Face off

It’s been years since J and I have been to a hockey game. Before the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and tickets skyrocketed in price, we used to go to a handful of games every winter, and for a while we went somewhat regularly to Boston College men’s hockey games. But COVID prevented us from going to crowded venues, stealing several years from our (and everyone else’s) social lives.

Today J and I went to see the Boston Pride women’s hockey team at Warrior Ice Arena in nearby Brighton. Warrior Arena is the practice facility for the Boston Bruins, so we felt at home with Stanley Cup banners overhead; not to be outdone, the Pride displayed their Isobel Cup banners on the glass surrounding the ice.

Going to a hockey game is like riding a bike: you quickly fall into the rhythm of the game. Compared to basketball, hockey is a low-scoring game: to the uninitiated, players seem to spend a lot of time just skating around, spurring some fans to scream “Shoot the puck” when players don’t seem to be attacking the net aggressively enough.

But if you’re a fan whose mind wanders while hockey players are skating from zone to zone, passing the puck to set up a play, you can rely upon other spectators to jolt you back to attention, as there is a surge of crowd noise whenever either team is poised to score.

This is to say that watching hockey surrounded by other fans is intrinsically different from watching a game on TV at home. Although Warrior Arena seats only 700 people, the crowd felt larger, with fans packing the rows ahead of us and a steady hubbub of noise coming from the standing-room-only concourse behind us.

It felt good to be back.

Two teams, one anthem

Later this afternoon, J and I are going to Boston College for a men’s hockey game. J and I used to be in the habit of going to Bruins games on Black Friday, as the Bruins typically have a matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving, when both J and I are off work. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, however, their ticket prices skyrocketed, so now we go to far fewer professional hockey games.


Fortunately, Boston College is within (healthy) walking distance of our house, and BC hasn’t raised ticket prices after winning three national championships in the past five years. Attending a college hockey game is a different, more “family friendly,” experience than attending a professional hockey game. There’s no alcohol served at college games, so you’re far less likely to sit next to drunk and rowdy fans; instead, BC hockey games tend to attract parents shepherding flocks of hockey-crazy kids whose hooligan antics are more likely fueled by sugar and pent-up energy than anything alcoholic.

Opening face-off

On the ice, college hockey games feature far fewer fights than in the pros: although the competition gets just as heated, college players who fight get tossed from the game rather than simply spending five minutes in the penalty box. As much as I appreciate the unwritten rules of professional hockey fights, I also appreciate the calmer, more “focused” energy apparent at college hockey games. At a professional game, you get the sense that a good number of the fans are more interested in drinking and watching fights than they are in following the actual game. At college hockey games, on the other hand, you’ll often encounter hockey parents who use the game as a teachable moment, coaching their kids on how to apply in their own games the techniques they see on the ice.

Baldwin's bunch

BC’s mascot, Baldwin, also apparently sees home hockey games as a good change to mingle with young hockey fans, both on and off the ice. On a day typically devoted to shopping outings that occasionally turn violent, it seems downright wholesome to spend the afternoon watching a fierce but family-friendly competition that ends in handshakes.

Good game!

The photos illustrating today’s post come from a February, 2009 game against the University of Massachusetts. This is my Day 29 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Bruins goalie Tiny Thompson

Yesterday, in the happy aftermath of the Boston Bruins’ Wednesday night Stanley Cup victory, I took a moment to look through the Boston Public Library’s online collection of vintage hockey photos by Leslie Jones. Jones was a staff photographer for the Boston Herald-Traveler from 1917 to 1956, so his photos capture an era when “old time hockey” was simply the style of the day.

Bruins form the letter "B" on the ice, Boston Garden, 1930-31

Boston has a long history as a hockey town, and that is evident in Jones’ photos. There are team photos like the one at left, where Bruins players form the letter “B” on the Boston Garden ice, and there are posed portraits of old-time hockey heroes such as goalie Tiny Thompson (pictured above), a four-time Vezina Trophy winner who led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory in 1929. Just as interesting, though, are more casual images of players signing autographs, leading hockey clinics for local kids, or hanging out in the team locker room. Jones’ photos capture the news of his day, and now that news is history, a faded record of how things used to be.

Bruins team on the ice, Boston Garden

Throughout this past season, the National Hockey League has run a series of commercials encouraging fans to watch games because “history will be made.” Early in the playoffs, these commercials featured classic games such as the 1982 Miracle on Manchester, in which the Los Angeles Kings overcame a 5-0 deficit to beat Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers, or the 1987 Easter Epic, a playoff game between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals that went into four overtime periods. As the playoffs and Stanley Cup finals progressed, however, the commercials captured history-making moments from games that were merely days old, like the Canucks’ last minute win (“History goes down to the wire”) in Game 1, the Bruins’ 8-1 blowout (“History makes a statement”) in Game 3, or the Bruins’ 4-0 first period lead (“History works fast”) in Game 6. The message of these commercials was clear: keep your eyes open, because you never know when a lighting-fast play will make history.

Boston Bruins Clapper, Kamensky, and Barry, 1934-1935

And yet, the road to the Stanley Cup finals is filled with mundane moments that probably didn’t feel historic at the time. Today, I read an article about Bruins goalie Tim Thomas that explained how his working class parents in Flint, Michigan sold their wedding rings to send him to goalie camp as a kid. “They did it, likely, without even entertaining the idea that he’d one day make the NHL,” the article notes. “They did it, simply, because playing the game made him happy.” Thomas and his teammates won the Stanley Cup (“History returns to Boston”) because at each step along the way, they did the little things that add up to big wins. Some days, you know you’re making history by doing something monumental, like playing in a championship game. Most days, though, you’re just living your life: waking up, getting out of bed, and practicing (again) whatever job, sport, or craft you do. You send your kid to goalie camp, in other words, not because you think he’ll win the Stanley Cup decades later; you send your kid to goalie camp because you know it will make his day today.

Bruins goalie Tiny Thompson in locker room

I just started reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and in its opening pages, Bryson says something interesting about history. Realizing that people have lived in the vicinity of his English home for “centuries and centuries…quietly going about their daily business,” Bryson realizes this sort of mundane activity is “really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things.” Although Bryson’s childhood schoolbooks were devoted to “historic” events such as battles and treaties, Bryson realizes as an adult that history is really the story of people “eating, sleeping, having sex, or endeavoring to be amused.”

When Leslie Jones took these now-archival photos, did he think he was making history? I suspect not. The commentary for the BPL Flickr collection of Jones’ work notes that Jones was “[m]odest about his abilities as a photographer…call[ing] himself a camera-man, not a photo-journalist.” Leslie Jones, in other words, made history simply by doing his job. Those NHL commercials were designed to inspire you to watch hockey games, but maybe the tagline “history will be made” should be a reminder for us to pay attention in our daily lives. Whether you realize it or not, the snapshot moments of your life today will automatically become the stuff of tomorrow’s history.

Save by Thomas!

The last time I blogged about the Boston Bruins was in November, when J and I saw the boys in black and gold lose to the LA Kings in a shootout. J and I went to roughly a dozen Bruins game this season, and nearly all of them ended like that November game: in losses. We saw the Bruins lose so many weekend home games, in fact, we started to joke about the players’ party habits. Obviously the boys in black and gold were spending too much time on Friday night ruining their reflexes for Saturday.

Shoot it like you mean it!

In other words, if you had told me in November that the Bruins would be playing for the Stanley Cup in June, I would have laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and felt your forehead for a fever. It wasn’t that the Bruins played badly in the games we went to; their play was simply inconsistent. For every laser-like shot-on-goal, there were a handful of missed opportunities. For every stunning save by goalie Tim Thomas, there were an awkward assortment of embarrassing lapses, many of them made by back-up goaltender Tuukka Rask. At many games, we weren’t sure whether we should cheer or wince, or whether we should hope for a rally or steel ourselves against the inevitable. We never doubted the Bruins could win the games we attended this season; we just witnessed too many instances when they didn’t.

