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Philly2Philly Winter Classic Preview: Flyers peaking at right time as they roll into Fenway Park

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Five Hole logoFenway Park has been the site of many Fall Classics. Many Octobers have been decided amid the backdrop of the Green Monster and Pesky’s Pole. But this time the calendar has been flipped to January, where the beloved home of the Red Sox will host the NHL’s 3rd annual Winter Classic.

This game is fast becoming the NHL’s version of a mid-season Super Bowl, equipped with a healthy recipe of media hype, marketing, two guys from Philly actually biking to the event, and a national broadcast that begins at 1:00 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

Two years ago, on New Year’s Day 2008, the Pittsburgh Penguins took on the Buffalo Sabres amidst a stunning, snowy backdrop in Orchard Park, New York. The large attendance, high ratings, and post-game buzz led the NHL to schedule another outdoor event to ring in 2009. This time in historic Wrigley field in Chicago, the young, exciting, and energetic hometown Blackhawks played host to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. This game had it all- geography, historic rivalry, skill, and a majestic white visual synonymous with hockey.

It seems as if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s regime  may have finally gotten this one right. Well, not exactly, but sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. See, this was not a planned annual event, but the stars have simply aligned thus far. The Winter Classic may be one of the best, if not THE best thing the NHL has going for it. But it is certainly a risk playing a game of such magnitude outdoors on an ice surface.

Fast forward to now. New Year’s Day 2010. The forecast in Beantown  is WHAT? Yes, that’s right, it looks like more precipitation in the air. But this time it could be rain or snow.

But no matter what’s coming out of the sky, you can bet there will be lots of vigor and youthful enthusiasm on the ice, as two of hockey’s longest rivals- the Flyers and the Bruins- clash in what could be a very important game in the team’s season, despite the fact that the season is only at the midway point.

In a game that is ironically a homecoming for the Flyers new head coach Peter Laviolette, his squad will look to continue the momentum of a successful holiday road trip. The Flyers gave perhaps their best complete game effort of the season on Wednesday night as they absolutely blew the hinges off of Madison Square Garden in a 6-0 spanking of the Rangers. There is no doubt that the team that has struggled so mightily for last six weeks has started to morph into the team that came into the season with high expectations. It looks as if a healthy Simon Gagne  and a few more games under Laviolette’s intense forechecking system have turned fortunes around from this time a week ago. The Flyers are peaking just in time for their trip to Boston.

In a twist of irony, the Bruins also will be coming off of a shutout, a 4-0 win over the Atlanta Thrashers. The Bruins sit in second place in their division, but the competition beneath them is threatening, including the Flyers. The Flyers lead the season series thus far, two games to none.

One thing is certain. The old time rivalry dating back to the Broad Street Bullies era of Clarke and Parent taking on Orr and Esposito  will be one to watch. The entire NHL rests its hopes on the fact that it will indeed continue to live up to its moniker.

Unfortunately, the fate of the Winter Classic could rest in the hands of Mother Nature. Somewhere in New England, Gary Bettman will be spending his New Year’s Eve watching the Weather Channel instead of Ryan Seacrest.

So make sure to tune into the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic  this Friday at 1:00 p.m. on NBC.

There will be rain or snow and magic in the air.

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