BOSTON -- The Bruins had little turnover in personnel since last season, so most of the players who were on the team when the 2010 Winter Classic was awarded to the Bruins in July have been looking forward to its arrival since that day.
Winger Shawn Thornton was among a quintet of players on hand at Fenway Park that steamy day in July when commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement and hockey boards were placed across the baseball diamond to preview what the rink might look like in January.
Now the 2010 Winter Classic is here.
"Our PR guys decided to put us in the black jerseys, and it was sunny out that day. Yeah, that was a good time," Thornton recalled with a roll of his eyes Thursday at a snowy Fenway Park.
Then the veteran reflected on this opportunity.
"I've been looking forward to it since July. Today I've been trying to take in as much as possible and enjoy it, and tomorrow will be the same way up until game time and then it's a game," he said. "It's a really, obviously, unique experience. I couldn't be happier to be here and still be a part of it. I'm very excited that I got a three-year deal and I got it here."
Also on hand that day in July were David Krejci, Marco Sturm, Patrice Bergeron and Aaron Ward. A contract with the Bruins, however, didn't guarantee Ward a chance to stick with the team and an opportunity to play in the Winter Classic. He was dealt to Carolina just weeks after the announcement.
"That's the bad part of the business, unfortunately," Thornton explained. "We were joking about it that day, too. We were hoping we'd both be here to enjoy it. One of us isn't. I knew he was looking forward to it, too. But that's the tough part of the business."
A day like Thursday at Fenway Park was the best part of the business. The Bruins had loads of fun practicing on the rink. Earlier in the week, there was fear of rain for Thursday and Friday. But a light snow started to fall as soon as the Bruins emerged from the Red Sox dugout Thursday, and the forecast for Friday now calls for a slight chance of snow.
The playing surface was a little difficult to navigate -- with or without a puck -- but it was an unforgettable moment for the players, many of whom had been picturing this day for more than five months.
"It was cool. I was actually really impressed with how good the ice was," defenseman Dennis Wideman said Thursday. "They did a great job. With all the snow and stuff like that, it was great. Hopefully, for the sake of the game, it's not snowing too hard tomorrow. But for today, that was awesome."
Although the practice and the skate with family members afterward were mostly about fun, there was a small dose of business in the 60-90 minutes the team was on the ice. Wideman said the Bruins got to get over that spectator mentality by taking in all the sights from the middle of the rink. That should help them avoid getting caught looking around and falling behind early Friday.
And many of the players needed to test out the subtleties of the rink that could factor into the matchup with the Flyers.
"As much as we were messing around, there was a touch of getting used to the boards," defenseman Andrew Ference said. "It just sounds so quiet. You're not inside a rink, and there's no echo and nobody sitting right next to the glass. It takes a little getting used to."
Added goaltender Tim Thomas: "From my perspective, it was cool to be outside. I was enjoying myself, enjoying the weather, but at the same time picking up some things about the rink, like the corners were very shallow compared to our regular home rink. And I was just checking out to see if anything changed the way my angles worked. And so my point is, you're enjoying yourself but you're also preparing yourself at the same time."
Most of the Boston players were thrilled with snow for the practice but hoping for slightly more forgiving elements on game day. Captain Zdeno Chara was among those looking forward to a precipitation-less day.
"Pretty much with the snow coming down this afternoon, it was just a perfect scenario," he said. "I think it's just a perfect scenario for today because it's a practice today. It's for everybody to kind of get the feel. And for you guys, obviously for the TV, it's just a perfect scenario. Obviously, [Friday,] we would like to have it no snow and no rain and have it perfect conditions.
"Yeah, for today, it's pretty much right on the money."
The elements are out of everyone's control. But how the teams play is up to those in the Bruins and Flyers sweaters. Chara doesn't anticipate anything different between the Winter Classic and heated Bruins-Flyers confrontations of the past.
"I don't think there's going to be any holding back," he said. "Like I said, there is two points to be playing for, and both teams are coming off shutout wins. I think it's going to be totally opposite. It will be more like a playoff game. For sure it's going to be pretty intense, and even it's going to be one of those games that it's only once in a year. But for sure, it's going to be intense."
In the weeks leading up to the Winter Classic, the Bruins have done a solid job staying focused on their other games. They won Wednesday night and won three of four before that game. They were scheduled to have a team dinner, then stay in a hotel Thursday night to help block out any possible distractions. If there's a mental edge to be had, the Bruins might be able to grab it.
"When we turn the lights off tonight, we need to start thinking about [Friday] as a business day, as a two-point game, and we've got to come here prepared and knowing what's at stake," Julien said. "I think if we do that, we'll have had the best of today and hopefully, with the win, we'll have had the best of tomorrow."