A frigid and frosty Fenway Park certainly lived up to its billing as “Frozen Fenway” Saturday evening on the coldest night of the year.
But the Winthrop High hockey team shook off the shivers and proved too hot to handle for Northeastern Conference rival Marblehead, as the Vikings skated to a 2-0 win in a contest that players and fans alike never will forget.
Newspaper and TV photos did not prepare fans for the surreal scene that greeted them upon entering Frozen Fenway, which was wholly incongruous with the image a lifelong Red Sox fan has of the fabled baseball field. Instead of perfectly manicured green grass and the familiar infield, there was a hockey rink and snow all around.
The lack of lighting added to the mystical nature of the setting. The Fenway lights were not on for the game, even though it started well after dusk at 5:15. Instead, there were four sets of temporary lights in each of the corners of the rink. The lights created heavy shadows at center ice, so much so that the players seemed like specters as they glided along from end to end, their jersey numbers for the most part indiscernible. The puck too, was barely visible, and often disappeared amidst the snow that swirled around the players’ skates, especially when a stiff breeze picked up by the third period.
But despite the physical obstacles (which included a rough ice surface that was not Zamboni-ed between periods), it was, as WHS head coach Dale Dunbar termed it, “A magical evening,” whose final outcome delighted the estimated 2000-2500 Winthrop fans in attendance (out of an estimated 3500-4000 total fans), many of whom were adorned in nifty, gold Winthrop Viking ski caps that were a gift from the Viking Pride Foundation for those who came to the game in the buses chartered by the VPF.
Marblehead came out strong and looked like the stronger team as they controlled the opening period. The Magicians had the better chances and the Marblehead defense seemed rock solid. “Marblehead took it to us at the start,” noted Dunbar.
But the second frame saw the Vikings come to life. Winthrop slowly began to win the territorial advantage battle and changed the flow and momentum of the hockey game in their favor.
Still, everyone in the park (and how often have you seen that description of a venue for a hockey game?) knew that the contest could turn either way with a favorable bounce of the puck.
A face off in the Marblehead defensive zone to the right of the Magician goalie set the stage for the game changer. Alex Hamilton took the face off for Winthrop and won it, getting the puck back to Viking defenseman Jake Rand who was at the point, mid ice.
Jake let go a big slap shot that found its way through the swarm of players who had moved in front of the Marblehead netminder and cleanly swished to the back of the net to make it 1-0 about halfway through the period. (The official time, which was being kept by stopwatch on the benches, was not visible to the fans. Rather the Fenway jumbotron displayed a running time, counting down the 60 minutes that the teams were allotted, that roughly correlated with the actual time.)
Then with about a minute left in the period, Kyle Cummings sent a pass up the right boards to Chris LeBlanc, who carried the puck over the blue line, and then, as he was about to be met by a Marblehead defender, flipped a perfect pass to the left side to a cutting Joe Scarfo who was streaking in on the left wing. Scarfo gathered in the puck about 30 feet out and then after a few strides, snapped a perfect wrist shot to the upper left corner from about 12 feet out that cleanly beat the Magician goalie to make it 2-0.
The third period also belonged to the Vikings, though they were unable to expand on their lead. The Viking defense shut down the Magicians and when Marblehead did get an opportunity, Winthrop goalie Pat Feeley was a bulwark, thwarting any attempt at a Marblehead comeback.
Feeley’s best stops came about midway through the final frame when a Magician broke in alone on the right wing. However, Pat cut down the angle perfectly, first stopping the shot and then diving back across the goal mouth to stifle a Magician who had scooped up the rebound on the other side. “Pat was really on his game for us,” said Dunbar. “The goalies couldn’t see anything above waist high because of the shadows, but Pat came through with a great performance.”
That would prove to be Marblehead’s best chance to get back into the contest. Feeley’s heroics clearly took the wind out of the Magicians’ sails and the defense held firm the rest of the way.
The after-game, on-ice celebration by the jubilant Vikings was worthy of a state title, as the Winthrop players swarmed onto the ice to do the traditional back slide into their goalie. “It had been an emotional week for us,” noted Dunbar. “The anticipation and hype of playing in Fenway was tremendous and the big crowd got all of our adrenaline going. Playing at Fenway was huge in itself, but then winning the game made it a tremendous experience for us.”
Dunbar also pointed out that this was the only public high school hockey game to be played at Frozen Fenway. The other high school games were private school affairs with wealthy benefactors who shelled out a reported $30,000 for a game.
“We owe all of this to Mike Eruzione,” said Dunbar. “Without his efforts, none of this would have happened.”
The Vikings had tuned up for their Fenway appearance with a 10-0 triumph over Saugus three days earlier. Winthrop took off at the start and kept the pedal to the metal the entire way for the sort of runaway win that every team (and coach!) needs during the season.
No fewer than nine Vikings took turns lighting the lamp, with Scarfo the lone multi goal producer with two goals. Tyler Pettee, Mitch Paulsen, Rand, Hamilton, Bob Clewer, Joe Pisani (his first varsity goal), Nick Clewer, and Ryan McKinnon all put the puck into the net against the Sachems, while LeBlanc was the principal playmaker, recording four assists on the night.
Dunbar and crew, who now stand at 6-1-1, good for second place in the NEC behind Peabody, were set to face Lynn last night (Wednesday) and then will host Swampscott Saturday at 7:20.