Dropping the puck

The dozen or so Bruins games J and I went to this season, in other words, felt like a microcosm of what it used to be like to root for the Boston Red Sox, back when they were lovable losers who inspired seismic mood swings in their rabid fans. “At least we’ll able to get tickets next year,” became our resigned remark after every home loss, just as “Maybe next year” became a mantra among pre-2004 Red Sox fans. I’ve blogged before, in the context of the New England Patriots’ jaw-dropping 2008 Super Bowl loss, about the movie Still We Believe, a documentary chronicling the Red Sox’ disastrous 2003 seasons:

This resigned familiarity with heartbreak, after all, is what defines a true Boston sports fan. When I first watched Still We Believe when it debuted in the spring of 2004, before the Red Sox finally broke their infamous World Series curse, I couldn’t help but wonder what people outside New England would think about the insane mood swings of the die-hard fans featured in the film, which follows the Red Sox’ heartbreaking 2003 season. Could anyone but a long-suffering Sox fan understand that the fans in the film were extreme but not exaggerated?

One on one

Throughout the Bruins’ current playoffs run, they’ve reminded me a bit of the 2004 Red Sox. Those guys were a bunch of shaggy-haired idiots whose motivational slogan was “Why not us?” This year’s Bruins are unlikely enough: during much of the season, we weren’t sure they’d even make it into the playoffs, and at each stage of their climb toward the Cup, there have been plenty of moments when J and I found ourselves shaking our heads and shrugging our shoulders. “It’s OVAH,” we’d lament, sounding like the character of Angry Bill from Still We Believe, whose Sox-inspired mood swings almost give him a heart attack in one scene. On paper, the Bruins are the definite underdogs to the Vancouver Canucks, who have played consistently well all season. But still, given the blood, sweat, and sheer determination it took to get the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals, why couldn’t they win? In the words of beloved Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz, “Why not?”

Setting up the shot

And so, it all comes down to this. Tonight the Bruins and Canucks will meet at the TD Garden for Game Six in their best-of-seven series. With the Canucks leading the series three games to two, the Bruins are indeed the underdogs…and yet, the three games the B’s have lost were decided by a single goal, and the two games they won were blow-outs. Tonight, the Canucks are playing for the Cup, which will be in attendance at the TD Garden in case they win, and the Bruins will be playing for their championship lives, lest their dreams for the Cup be crushed. The Bruins could win tonight, leading to an epic Game Seven in Vancouver, but the question is “Will they?”

Tim Thomas take a breather

In true mood-swinging fashion, I don’t know whether to hold out hope for a Boston Game Six win or to steel myself against the disappointment of “almost, but maybe next year.” All I’ll say for sure is I think this series will go to seven, as our experience attending a dozen losing home games this season taught J and me that these things always drag down to the bitter end. All I know for sure is that both J and I will be glued to the TV, watching every last shot and save.

Heels over head

Yesterday was Black Friday, so while the rest of the world was shopping, J and I went to an afternoon Bruins game, as we have in the past. The first three Bruins games we’ve been to this season have all been on Saturday nights, so yesterday’s afternoon game gave us our first daytime chance to see (and photograph) the new statue of Bobby Orr that commemorates his headlong lunge across the Boston Garden ice after scoring the Bruins’ Stanley Cup-winning goal on May 10, 1970.


For most consumers, Black Friday marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and today at lunch, J and I watched the owners of our favorite pub as they put up this year’s Christmas wreaths and lights. J and I don’t do much Christmas shopping, however. For the past several years, we’ve earmarked our 10-game package of Bruins tickets as our mutual birthday and Christmas gifts to one another, and my nephews and niece are old enough that gift cards are more appropriate than toys. What few gifts J and I need to buy, we either buy online or at charity fundraisers, giving us little reason to venture into crowded malls. Instead of seeing Black Friday as the start of the retail shopping season, J and I welcome it as the start of something else entirely: the beginning of Double-Tipping Month.

Double-Tipping Month is inspired by J’s experience working as a busboy at an Italian restaurant when he was in college. During December, many of the restaurant’s regular customers would spread holiday cheer by tipping their waitstaff and busboys extra generously, and J always remembered the good-will this inspired. Most of the year, working at a restaurant is a thankless job: customers either ignore you or show you little courtesy, assuming your status as the “hired help” means they can treat you like servants. Because of his vivid memories of what it was like to be treated like a second-class citizen by restaurant patrons who thought they were better than their servers, J has always been kind to waiters, waitresses, and restaurant workers, showing them common courtesy and tipping them decently.


