The subtle change of season between late fall and early winter brings hope to every young hockey player’s dreams. As the temperatures gradually fall below freezing and the first flakes of snow cover the cold, hard ground, a phenomenon, unseen for a majority of the year, known as the outdoor hockey rink begins to sweep across the great lands of Canada and the northern United States.
Outdoor hockey’s allure is a special experience for all players regardless of age. It doesn’t matter if it’s a backyard rink, a small patch of ice on a local reservoir or a full-fledged regulation-sized rink inside a baseball or football venue for the Winter Classic or Stadium Series.
As the Bruins prepare for their Winter Classic tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks in two weeks time, Bruce Cassidy channeled his inner-child. Boston’s bench boss recently took some time with the media to reflect on his experience of growing up in the hockey-centric culture of southern Ontario.
Cassidy, an Ottawa native, never had a problem finding a hockey rink as a kid — indoors or outdoors. He had the luxury of having one of the largest nature-made rinks in the world right in his very own neighborhood.
“We had the longest skating rink in the world, the Rideau Canal. It was seven or eight miles long, so as kids we always had field trips there and we skated there,” Cassidy said. “It was more across the street for me growing up. I had two schools — a French school and an English school — and they both put up rinks, so it was easy to crawl across the street. I think every kid in Canada lived on outdoor rinks, there was always one nearby — I love that part of it.”
Boston’s third-year bench boss hasn’t let his age deter him from bringing his childhood values and memories on a sheet of ice in the blistering Canadian cold to New England. In his spare time, Cassidy enjoys skating on a rink that he built in his backyard with his wife, Julie, and two kids, Cole and Shannon.
“I have one in my backyard right now. Shannon got on it for the first time last night for three hours and it brought a tear to my eye,” Cassidy noted. “So I just love it. It’s part of my upbringing and probably most of Canada’s.”
The 2019 Winter Classic at historic Notre Dame Stadium will be a slight upgrade from the Cassidy forum. The 78,000-seat football cathedral has been home to the Fighting Irish for 88 years and has seen the likes of Joe Montanna, Joe Theismann, Paul Hornung and Jerome “The Bus” Bettis grace its field on fall Saturdays. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and the rest of the Bruins — in their third Winter Classic appearance — will be skating among football legends when they take the ice in South Bend, Indiana on Jan. 1.
Yet, amidst the iconic gold and blue ‘Play Like a Champion Today’ sign and ‘Touchdown Jesus’ shrine that landmark the Notre Dame campus, don’t expect Cassidy to be carried off the field like Rudy Ruettiger in the 1993 Hollywood film. His college football allegiances belong to a different blue-blood program.
“As for Notre Dame, no, growing up I didn’t,” Cassidy said about his Notre Dame allegiance (or lack thereof) growing up. “But Tommy Clemens I think was their quarterback way back when. He ended up playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders and won a Grey Cup for them.”
Canada’s football landscape, both collegiate and professional, is vastly different. Cassidy, like many of his fellow countrymen, was a free agent when it came to college football allegiances.
In fact, he decided his fandom several decades ago based on two simple colors: scarlet and silver.
“On Jan. 1 we would go to the neighbors and the bowl games were on. So when I was 8,9, 10-years-old I liked Ohio State because I liked their helmets. I didn’t know what a buckeye was but I liked the silver in their helmets,” Cassidy added about his love for the B1G powerhouse based in Columbus. “So I became a Buckeyes fan. And when you’re from Canada you get those options because you’re kind of a free agent when it comes to that. If I said I cheered for the Ottawa GGs, you would be looking at me like who the hell are they?”
Simply put, the GG’s aren’t the Buckeyes — or the Bruins for that matter.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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