Foxborough, Mass. – Ryan Spooner’s eyes went up; Nathan Beaulieu’s went out. Both were struck by the size.
The setting for the 2016 Bridgestone Winter Classic can stand out in different ways for different players, but it always adds up to the same sentiment: This is pretty cool.
Spooner, a Boston Bruins centre, was impacted by the vastness of Gillette Stadium in the days leading up to this signature event.
Winter Classic Live: Latest news, videos, social content
“When you step out there and just kind of look up and see actually how big the stadium is,” Spooner said, “you just think about what it’s going to be like when you step on the ice [for the game]. It’s a great feeling and I’m just extremely excited for it.”
Beaulieu, meanwhile, had another takeaway when he and teammate Brendan Gallagher walked out to survey their Foxborough, Mass., surroundings. If Spooner was awed by the enormity, Beaulieu’s reaction hinted at humility.
“Just couldn’t believe how small the ice looked,” he said.
One person uniquely positioned to talk about feeling both big and small in Foxborough is Canadiens goalie Mike Condon, who grew up just a half-hour or so from the stadium and often attended New England Patriot games.
“Usually when I’m at Gillette Stadium, I’m in the last row of the nose bleeds,” said Condon, whose Winter Classic mask pays tribute to Pats coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
Condon, now far removed from the upper deck, will be smack in the middle of the action on Friday as one of four Massachusetts natives taking part in the game along with teammate Brian Flynn and Bruins forwards Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes.
“I bought a whole row, 22 seats or something,” Hayes said.
Even if you’re not a local boy or a younger player like Spooner and Beaulieu, the Classic will get its hooks in you. Heck, Belichick even took a wobbly skate on the ice with Bruins coach Claude Julien on Thursday before the B’s practice. That meant the guy we usually see scowling in a hoodie was, it’s safe to assume, having himself a time gliding around in the place where he’s usually required to be all business.
If there’s a player at this event with Belichick-like attention to detail, it’s Patrice Bergeron. The Boston centre—along with everybody else taking part in the contest—stressed the significance of the two points on the line. That said, nobody is attempting to pass this off as just another game.
“It’s special to be here,” said Bergeron, who played at the 2010 Classic in Boston’s Fenway Park. “I know with the whole league and everyone watching, it’s a big stage. We’re happy to be here. We try to take everything in and enjoy the moment.”
And while the moment involves all kinds of high-tech ice-making equipment, nearly 70,000 fans and, we’re guessing, some serious fireworks, Spooner swears there’s an unmistakable feeling of being a kid again. In his case, that involved playing from the time school let out until the sky turned dark over the backyard rink his dad used to make at the family home in Ottawa.
Montreal’s P.K. Subban wasn’t even walking long before he and his father, Karl, were making trips to the rink at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. Now, Subban, Spooner and a delighted bunch of players on both sides of this longstanding rivalry get to experience the charmed adult version of what they did as children.
“Playing on a stage like this is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” Subban said.
Mark Recchi certainly has. After wearing black and gold at Thursday’s alumni game, the guy who racked up 526 combined games for the Habs and Bruins was all smiles answering questions about being outdoors again, just as he was when he scored the B’s first goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Classic.
“You never forget this stuff,” Recchi said.
Everywhere you look in Foxborough, somebody is expressing that same thought.