The Faceoff at Fenway: Classic Teams, Classic Venue...

The Faceoff at Fenway: Classic Teams, Classic Venue...

It's finally here. The game we've been waiting for all season. 


2010 Winter Classic - building the rink 18, originally uploaded by misconmike.

Although the pond hockey concept itself is among the most primitive aspects of the sport, two professional teams playing on an outdoor rink on New Year's Day has become the most unique experience in hockey. The NHL's missteps in recent years are well-documented, but one thing they continue to get right is the Winter Classic. I'm not just saying that because the Flyers are in it this year; I've watched every one of them, geeking out over camera angles that capture an expanse of white ice against a stadium backdrop and players skating in throwback jerseys. This year, we'll see those shots set against backdrops that include the Green Monster and Pesky Pole. 

The game has a distinct nostalgic feel despite this being just the third Winter Classic, and the fact that it's played in a structure built and widely known for another sport. By all accounts, the league has done an outstanding job of setting up the 2010 Winter Classic, from selecting two teams with amazing histories and pairing that matchup with a legendary venue, to constructing an ice surface that the players say is perfect despite the obvious challenges by the elements. 

We're in for an amazing experience today, and that's before we even look at the game itself. 

The rivalry between the Flyers and Bruins remains strong today, renewed annually with games characterized by big hits and gamesmanship, despite the fact that these teams virtually never face each other in the playoffs. Seven points separate them in the Eastern Conference, representing four places in the EC standings. Maybe we'll see them in the 'offs this year—what a matchup that would be.  

Michael Leighton gets the start over Woonsocket, Rhode Island, native Brian Boucher. I'd have loved to have seen Boosh get the hometown start (imagine yourself getting to start in net at CBP for context), but Leighton is the man of the moment, coming off of four wins including a shutout in his last. Leighton Master MUST keep that going today. There's no other option. 

The B's aren't known for their attack as much as they are for their defensive strengths, and Tuukka Rask has the league's best GAA by a large margin and a slight lead in save percentage. Plus, he's got a sweet mask just for the occasion. [Update: Tim Thomas will start for the Bruins] With the elements possibly imposing on the festivities today, scoring could be at a premium. Fortunately, the Flyers look as though they've shaken the snake, with their goal-scoring ability on display in a 6-0 rout of the Rangers in their last game before the Classic. 

Ideally, we'll be seeing a continuation of that today, with Peter Laviolette's system finally in fruition. Lavvy emphasizes sending wave after wave into the offensive zone, which requires active defensemen to start the rush yet be ready for any counters that should arise. It's the kind of hockey the national audience will want to see, more so than a dominant performance by Thomas. So let's give the people what they want, eh, Flyers?   

You'll hear it said that when it comes down to it, this game matters only as much as all the others—it all comes down to the points in the standings. I don't buy it. You can see it in the players' faces that this one is different. The Bruins have something amazing to give the fans of Boston; the Flyers can announce to the league that they've regrouped and are once again a threat to hoist the Cup this year. 

Andrew is the lucky Leveler who will get to see the game from the Fenway bleachers, while I'm feeling pretty good hosting some of my Flyers peeps back here in the Philly area. As always, we're looking forward to watching it with all you. 


 LET'S GO FLYERS!

College hoops wrap: Penn State steamrolled by No. 21 Purdue

College hoops wrap: Penn State steamrolled by No. 21 Purdue

Villanova headlined Philly college basketball action today with a 78-68 win over Providence, led by Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins (see full recap). The win is dampened with the news that Phil Booth is increasingly unlikely to return this season as he still deals with knee discomfort (see story).

Here's a snapshot from the rest of area hoops today.

Penn State steamrolled by No. 21 Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The way it played this week, No. 21 Purdue is acting like a team that is determined to be in the race for the Big Ten championship all the way to the end of the regular season.

Caleb Swanigan had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Purdue built an 18-point halftime lead and coasted to a 77-52 victory over Penn State on Saturday, four days after shooting 60.4 percent in a 91-68 victory against Illinois.

Against Penn State, the Boilermakers (16-4, 5-2) got 13 points from freshman guard Carsen Edwards and 10 each from Dakota Mathias and Vince Edwards.

"I would just say we were coming out ready to play," said Vince Edwards, who added seven rebounds and three assists. "Our goal is to win the Big Ten. Our focus is to take care of business."

Josh Reaves led Penn State (11-9, 3-4) with 12 points. The Nittany Lions made only 20 of 64 field goal attempts (31.3 percent) and were outrebounded 39-30. Purdue shot 56.6 percent (30 of 53) (see full recap).

Drexel drops road game at CAA-leading UNC Wilmington
WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Devontae Cacok scored 12 points and set a Colonial Athletic Association record with 24 rebounds, helping UNC Wilmington stay perfect in conference with an 87-74 win over Drexel on Saturday.

Cacok, whose previous career-high rebounding was 16, broke the school record (21) and conference record (22) late in the second half as the Seahawks cruised to their ninth straight home win, tying the best mark in program history.

UNC Wilmington (19-2, 8-0) led 53-51 with 15:01 left before four players combined to rattle off 12 straight points. Cacok capped the run with one of his 11 offensive rebounds and a dunk to give the Seahawks a 65-51 lead with 11:23 remaining.

UNC Wilmington is off to its best start ever and has won 24 of its last 26 conference games, including 12 straight. Chris Flemmings led the Seahawks with 17 points.

Sammy Mojica had 15 points and Rodney Williams added 14 for Drexel (7-13, 1-6), which has lost seven of eight (see full recap).

Delaware swept in season series with Towson
NEWARK, Del. -- Mike Morsell and Arnaud William Adala Moto pulled down a dozen boards as Towson won its fourth straight and a season sweep of Delaware with a 75-58 win on Saturday afternoon.

The Tigers are fresh off a win over Hofstra that saw them erase a 16-point first-half deficit, and momentum carried over when they built a 17-point lead at halftime.

Alex Thomas and John Davis added 13 and 12 points, respectively, but Towson saw its streak of three-straight games shooting better than 50 percent end. The Tigers hit 26 of 55 shots from the floor (47.3 percent), including 6 of 15 from deep.

Delaware snapped a six-game losing streak Thursday with a win over Northeastern. Ryan Daly scored 21 points for Delaware and became the first freshman in school history to post six 20-plus efforts in a season. He reached double-digits for the 12th time in 13 games (see full recap).