BOSTON — If you want to put a lump in the throat of a rough-and-tumble hockey player, just bring up the prospect of playing the sport outdoors.
“It’s special because that’s the roots of the game,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said, with a faraway look in his eye.
Freshman defenseman Dan Renouf ruminated about how much fun he and forward Devin Shore had while growing up playing on an elaborate hand-crafted rink in Shore’s Ontario backyard. They called it Shore Gardens, and Devin’s father handled grooming duties on a makeshift Zamboni.
Mark Anthoine, a Black Bear senior, said the moment ponds froze over in Lewiston was a magical one, with neighborhood kids rushing outside to push a puck around in the elements.
“If it’s cold out, the lungs get pretty tight really quick,” Anthoine said as his team prepared to face Boston University at 3 p.m. Saturday in Fenway Park.
“I think it just brings you back to childhood, being able to go out there and play pickup hockey, only this time we’ll be able to hit each other with pads on.”
The game, originally scheduled for 6:30 p.m., was first moved to 5:45 and then to 3 in at attempt to beat a troublesome forecast that includes rain. You can play outdoors hockey in bitter cold, or even a light snowfall, but not rain.
The situation is fluid. The game may be pushed back to Sunday or canceled altogether if the skies don’t cooperate.
“It’d be heart-breaking,” Renouf said of a potential cancellation.
“It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime. It’s going to be tough weather, but I think that will just make it more interesting.”
Renouf has eight members of his and his girlfriend’s families planning to attend Maine’s second-ever outdoor game. Two Januarys ago, the Black Bears beat New Hampshire 5-4 in overtime as part of what is being called Frozen Fenway.
Connor Leen was a freshman in that contest, and he remembers it as a surreal experience. The Black Bears made it a point to get their photos taken everywhere – in the locker stalls they were borrowing from Red Sox players, in front of the Fenway Park sign, atop the fabled Green Monster.
“It was just a great experience from start to finish and I can’t wait to get back there,” Leen said.
“From an energy standpoint, you definitely have more. You’re outdoors and it’s exciting and you’re ready to go.”
Anthoine scored two goals in his Fenway debut. He said he recalls the scene vividly.
“Just the whole camaraderie of all of us being there together in such a rich, historic environment. It was behind hockey itself. It was part of sports history,” he said.
“Everyone from New England on the team has a heart for the Red Sox.”
Anthoine said a photograph taken before that game of his entire class still serves as the background on his iPad. It was a chilling moment, despite the fact the game was played in 60-degree weather.
Saturday’s forecast calls for highs to reach the mid-50s. No one will be keeping a closer eye on the weather than Kevin Ritz, the team’s equipment manager.
He said players will be given the option to choose their own extra gear – a hat or a pair of gloves to wear beneath their equipment, for example. But one thing will be mandatory.
“Every guy will have a pair of skate guards when they’re walking to and from the ice because it’s a long walk and we don’t know what they may step on,” Ritz said.
He’s bringing an extra glove dryer. He’ll monitor ice conditions to see what impact it’s having on the players’ skates.
And he’ll look to the sky.
“I can’t do much to keep them dry,” he said. “I wish I could hold an umbrella over all of them, but I only have two hands.”
Renouf said rough ice would be appropriate for this Black Bears team.
“I think it suits our game of hockey. We’re not overly skilled, but we’re going to be chipping pucks, we’re going to be chasing pucks to the net,” he said. “We’re kind of a gritty-nosed team, and the ice conditions kind of match our style.
“We’re really just there for the two points. I’m going to soak it in, but we’re there for the hockey.”
Of course, if there’s too much soaking, there won’t be any hockey.
But you get his point.
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: