Puck Daddy - NHL

(Ed. Note: Our Winter Classic Live Blog begins at 12:30 p.m. EST, featuring Wyshynski, Leahy, special guests and Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert live at Fenway.)

BOSTON -- Shawn Thornton(notes) of the Boston Bruins knew the question was coming.

"Oh God," he sighed, obviously exasperated, "here we go."

No, there has never been a fight in a Winter Classic, or the Heritage Classic for that matter. No, there's never even been anything approaching a dustup. The closest anyone has gotten is a pair of matching roughing penalties in the Heritage Classic between Francis Boullion and Jason Chimera(notes). It was real exciting stuff.

So hockey fans are waiting for that historic first fight. And the media talks about it. Dan Carcillo of the Philadelphia Flyers said his team wasn't ignorant to the talk. But that doesn't mean players are making plans to fight like it's seventh grade meeting by the flagpole at recess.

"I don't know," said Thornton. "I honestly have never gone into a hockey game thinking about fighting. This is no different. I mean, you guys can ask because it's kind of one of my roles, but other than you guys bringing it up, I don't think about it."

The problem is that emotions in the outdoor games don't seem to run as high. Not that the games take on a leisurely pace, or anybody's giving less than 100 percent, it's just ... different. The large, unfamiliar venues seem to sterilize the Winter Classic. And because no one's taking unnecessary advantage of their opponents, or because the games have been either too close, there's not much reason to incite a fight.

"It's not a boxing match, it's not WWF," said Thornton. "I'm going out there punching people in the face for real, and they're punching me in the face for real. It's usually for a reason."

Players seemed unhappy at the implication that they would, or should, fight just for the sake of getting it out of the way and pleasing the masses.

"Just because we're playing outside? I don't think that really matters," said Dan Carcillo.

That must please the NHL, which is likely not giddy over the possibility that punches could fly in the middle of the afternoon on New Year's Day on a major network.

But that's not to say the game won't be physical. The other outdoor games featured Edmonton, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit, all of which aren't exactly viewed as the toughest in the league. But this is Bruins/Flyers, and the Flyers especially will be playing physical hockey since, even though it's been lost in the shuffle, they're still on a road trip.

"I'm sure it's going to be an intense game, like it always is against the Bruins," said Arron Asham(notes). "It's always good games against Boston because they've got some big, rugged players over there and we have our guys. It's definitely going to be intense with a lot of hitting."

Thornton even pointed out that it was hypocritical for the media, which last March complained for weeks about so-called staged fights, to go around hoping for one these days. 

"It's funny," he said. "Last year, you guys were all against staged fighting and now everyone wants one for a Winter Classic. It's kind of a turning of the tables. I don't know, I'm gonna go play hockey. As with any other game, if something needs to be addressed, it'll be addressed, but I'm here to play hockey, not just to fight."

Maybe, though, the reason there's never been a fight in a Winter Classic is merely pragmatic.

"A fight's a fight, I guess, it doesn't matter if it's outside or inside," said Carcillo. "But it'd get pretty cold sitting there for five minutes, for sure."

Mixed reviews on conditions

The general consensus around both dressing rooms after practices was that the ice was good, and the snow, which started falling just minutes before the Bruins took the ice around 11:30 and held fairly steadily all day, made everyone's jobs very difficult.

"It's not going to be like that during the game because for TV timeouts they'll be scraping it and stuff like that, but by the end of practice it was built up," said Andrew Ference(notes). "There was a solid inch out there, probably, so it was tough. I don't think it'll be like gametime conditions."

Passes that would have normally been nice and crisp were dying before they got to teammate's sticks and breakaways weren't going to make any highlight reels.

"Not in that snow, no," said Byron Bitz(notes). "I had a breakaway and my stick was a snowplow. It was flying up and I couldn't even see the puck. It was a bit messy out there, but hey. The guys with the shovels will be busy."

As bothered by the snow as the skaters were, Tuukka Rask(notes) said the goalies had a much worse go of things.

"I think it didn't have anything to do with hockey, but it was fun to see the snow out there," he said. "(Visibility) was pretty close to zero. The puck gets buried in the snow and you can't really see it."

The problem, he said, was that the puck being pushed along the ice kicked up snow, and quick-release shots were impossible to read off the stick.

But there were top marks all around for the ice itself.

"The ice was great except there was a half-foot of snow on it," said Asham. "But it was really fast, really hard, so the ice will not be a problem. It's the snow we're going to be worried about. Even being out there for 40 minutes it built up pretty good."

Snow, by the way, is in the forecast for today's game, and that's fine by the Flyers.

"If it snows, there won't be much puck-handling so there will be a lot of shots and the goalies will have to be on their game," said Scott Hartnell(notes). "As long as we're crashing the net and going to the net hard, then probably good things will happen for us."

Rasks's new mask gets raves

Greg linked it to a story about it yesterday, but Rask's new mask was outstanding up close.

On the right side is the Bruins' Spoked B from the Winter Classic. On the right is the standard Spoked B. The front has "Rask" in the Red Sox font. But the top is the kicker; it features a bear eating the remnants of a bloody Yankee jersey.

"The fans'll eat that up for sure," he said.

Not that the design was his idea. The mask's creators suggested it and he said 'OK.' End of story.

When asked what he plans to do with it after the game, he joked, "Put it on eBay."

In actuality, he's going to put it on a shelf next to one other mask, which he received for his outstanding play in a league back home in Finland.

Staying warm

Obviously the league has taken all precautions to make sure everybody stays nice and warm, like Reebok providing the teams with new underwear that looks like a cross between standard performance gear and thermals, and installing heated benches, which weren't plugged in for practices.

But, even though it was snowing, it really wasn't that bad outside.

"It was warm," said Ference. "Too warm, actually. We got this new underwear, and I'm not going to go back to my old stuff, actually. And I guess our benches are heated, but it wasn't even turned on today and I was still hot."

Hartnell said that he got some cold-weather gear from Philadelphia Eagles that they wear under their uniforms, but it, too, was overkill.

The only concern, one supposes, is for the backup goalies and coaches, who will be doing nothing but standing there for 60 minutes. While the Bruins hadn't officially said who was starting yesterday, the conventional wisdom had it that it was Thomas, and Rask had a contingency plan.

"I think somebody told me there's seat-warmers," he said.

"You could always drink hot chocolate. Gear up, put a touque on. It's no stress for me, if I'm cold then I'm cold. So be it."

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