Following the success of the 2010 Winter Classic, Fenway Park, the great icon of Boston and home to the Boston Red Sox, has once again been frozen to accommodate an NHL size rink. For the first two weeks of January, Fenway will showcase the best young players in the hockey world. A wide variety of New England Colleges and Universities will compete in a number of games, including the two headline events when UMASS, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire play, and Boston College plays Northeastern. The precious few other available time slots on the ice are given to high schools and corporate sponsors of the Red Sox. However, two youth hockey teams from Martha’s Vineyard were holding aspirations to be added to the mix. Over the holidays, the Squirt teams (ages 9-10) got busy sharpening their skates in preparation to take to the ice in the historic park of homeruns and world series championships. Then confirmation came - the MV Squirts would compete at Fenway!
So how did this dream of a lifetime come about? Peter Gillis, a parent and coach for one of the two teams looked into getting ice time shortly after the event was announced. Originally, they were told that no spots were available, but with the help of Bob Mone, a long time youth hockey supporter, they were able to secure a coveted spot on the Fenway ice. The team families went about fundraising to pay for the ice, and with the generous contributions from a wide variety of Island companies, team parents and team relatives – they were able to provide the Squirts with this once in a lifetime Christmas gift.
On January 3rd the MV squirt teams and coaches set off for Boston on a cold and sunny morning. On the ferry there was talk of a pod of whales, (the Army Corps of Engineers shut down the Cape Canal for two right whales of which it’s estimated only 500 exist) the kids played with their new toys, gadgets and i-everything's received over the holidays. But mostly, there was the excited chatter of nine and ten year olds sporting Bruins hats, jackets and thick hoodies - New Englanders, hockey fans, fresh-faced Vineyard kids, some young ones maybe unaware of the significance of this special day, as the routine of the trip itself was familiar to them. On the bus to Boston with bags stacked, sticks strapped and mouth guards in their pockets, they were ready for another game. The squirts are two of five travel teams from MV youth hockey that have been playing competitive games since October, traveling most weekends for off-island games, practicing hard twice a week, working closely as a team.
It wasn’t till we rounded the corner on Massachusetts Ave, when the lighting, seating, and billboards of the 100 year old park came into focus, rising up to the sky, did we hear the first kid shout. “There it is! There’s FENWAYYYY.” And the excitement ran through the bus and caught hold of each kid and it was apparent some parents too. Their faces told of delight just to be entering into the Fenway zone, many for the first time.
Upon arriving the teams were led through the concourses of Fenway Park, past the empty hotdog stands, into the Red Sox clubhouse, and down to the Red Sox batting cages underneath the stands. The cages had been transformed into a makeshift locker room where the teams would dress for the game. Players and parents took turns walking up into the Red Sox dugout, and had their pictures taken in the same seats of their Red Sox heroes.
At 1:30 the puck dropped and the purple and white of Martha’s Vineyard dominated the ice in Fenway. We came as a compact group. Parents Dave Pizzano and Travis Pachico wore the stripes and blew the whistle. Teenagers Mason Jeffers and Nick Vukota kept score, and the crowd of parents, family and friends stuck close to the rink-side and cheered them on. The Squirts played a great game, a friendly game against one another, but they played competitively nonetheless. With a 3-3 score by the end of the second and the temperatures dropping rapidly, they came out in true Vineyard style to provide us with a close and exciting third period and kept us jumping up and down which was needed as it was now below freezing.
On the sidelines there were very little acoustics, unlike the indoor home rink. Missing were the click and clack of skates and the thwack of stick on puck. Instead we got incredible views of the Prudential building looked down on them and the Green Monster as notable backdrops to their game. The teams traded goals in the 3rd period, and the Squirt 2 team battled hard to get the puck in and even the score but as the last second ticked in, the horn blew, and they finished the game with the Squirt 1 team winning 5-4.
A win-win nonetheless, the kids marched off the ice through the Red Sox dugout really proud of themselves. On the way home rushing to beat the city traffic, grabbing pizza on the run to get to 5.00pm ferry, it was clear by their mellow happy faces that dreams were fulfilled and memories were made.
The MV Youth hockey is a non-profit with large and rising expenses each year and relies solely on fees and fundraising. The commitment alone for parents begins with $1,200 for the year and that is not including gear or out-of-pocket expenses for parents to support their children. They are the children of parents who make up the backbone; the service and skills of the island industry. Every year they come back to registration because of the many great attributes youth hockey offers young children: to learn how to play as a team, to learn the importance of sportsmanship and to develop a lifelong passion while character building through hard work.
In an effort to grow our numbers and give all young children the chance to play at a reasonable cost, (the new beginner season is free) the organization has started a new initiative GROWMVYH. If you love the game and/or wish to support this program, please contact email@example.com. For information on starting to play hockey go to the website www.mvyh.org