Over the years I’ve known J, Double-Tipping Month has grown from an informal attempt to tip generously during the month of December to an official commitment to tip double our usual rate from Black Friday through New Year’s Day: just over a month. J and I don’t eat out often, and we don’t typically go to fancy, expensive places: most weekends, we go to a nearby Irish pub for lunch on Saturdays and our neighborhood deli for brunch on Sundays. In both cases, our check usually comes to about $25, so Double-Tipping Month means we typically leave a $10 tip in place of $5. The expense of Double-Tipping Month, in other words, is minimal to us…but it makes a huge difference, it seems, to our waitstaff, who respond to a double-tip as if J and I had just made their day.

Over the years of our frequenting the same Irish pub and neighborhood deli, Double-Tip Month has begun to earn J and me some notoriety. One December morning several years ago, I rounded up when calculating the double-tip on our usual Sunday brunch, adding a few extra bucks to the already-doubled amount since I didn’t have exact change…and that particular waitress has been particularly nice to J and me ever since, apparently remembering small considerations. “They tip double in December,” J and I once heard her whisper to a new waitress one Sunday, thinking we were out of earshot, “and they try to give you the exact amount, so you don’t have to make change.” When she saw J and I were getting up to leave, this same waitress continued talking to the new girl: “They’re just what you want in customers: so nice and so easy!” When you work a backbreaking, often-thankless job, it takes far less than a Stanley Cup-winning goal to make you want to leap headlong; sometimes just some seasonal courtesy is enough.

Krejci takes a shot

J and I had hoped for a fairytale finish to Saturday night’s hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings. After the Bruins clambered back from a three-goal deficit to tie the game in the third period, it all came down to a sudden-death shoot-out. It would have been storybook-perfect had the Bruins’ David Krejci scored the game-winning goal in his first game back after suffering a concussion two weeks ago, but he missed, and the Kings’ Michal Handzus made his shot: game over.

The game-deciding goal

After the game, it was cold as J and I walked to Government Center to catch a subway home, shivering in our hockey jerseys and autumn-weight jackets. As we walked home from our stop, the full moon beamed brilliantly overhead, as white as ice as it cast cold moonshadows of bare, twiggy branches on the sidewalks and pavement.

Already this season, we’ve been to three Bruins’ games, and they’ve lost all three times: twice in nail-biter shootouts, and once in regulation. All that was forgotten, though, in the crystal-bright light of an almost-winter moon as Orion in his spangled belt skated headlong across the frozen sky, stars glittering like sparks from his skate-blades.

A sight no one wants to see

As much as I would have liked to see the U.S. men’s hockey team win Olympic gold in Vancouver today, I was happy to see Patrice Bergeron receive his gold medal as a member of Team Canada a little more than a year after a hit left him lifeless on the ice before stunned fans at a game between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes in December, 2008.

Racing and reaching

Hockey is a rough and sometimes brutal sport, so you don’t reach the Olympic level without taking your share of bumps and bruises. After lying motionless after that 2008 hit, Bergeron left the game with help of several of his teammates; today, just over a year later, Bergeron skated off another sheet of ice triumphant and golden, metaphorically buoyed by a team of his countrymen.

I would have loved to have seen Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and other members of Team U.S.A. win gold in today’s game, but it was quiet consolation to know how hard all members of both teams have worked to get their chance at gold. Every athlete knows you win some and you lose some, and hockey players in particular know any game can leave you face-flat on the ice. Second-place silver isn’t as precious as champion gold, but any day that ends with a medal is still pretty sweet.

Fenway classic

When I first envisioned what it would be like to watch a hockey game at Fenway Park, this is the picturesque scene I imagined, with the grandstands full of fans, an outfield full of snow, and an ice rink incongruously centered between first and third base.

Unfortunately, J’s and my tickets to Sunday’s Legends Classic–a charity fundraiser match featuring former Bruins players and celebrities–afforded us this view:

Section 7 obstructed view

Having a great view of a steel girder is a classic predicament at Fenway Park, where architectural oddities provide an abundance of “obstructed view” seats and where the seats in older sections are antiques:

Section 7 seats

J and I were lucky, though. Whereas the guy in the row ahead of us was seated directly behind The Pole, J and I could crane our heads left or right for a pole-free view of the on-ice action:

Unobstructed Section 7 view

Sunday’s Legends Classic was the day-after finale to Saturday’s Winter Classic, in which the Boston Bruins played the Philadelphia Flyers in Boston’s beloved (and history-laden) Fenway Park. J and I couldn’t afford tickets to the Winter Classic, which were going for hundreds and even thousands of dollars on online ticket reseller sites. J and I are diehard sports fans, but we can’t stomach ticket resellers (a.k.a. legalized scalpers) and their jacked-up fees.

No ticket scalping (here)

So while we enjoyed watching Saturday’s Winter Classic on TV from the best seat in our house, on Sunday we took the T to Fenway Park to watch a friendly game of old-time hockey played by old-timers.

Opening face-off

Part of the allure of the Legends Classic for J and me was the simple opportunity to set foot in Fenway Park. Although J and I have been dating for three years and have gone to nine Red Sox games together, we’ve always traveled to other cities (Atlanta twice and Oakland once) to see the Red Sox play. Instead of paying those aforementioned jacked-up ticket reseller rates for baseball tickets, we’ve participated in the surprisingly common phenomenon of the Red Sox pilgrimage, whereby diehard Sox fans converge on cities where the Sox are playing, buy face-value seats to the entire series of games, and root root root for the away team.

Blades & Wally pose by the Green Monster

Sunday’s Legends Classic allowed J and me to kill two proverbial birds with one stone. We got to set foot in Fenway Park, and we got to see the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of a hockey game there. When else could we watch local youth hockey teams play in the outfield shadow of giants…

In the shadow of giants

…or see the Bruins’ mascot, Blades, greet fans alongside the Red Sox’ mascot, Wally the Green Monster?

Wally and Blades work the crowd

On-ice, a game that matched retired pros with celebrities who haven’t laced up skates in decades offered its own kind of hilarity, with one goalie playing the entire game with two cans of Budweiser and some hydration tubes strapped to his mask…

Bobby Farrelly with his Budweiser-hydration helmet

…while a motley crew of helmeted, hatted, and bare-headed old-timers eschewed the subtlety of puck-passing, choosing instead to congregate in a frozen free-for-all wherever the puck happened to be.


After spending the first period fighting The Pole for a decent view of the action, during intermission J and I took a walk around Fenway, where we took in the usual ballpark sights and smells…

Beer and nuts

…before finding a section near the electronic scoreboard…

Under the electronic scoreboard

…where there were empty (albeit snowy) seats.

Snowy seats

From this blissfully unobstructed vantage point, J and I had a much better view of those old-time hockey plays as they unfolded…

Old time hockey, played by old-timers

…and we finally got a chance to take a classic shot of Fenway on ice.

View from centerfield

Click here for a photo-set of images from Sunday’s Legends Classic, including two panoramic shots: one from our original section in right field and the other from our adopted section in center field. Enjoy!


Tomorrow morning, J and I will take the T into Boston for an afternoon Bruins game, just as we have the past two Saturdays, and just as we will next Sunday. That’s how our 12-game Boston Bruins weekend ticket package was scheduled, with a grand finale of four straight weekend games to end the regular season.


In the course of going to so many weekend Boston Bruins games, J and I have become practiced at our pre-game ritual. We leave home two hours before the game is scheduled to start, and it takes us about an hour to arrive at North Station, where the TD Banknorth Garden is located. Doors open an hour before the game, so we make our way to our balcony seats, stopping first at the restroom, Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and hot chocolate, and the concession stand near our seats for our usual game-day lunch of two hot dogs a piece. We always go to the same concession stand, so we know “our” concession workers by name: James and Allen. By the time we’ve made our way to our seats, we have just enough time to eat our hot dogs and start sipping our coffee and hot chocolate before our Winter Parents arrive and the Bruins come out on the ice for pre-game warm-ups.


