Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, foreground, looks back at the puck while snow falls at Fenway Park in Boston, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009, during team practice in preparation for New Years Day's Winter Classic NHL hockey game. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Elise Amendola)
BOSTON - Mother Nature must be a hockey fan.
The snow started falling on Fenway Park just as the Boston Bruins were walking out to the temporary ice surface for practice Thursday afternoon, providing a signature, made-for-TV moment ahead of the Winter Classic. "Right on cue," said NHL ice guru Dan Craig.
Before long, players were grabbing shovels and helping clear the ice while others looked out to the 97-year-old baseball stadium's defining feature - the Green Monster, which was quickly taking on a white hue.
It was a scene reminiscent of the one shown in television commercials promoting Friday's game between the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers (1 p.m. ET). Players from both teams could hardly contain their excitement while finally getting the chance to skate outdoors at Fenway.
"Pretty much with the snow coming down this afternoon was just a perfect scenario," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "Because it's a practice. It's for everybody to kind of get the feel and for you guys, for the TV, it's just a perfect scenario.
"Tomorrow, we would like to have no snow and no rain and have it perfect conditions."
That is one wish that isn't likely to come true. Meteorologists were calling for more snow on Friday, which could make for some great TV pictures but might slow down the game.
Two years ago in Buffalo, the Winter Classic game between the Sabres and Penguins was stopped several times while crews cleared snow off the ice.
There didn't seem to be any concern about the overall quality of the ice surface at Fenway, with several players suggesting it was better than some NHL rinks. The league's refrigeration unit appears to be paying dividends.
"I wish that we were playing today," said Craig. "We are ready to go right now. We had a tough day a couple of days ago, but this thing is rock solid right now."
The Flyers practised after the Bruins on Thursday and had their own fun with the snow. Jeff Carter, Riley Cote and Scott Hartnell all made snowballs and threw them at one another.
"I'm not sure why, but you can screw around a little more in this atmosphere," said Cote. "This is what sports are all about."
Mike Richards couldn't have agreed more.
"Today was really special," said the Flyers captain. "You think about it a little bit coming in, (but) you don't realize how special it is until you actually get out there and see Fenway Park and the Green Monster while you're playing hockey. It's pretty neat."
Both teams are doing their best not to overlook the fact that an important two points will be up for grabs.
The Flyers enter with a four-game winning streak thanks in large part to goalie Michael Leighton, the waiver-wire pickup who has a 1.70 goals-against average and .943 save percentage since joining Philadelphia. He'll get the start over Brian Boucher, who grew up in nearby Woonsocket, R.I.
Boston didn't announce its starting goalie.
This will be the NHL's fourth outdoor game in the regular season and might feature something none of the others did - a fight. Neither team is lacking for toughness.
"We both are bigger teams and we like to play physical when we can," said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. "You know, just thinking about the ice, when the ice gets more snow on it, it may slow it down a little bit, but I expect there to be contact, to be hitting, and whatever flows from there."
Added Chara: "I don't think there's going to be any holding back. 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."
The day before the game was reserved for fun.
The practices were conducted with much less intensity than normal and many of the players' family members got to skate on the ice after they ended. One of the lasting memories for many guys will no doubt be the first moment they each walked up the steps of the Boston Red Sox dugout and saw snow falling on an ice sheet that stretches from first base to third base.
"It looked cool," said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. "Going up those stairs was pretty neat."
Added Flyers winger Danny Briere: "I don't think it could be any more perfect than it is right now."