BOSTON – The obvious question throughout the outdoor hockey festivities at Fenway Park over the last couple of weeks has been, "what's different about playing on outdoor ice in a baseball stadium?"
In the Frozen Fenway 2014 finale on Saturday night, Maine showed that the key to success isn't playing a totally different game, but rather playing to your strengths.
The Black Bears stuck with the fundamentals Saturday night, and rode three power play goals – all in the first period – to a 7-3 romp past Boston University. To get there, the Black Bears had to overcome a unique moment in the history of college hockey – a rain delay that lasted more than an hour as a thundering storm system rolled over the ballpark.
That massive interruption came a little more than two minutes before another interruption unique to outdoor hockey: A mid-period switching of ends to keep things fair among the elements.
Yet even after more than an hour of waiting out the weather, and another brief stoppage to change ends, the Black Bears stuck to their guns, and it made all the difference.
Of course, it helped that just five seconds after play resumed following the 69-minute break for thunder and lightning, Ben Hutton scored off a cleanly won faceoff, giving Maine a 2-0 lead with 7:30 gone in the game.
The whole play was a perfect example of the keep-it-simple attitude that has pervaded the outdoor games, especially among the winning teams.
Maine got all the little things right: Devin Shore won an offensive zone on the power play to get possession. Connor Leen sent it quickly to Hutton, and Hutton threw a shot on goal, knowing that with puddles still lingering on the ice and a tricky backdrop, BU goaltender Matt O'Connor might have trouble with a shot through traffic. Sure enough, Hutton's shot went all the way through for the Maine lead.
"I just decided to throw it on net," said Hutton, who added another goal late into an empty net. "I knew nothing today was going to be pretty."
The Black Bears didn't slow down. Andrew Cerretani added a third goal on a breakaway with 4:53 to go in the first, and just 48 seconds later, Shore had the eventual game-winner on the power play.
That goal ended O'Connor's day, but Sean Maguire didn't have much more fun in relief. Ryan Lomberg, who had already opened the scoring on a power play early in the first – before the thunder and lightning halted play – scored his second of the game 7:37 into the second period.
"We came out smoking," Maine coach Red Gendron said. "Especially on the power play. During the course of building the 5-0 lead, we just did the simple things."
That philosophy worked well for two periods. In the third, the Black Bears briefly lost sight of the theme, and BU very nearly made a game of it. The Terriers scored three goals in a span of 6:33, coming from captain Garrett Noonan, Nick Roberto on the power play, and then Cason Hohmann. Suddenly it was 5-3 with 5:06 to go, and the huge lead Maine had built was looking immensely vulnerable.
"We were getting away from the things we normally do," Gendron said. "The game's about habits, and when it gets lopsided like that, players don't think it matters anymore. We just talked about getting back to the way we play."
Gendron and his staff had that time to talk during a BU timeout with 2:38 to go, and while the Terriers called for the break, Maine took the most advantage of it. With Maguire pulled, Hutton made it 6-3. BU coach David Quinn opted to keep the net empty, and Shore added his second of the game with 1:11 to go, all but sealing Maine's win in what may well be the last college game at Fenway Park for some time.
Coming to play a game at Fenway is a special experience, as many have said. But it means a little bit more when you can take away a victory.
"Today was a hard day if you were a player," Gendron said. "In the locker room, I thought we had the right amount of happiness and lightness. There will be times when we'll be challenged and need to persevere, and we'll need to call on how tough it was today."
In the end, what made Saturday night's hockey game at a baseball stadium that much more bizarre might have been what gave Maine the winning edge. After the teams were sent off the ice following a lightning strike nearby, the Black Bears spent their mid-game respite stretching and enjoying the sight of the crew from The Rink Specialists running a Mighty Ducks-inspired "flying V" formation of squeegees to clear the rink of water, sending it through the ice resurfacers' entrance in waves.
The team that jokingly made calls to the Fenway bullpen from the Red Sox dugout before their practice on Friday was still loose, still having fun, and yet still ready to go back to work.
"I think we found the right balance of focus and looseness," Shore said. "We heard a half hour, 25 minutes [until play was to resume], and it was like, 'OK, game on.'"