BOSTON — In retrospect, it was hard to believe what they pulled off Saturday at Fenway Park.
Thunder pounded the stadium like fireworks explosions. Lightning streaked the sky. Rain came billowing in over the right-field grandstand.
And still they got an outdoor hockey game in, a 7-3 Maine victory over Boston University.
“The challenge all day was keeping the puck playable. I don’t think the players were ever at any risk, with the possible exception of the thunder,” Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna told reporters between the second and third period of the nightcap at Fenway, a game that featured a 69-minute rain delay.
The game was originally scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. It was moved to 5:45 p.m. in a concession to the 8:15 Patriots playoff game being played just down the road.
Then, with rain in the forecast, the faceoff was moved up to 3 p.m.
But that was after Northeastern and UMass-Lowell completed the noon first game of the doubleheader.
Time was of the essence, Bertagna said, and the response was to shorten up intermissions and TV timeouts in the opener, played in an incessant drizzle.
Still, the puck didn’t drop for Maine vs. Boston University until 3:30 p.m. Shortly after that, the thunder and lightning arrived, forcing a delay that stretched on long enough to make people wonder if the game would ever resume. There was the option of continuing the game Sunday afternoon.
But Bertagna said officials were loath to take that step.
“You’ve got a lot of people who bought tickets for (Saturday),” he said.
“Maybe they can’t come Sunday. So we were trying to do that balance between accommodating people who didn’t want to come back, we assumed, and juggling with the elements.”
All that was needed for an official game was two full periods, so when play did resume, the first intermission was shortened to five minutes and the players never left their benches.
Then, the rain started subsiding and a full intermission and third period followed.
Players said the conditions weren’t ideal.
“Just the unpredictability with that layer of water on the ice, The pucks can bounce anywhere,” Maine center Devin Shore said.
“It takes a toll on your legs. It was obviously slow ice, so you get fatigued quicker than you would otherwise.”
Maine freshman Cam Brown said shifts were shortened to alleviate the fatigue. But still, the near-constant rain weighed on the players. Literally.
“Mainly, the skates were the heaviest. It felt like you had weights on your feet,” he said. “But it was good for conditioning, I guess.”
‘WE HAVE TO PLAY THIS GAME’
Brown is the only Massachusetts native on the Maine roster, growing up in Natick, just 20 miles from Fenway. You can only imagine what Saturday’s game meant to him.
“We woke up (Saturday) morning and we were all kind of wondering if they would cancel the game early,” Brown said long after the game ended, surrounded by family members wearing his replica jersey in the Fenway concourse.
“As soon as we got here and we warmed up on the ice, we were like, ‘We have to play this game. Don’t cancel this game. We’ll play through anything.’”
The Black Bears didn’t dress in the Red Sox locker room, but Brown got a glimpse inside and spotted the cubicle of his favorite player, Shane Victorino.
Later, in the dugout, some of the players picked up the bullpen phone to see if anyone would answer. Apparently, they wanted to call for a relief pitcher.
“We were all smiling like kids the whole day,” Brown said.
Added Shore: “I’m at a loss for words. When you’re walking out and you kind of take a quick peek back, it means even more with them just winning the World Series. You sit in the dugout, waiting for the game to begin and David Ortiz was sitting right here.”
BACK IN EYE-BLACK
As the Maine players lined up for the national anthem, the camera panned to the face of defenseman Daniel Renouf and the crowd couldn’t help but laugh. Renouf had a half-dozen streaks of eye-black running down both sides of his face, a look both menacing and comical.
It was a team theme. The Black Bears all sported some version of the grease that baseball players wear to reduce the glare of sunlight.
“We just had to do that, because baseball guys do it and it was all part of the fun,” Brown explained.
Shore showed up for the postgame interviews sporting large rectangles of black grease covering each cheek.
“I used to play lacrosse,” Shore said. “It’s an outdoor game as well, so we kind of do fun stuff like this.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: