Northeastern men’s hockey team hopes frozen Fenway Park will be a game-changer

aerial shot of hockey rink in fenway park
The Huskies will be skating on the same rink used by the NHL at Fenway Park. Photo by Sky Candy Studios/NHLI via Getty Images

The rare opportunity to play ice hockey at Fenway Park could not arrive at a better time for the Northeastern men’s hockey team.

The frustrated Huskies (8-9-3), ranked as high as No. 8 nationally entering the season, have lost six of their last seven games. They need a lift—and they’re hoping a game in the nation’s oldest ballpark may provide it.

Northeastern will take on No. 8 Connecticut (13-5-3) at Fenway Park at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NESN).

The Hockey East matchup is part of the Frozen Fenway series featuring four college games on Friday and Saturday. They follow the NHL’s Winter Classic that was held at Fenway on Jan. 2. 

“Anytime you can play in a big setting, whether it’s Fenway or the Beanpot or the [NCAA] tournament, it’s something that you can really grab onto as a team,” says Northeastern’s Jerry Keefe, the reigning Hockey East coach of the year. “These are big games and they are awesome memories, but they’re also a lot better when you win.”

Fenway Park, which opened as the home field of the Boston Red Sox in 1912—two days after survivors of the Titanic arrived in New York—has hosted NFL and college football games, international soccer exhibitions, rock concerts, political rallies, pro wrestling and boxing events, snowboarding and ski jumping and, of course, Northeastern commencement ceremonies.

Ice hockey has been played at Fenway on rare occasions since 2010, when the ballpark was the site of the NHL’s outdoor Winter Classic featuring the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins. 

“This will be my fourth game at Fenway,” says Keefe, who was an assistant to Jim Madigan for the Huskies’ previous visits in 2012 (a 2-1 loss to Boston College), 2014 (a 4-1 win over No. 8 UMass Lowell) and 2017 (a 2-2 tie with New Hampshire). “It’s just a wow factor of the whole experience and being in such an iconic ballpark. Even if the kids aren’t from Boston, I still think they’ll benefit anyway.”

Anthony Messuri, a freshman forward from suburban Boston, played a night game at Fenway in 2017 with his Arlington High School team—coached by his father, John.

“I have no words to describe what it was like coming out of the dugout and walking out on the ice,” says Messuri, who had grown up playing baseball and attending Red Sox games. “It was a cool experience getting pictures with my dad after the game. We wanted to stay on the ice for a little bit, especially because we won.”

The Fenway rink is situated along the infield, with fans seated relatively far away.

“It’s a different setting when you’re on the ice because you’re used to looking out the glass and seeing people right next to you,” Keefe says. “And then the noise is pretty cool because it’s crisp—you hear the puck [hitting] the glass. You’re kind of in your own world when you’re on the ice in an outdoor game like this.”

Playing in the open landscape of Fenway reminds Messuri of the pickup games he grew up playing in his frozen backyard.

“Once the game starts, it kind of just becomes a hockey game,” Messuri says of his previous experience at Fenway. “You’re inside the glass and you’re more focused on playing the game rather than looking around.”

The key to creating a lasting memory will be winning the game. 

“We’re going through a little tough spot with our team,” says freshman defenseman Hunter McDonald, a sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers who leads Hockey East with 28 blocked shots and a plus-minus rating of plus-16. “We’re focused on that and doing what we can do to help each other out and win games. Our practices have been unbelievable and there’s great energy with our team. 

“But it’s on our mind,” he says of playing at Fenway. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Why have they struggled? Keefe believes the high expectations of defending their Hockey East regular season title with one of the youngest teams in the nation may have been too much for the Huskies.

For all of their recent troubles, culminating in an 8-4 loss last Sunday at Harvard, the Huskies rank fifth in Hockey East at 6-4-2. An upset of high-scoring UConn—the co-leader of Hockey East—could spark the change Northeastern needs.

“We’re right in the mix in Hockey East,” Keefe says. “All the big games are ahead of us. We’re just one game at a time right now and we’re excited to go play at Fenway Park on Saturday.”

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