February 12, 2014

From NEHJ: New heroes crowned during Fenway frenzy

By Andrew Merritt

Boston College's top line of Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.), Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) and Johnny Gaudreau sparked the Eagles to a big win over Notre Dame in the marquee game of Frozen Fenway 2014. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

BOSTON — Fenway Park is a place where heroes are forged.

After four games played in some of the most epic hockey weather ever experienced, there are a few new names on the list of heroes who had big moments at the historic ballpark.

The third edition of Frozen Fenway included a total of 16 officially sanctioned hockey games. Four of those games featured Hockey East teams. Three of those counted in the league standings, while the fourth was a non-league clash between two longtime Hockey East foes.

All four games included moments of drama, whether it was due to the fierce competition whirling around the ice, or the torrential precipitation falling on it.

What all four games had in common, indeed what could be found in every game played during the three weeks of hockey at Boston’s beloved ballpark, was at least one player who stood out and had a Fenway moment worthy of note. In New England’s most prominent home of sports heroes, these were the newest additions to the list of names that have had a hand in magical moments at Fenway Park.

Mike Collins | Merrimack

After starting 3-3 over its first six games, Merrimack hit a seven-game winless skid, and when the Warriors came to Fenway for their game against Providence on Jan. 4, they were 4-9-2, with a 1-5-1 Hockey East record that had them sitting in last place in the league.

Regardless of whether Merrimack can turn its season around over the final stretch, the Warriors will have some good memories of their trip to Yawkey Way, thanks to Mike Collins. A native of Roslindale, Mass. — just a short drive south of Fenway Park — Collins has been the Warriors’ offensive keystone all year, so it was only natural to expect he would factor into one of the team’s biggest games of the year.

Not that anyone needed to ask Collins to step up.

“Mike is such an even-keeled performer,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy (Dorchester, Mass.) said. “He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low, which is probably why when the game’s on the line and the puck’s on his stick, he doesn’t panic; he’s just got ice water in his veins.”

Collins got his opportunity on a 5-on-3 power play, after Providence’s Kevin Hart (Cumberland, Maine) followed Derek Army (North Kingstown, R.I.) to the penalty box early in the third period. A relatively drama-free game up to that point, it changed when Collins took a feed from Brendan Ellis and buried it past Providence’s Nick Ellis for a 1-0 Warrior lead.

“Pretty exciting, obviously it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and definitely something I’ve been looking forward to all year,” Collins said.

Collins’ goal didn’t hold up as the game-winner, as Providence’s Steven Shamanski scored a beauty just a few minutes later, and the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw in a game that didn’t count in the league standings. But for the Warriors, a tie with one of the best teams in the league — and the No. 5 team in the country at the time — was a moment to remember.

Bill Arnold, Kevin Hayes, Johnny Gaudreau | Boston College

It was actually the second trip to the great outdoors for BC’s talented trio. Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) and Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) were sophomores when BC beat Northeastern in the 2012 iteration, and Johnny Gaudreau was a freshman. All three of them could already tell stories about playing at Fenway Park even before the Eagles took the ice for a historic game against Notre Dame on Jan. 4.

What they couldn’t say was that they had scored a goal, or even an assist, at the ballpark, as all three were held without a point in 2012. But now, they can tell that story too.

The trio were put on a line together in early December, and ever since they’ve been red-hot. That culminated in a combined three goals and seven points at Fenway for the three players, who led the Eagles to a thrilling 4-3 win over the Irish in the first meeting of the two teams as Hockey East opponents.

“Coach put me, Bill and Kevin together, and I think that was pretty exciting for all three of us,” said Gaudreau, who gave the Eagles an early 2-0 lead on an Arnold feed, and then scored the game-winner off a Hayes pass with 11:39 to go. “We never got the chance to play together, and I think that kind of sparked all three of us.”

With all due respect to the New Jersey-born Gaudreau, whose only competition for the Hockey East scoring title is Hayes himself, Fenway Park is just a little more special for the two locals on his line.