Winter Parents, you ask?

If you’ve seen the movie Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, you might remember the scene where Fallon’s character (a diehard Red Sox fan named Ben) explains to Barrymore (a baseball-oblivious girl named Lindsey) that the folks who sit around his coveted Fenway Park season ticket seats are his “summer family.” Over the course of a summer courtship, Lindsey comes to appreciate the devotion Ben and other Red Sox fans have for “their” team, and she also learns how the simple act of sitting next to the same folks for a season’s worth of baseball games does create a kind of familial bond. By movie’s end, Ben’s summer family has “adopted” Lindsey just as surely as she’s fallen for both Ben and his lovable Red Sox.


With a nod to Fever Pitch, then, J and I quickly dubbed the couple whose balcony seats are right next to ours–folks from Hartford who drive up to Boston for each of the weekend ticket package games–our “Winter Parents.” They have grown children, so they’re old enough to be our parents, but unlike James and Allen, they don’t wear name tags. We don’t know these folks’ names, but we know a bit about their lives: they used to be Hartford Whalers fans before the Whalers moved to North Carolina, they have grandchildren who play peewee hockey, and they traveled to Florida last year to catch some rays while catching a game between the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers. We don’t know our Winter Parents’ names, but they still feel like a kind of kin to us, at least for a season: after next weekend, it’s possible we’ll never see them again, for there’s no guarantee that the balcony seats we had for this year’s 12-game weekend ticket package will be the seats we’ll presumably buy next year.

It’s a lucky break, then, that last Saturday our entire row of Winter Family members was named the Massachusetts Lottery “Lucky Row,” a turn of fortune that gave us each a prize pack of Bruins gear and got our cheering mugs on the TD Banknorth Garden Jumbotron: a few seconds of fame that are now preserved for cyber-eternity:


Click here to see a larger version of that final Jumbotron shot: that’s J with his telephoto lens on the far right, me with my #37 Patrice Bergeron jersey and new camera on his left, and our Winter Dad next to me. Winter Mom is hidden behind Winter Dad, with only her upraised arm visible.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, The Weekend. Given the number of weekend Bruins games we’ve shared, J and I might as well call our Winter Parents our Weekend Parents. Click here to see my entire photo-set of pictures from last Saturday’s Bruins victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Enjoy!

Waiting for the puck to drop

J and I joke about the number of face-off shots we each take at any given hockey game. After a penalty call or other stoppage in play, the face-off offers one still moment when players from both teams line up, face-to-face, waiting for the linesman to drop the puck. It’s a easy photographic shot because the players and linesman are all standing still. As soon as the puck drops, though, players scatter like quicksilver on ice as one team gains possession of the puck and the other team switches into defensive mode.


As easy as face-offs might be to shoot in theory, I tend to snap my shutter too early or too late. If you shoot a face-off too early, some players won’t be in position or the linesman will be standing, not yet crouching with the puck at ready. If you shoot a face-off too late, the players have already darted off and you’re left with an image of empty ice where neatly aligned players used to be. The magical moment in a face-off is that split second after the linesman drops the puck and before it actually touches the ice. A puck in mid-drop is the ultimate freeze-frame: the illusion of time standing still.


This weekend I find myself wishing life had a shutter-button you could snap to stop the drop of time’s puck in mid-air: a face-off, frozen. This week marks the end of one online teaching term and the immediate start of another, and I’m juggling end-term grading with the midterm paper-crunch from my face-to-face classes. When life gets busy, I find myself wishing I could hone my reflexes to freeze life at one still moment were I could squeeze more productive hours out of any given day: right here, right now, stop! Instead, time skates by like a lightning blur, never stopping for any linesman’s whistle. Life moves at the speed of quicksilver on ice, and only the eagle-eyed can spot the split-seconds of tranquility in its smooth passing.

Click here for the complete set of photos from last weekend’s hockey match-up between Boston College and the University of New Hampshire. It tells you something about the speed of life these days that I’m only now getting around to blogging photos from last weekend.

Next Page »