teams will get to practice or skate at Fenway before their scheduled game, but said it hardly matters.
“The NHL plays their Winter Classic (held at Fenway between the Bruins and Flyers in 2010) on New Year’s Day, so our game will have a holiday feel to it, too,” Hanson said. “It also seems like we have the prime time slot of that day, something else we’re very excited about.”
The Eagles had to move a few games around their schedule to make it work; for instance, they were scheduled to play another Catholic Conference rival, B.C. High, on Monday, Dec. 30, but instead moved that contest to Saturday, Jan. 4. “It’s not as if you’re going to say no to play at Fenway; you find a way to make it happen,” said Hanson.
St. John’s Prep and Malden Catholic have had some terrific hockey battles over the last several years. The two teams played one of the all-time classic state championship games in 2011 when the Lancers, down two goals in the second period, rallied to defeat St. John’s in overtime, 4-3, and claim their first Super 8 championship. This past season, the Eagles swept a home-and-away series between the two, but it was MC who once again lifted the state’s title hardware on the TD Garden ice for the third straight season.
Several hockey teams who have had the opportunity to play a game at Fenway in the past (such as B.C. High vs. Catholic Memorial in Jan. 2012) have worn retro jerseys special for their historic contest. Hanson would love to find a way for the Eagles to hit the Fenway ice wearing something similar, such as what the 1950s Prep hockey team might have worn.
“It’s those little things you can do that make a special event that much more memorable,” he said.
Playing outside on the final day of the calendar year might be a completely new experience for many of skaters on both teams, which likely played the majority of their hockey growing up in rinks all over New England and beyond.
“I remember skating at Mack Park in Salem (where he grew up) or going over to Beverly and skating at Shoe Pond; you’re not even allowed to do that at either place any more,” said Hanson. “Pond hockey doesn’t seem as prevalent as it once was, so that in and of itself will be a terrific thing for these kids, to be able to play an actual game outdoors.”
Because it will be a league game against arguably their biggest rivals, Hanson and the Eagles will naturally be looking to defeat Malden Catholic. But the veteran head coach understands that there may be times during the contest that players and coaches from both teams might find their thoughts wandering.
“I’m sure there will be times, whether it’s between whistles or whatnot, when you just look around in amazement and say, ‘There’s the Green Monster, right there.’ It’ll hit you then; ‘We’re playing at Fenway Park’,” said Hanson. “I have to think that’s going to happen to every single one of us at some point that day.”