“Absolutely, just growing up around Boston, coming to Fenway for the Red Sox and having a bunch of family be able to come watch here, it’s a fun experience,” said Arnold, who scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period to give BC a 3-2 lead. “Not just for me but for the family, too.”

For Hayes, the two assists he had at Fenway are part of a renaissance season in which he has rebounded from the leg injury that ended his 2012-13 campaign prematurely to be one of the top scorers in the country. Yet even after helping his team win a crucial league game on one of the most cherished stages in all of sports, he was humble.

“Points are cool, but that’s not what BC’s all about,” he said. “We’ve got guys like Johnny Gaudreau, who can get a million points if he wants. Points aren’t what we look for here, we look for the ‘W,’ and the two points in the league standings. It’s nice to get them, but it’s not what’s on people’s minds on this team.”

Braden Pimm | Northeastern

After showing a lot of upside in his first two seasons at Northeastern, including 10-12–22 totals as a sophomore in 2011-12, Braden Pimm’s production dipped in his junior year. But after rededicating himself over the offseason, he’s one of the leaders for a Northeastern team that has practically pulled a 180-degree turn out of its disastrous 2012-13 season.

Pimm’s breakout season has flown under the radar a bit, but he certainly shed any sense of secrecy at Fenway Park. Riding a four-game point streak as the Huskies prepared to take on defending Hockey East champion UMass-Lowell, Pimm came up big once again, scoring the first goal of the game off a Mike Szmatula feed in the second period, then providing an empty-netter with a few minutes to go as Northeastern romped past the River Hawks, 4-1.

The goals were Pimm’s 13th and 14th of the season, pushing him well past the 6-11–17 totals he had in 2012-13.

When Pimm came back to campus in September, his coach could be forgiven for not recognizing him.

“He dedicated himself — not in September, but in May,” said NU coach Jim Madigan (Milton, Mass.). “Strength and conditioning, he followed it right through, so when he came back he was a lot leaner, he was stronger. He had a different haircut, he had a different approach to things. It carried over academically, it’s carried over in the community, and it’s certainly carried over on the ice.”

Devin Shore | Maine

Devin Shore came ready to play — you could see it on his face.

When he came into the postgame press conference after Maine’s runaway 7-3 win over Boston University, there were some mild chuckles from the media. Shore, like many hockey players have in the many outdoor games played in recent years, applied some eyeblack to help fight any glare he might have experienced as he skated across Fenway Park’s infield.

OK, it wasn’t “some eyeblack.” In fact, it was almost his whole cheek on both sides, giving the Maine sophomore a resemblance to pro wrestling’s Ultimate Warrior.

“I see the big leaguers do it, and we’re at Fenway Park,” Shore said. “I used to play lacrosse, and we did fun stuff like this. Just having fun with it, a hockey game at Fenway Park.”

Whether the eyeblack helped, Shore played an outstanding game for the Black Bears, scoring two goals — including the game-winner — plus an assist in the victory. It was a memorable experience, and not just because of the historic surroundings.

Midway through the first period, the skies opened up and a thunderstorm rumbled into the area around Fenway, causing the ever-so-rare weather delay at a hockey game. More than an hour later, the teams were back on the ice, but not until a crew from The Rink Specialists, who built the small pond in the middle of Fenway’s lawn, came out and formed a Mighty Ducks-style “flying V” of shovels to push several inches of water off the ice, sending it cascading out the Zamboni entrance like a flood in reverse.

“I think we found the right balance of focus and looseness, because you don’t know how long the delay’s going to be, you don’t know what’s next,” Shore said when asked what he and his teammates did during the 69-minute respite. “At the same time, it’s a rain delay at Fenway Park. It’s pretty unique, and we took time to enjoy it. We listened to some tunes, and we enjoyed watching them shovel the water off the ice.”

Five seconds after play resumed, Ben Hutton gave the Black Bears a 2-0 lead after Shore won an offensive zone faceoff back to Connor Leen, who fed Hutton for the goal. Shore capped a four-goal first period for Maine with the eventual game-winner, and went in on a shorthanded breakaway to fire the dagger into an empty net with 1:11 to go, sealing Maine’s victory.

Twitter: @A_Merritt

Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com