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Maine hockey team relishes chance to play in Saturday’s Frozen Fenway doubleheader

Brooks Canaday | AP
Brooks Canaday | AP
An ice rink covers the infield area in Fenway Park Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, in Boston. Two years after the NHL's Winter Classic was played there, the ballpark will host a series of skating events and hockey games during January 2012, including a Hockey East doubleheader featuring Vermont vs. Massachusetts and New Hampshire vs. Maine on Jan. 7, 2012.
By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

It all began on Dec. 18.

That is when the process began to put an ice arena in Boston’s Fenway Park to host several different events including the second annual Sun Life Frozen Fenway Hockey East doubleheader on Saturday.

The University of Maine Black Bears will take on archrival New Hampshire in the 7:30 nightcap on Saturday after the University of Massachusetts and University of Vermont square off in the 4 p.m. opener.

The inaugural doubleheader two years ago attracted a sellout crowd of 38,472 to see Boston University nip archrival Boston College 3-2 after the University of New Hampshire women opened the twin bill with a 5-3 win over Northeastern.

Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna said the construction of the ice arena began with the installation of a plastic surface over the field to limit damage to it and the laying of ice-making pipes under the elevated arena surface.

The ice surface will be behind the pitcher’s mound and stretch from first to third base over the second base bag. Boards and glass completed the facility.

“We all learned a lot in 2010. We had a chance to take a step back and see what worked and what didn’t work,” said Bertagna on Thursday. “We dusted off the operations manual and made adjustments. We’re not starting from scratch [this time].

“There are a lot of details to handle like the hospitality suites, the ice maintenance and dealing with the media and with the teams,” said Bertagna. “These aren’t exhibition games. These games count.”

The ice maintenance will be dictated by the weather, according to Bertagna.

“There have been some high school games held on it so we should have it solved by the time our games are held,” said Bertagna.

The event is a nice money-maker for the league but Bertagna said he isn’t at liberty to discuss specific financial details.

“It’s not a risky situation for us. The Red Sox took the financial risk,” said Bertagna.

He said the schools that surrender a home game to play at Fenway Park will be reimbursed.

Maine and UMass were the teams that gave up their home games this year.

Maine was supposed to host New Hampshire for the last two regular season games on March 2-3.

Instead, the Fenway game will take the place of the March 2 game.

Maine athletic director Steve Abbott said home games against New Hampshire “do extremely well” attendancewise so the reimbursement will be “just under $90,000.”

And Abbott has no problem giving up a home date for this event.

“I hate to give up a home game but this is a rare opportunity,” said Abbott. “It’s the 100-year celebration of Fenway Park and we’re playing an outdoor game in one of the country’s greatest sports venues.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for our players,” Abbott added.

In addition, Abbott said it is “great for our program.”

“People are talking about it all over the state,” said Abbott. “It’s going to be a real treat. We’ve got a lot of fans and alums in the Boston area and this gives them a great opportunity to see our team in a very exciting and unusual venue.”

He noted that there is going to be a pregame reception at the House of Blues near Fenway Park “and we’ve already had 500 RSVPs.”

He said it will also give him and other athletic staff members a “great chance to touch base with people we haven’t seen that often and help reconnect them to the school and the hockey program.”

Bertagna said the star of the event is Fenway Park.

“That’s one of the big reasons people want to come and see it,” said Bertagna, who added that the exposure the league receives from it is invaluable.

“It’s pretty special for us,” said Bertagna.

Both games will be televised on NESN.

Abbott, Maine junior defenseman Mike Cornell and senior center Brian Flynn concurred.

“If it was played in a random outdoor venue in Boston, you wouldn’t have the same kind of draw,” said Abbott.

“It’s pretty remarkable,” said assistant captain Cornell, a native of Franklin, Mass. “It’s one of the most historic sports buildings in the world and to be able to play hockey on it is something else.”

“It’s a pretty special place,” said co-captain Flynn, who is from Lynnfield, Mass. “It’s going to be a once-in-the-lifetime type of thing.”

There will be some fans in the lower seats who won’t have a great view, according to Bertagna, because they had to elevate the arena.

“But the Red Sox added a new high-definition video board last summer [and fans will be able to watch the game on the board],” he said.

Maine coach Tim Whitehead said he was indebted to Fenway Sports Management and Hockey East to have “courage to invite four state schools to play in this event and banging it out with a sellout. That’s impressive. We’re very proud to be a part of it.”

Maine alums sweep UNH

The University of Maine’s men’s alumni teams swept New Hampshire at Fenway Park on Thursday night as the players who graduated in 1995 or earlier triumphed 5-1 and the ones who graduated after 1995 won 3-1. They each played a 25-minute game.

“It was awesome. It was a lot of fun. The best part was getting together with your former teammates and joking around with them, ” said current Maine assistant coach Dan Kerluke, who had two goals for the younger team and also said the ice surface was “very good. It was hard and fast.”

Among the players on the two teams were Peter and Chris Ferraro, Gary Conn, Jean-Yves Roy, Jim Leger, Jason Vitorino, Brian Hughes, Cliff Loya, Peter Metcalf, Ray Jacques, Ben Murphy, Cam Lyall, Tommy Reimann, Lem Randall, Dave Wensley, Marc Son, Mike Morrison and current Maine assistant Bob Corkum.

Former Maine coach Jack Semler coached both teams and Morrison tended goal for both games.

Maine head coach Tim Whitehead brought the current team down on Thursday to give them a chance to mingle with the alums before and after the game.

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