It would be hard to fault Bostonians if they were used to outdoor hockey games at this point. After multiple Winter Classic games, as well as the biennial Frozen Fenway set of matchups, the city has had its fair share of hockey in the great outdoors.
On Wednesday, however, the city will get a different look at the idea. Instead of the confines of Fenway Park or Foxborough's Gillette Stadium, Hilary Knight and Red Bull have teamed up to bring the inaugural Open Ice tournament right into the heart of the city at City Hall Plaza.
The two-hour tournament, starting at 5 p.m., will feature eight teams of four skaters, each made up of two NWHL players and two top-tier amateurs, in a single-elimination format. While the prizes hadn't been made known as of Tuesday, Knight, a member of the U.S. Olympic team and an NWHL All-Star representing the Boston Pride, is ready for the competition to be fierce.
"It's going to get competitive toward the end, when people realize they're going to get eliminated," Knight says. "Especially with our group, we're so competitive, even if you're going through the grocery store with a shopping cart, you want to beat the other person going into the door."
Of course, it helps that Knight was easily able to recruit some of the league's top players to skate with her, and there was no shortage of amateur players willing to join in.
"Lots of bribes," she said with a laugh. "They're pretty excited about it, I really didn't have to say much. I was like 'Do you guys want to play outside, Red Bull, we're going to do an event with some high school girls and play four-on-four, a bit of a different concept" and I think whenever you can get a lot of us back to the element of where we first began skating—if it was a pond or an outdoor rink, it kind of brings out that little kid in you again. It wasn't too hard of a sell."
It's hard to tell which generation of players is more excited about playing on the City Hall Plaza ice rink.
"I think it's going to be a cool experience, I think it's going to be more fan-friendly, and kind of more free," says Pride defenseman and national team member Kacey Bellamy. "Boston is such a tight-knit community, and I think people are just going to walk by and see it and say, 'Let's check that out!.' I think just the feeling of being on open ice like that outside, coming back to my childhood memories of being on the pond with my brothers and sister."
The tournament is a whole new chance to make memories, and for some, the thrill of a young lifetime—just ask 17-year-old Michaela Boyle, a standout forward for Reading High School. On the eve of the Lady Rockets beginning their playoff run, the Clarkson commit will get the opportunity to garner some extra inspiration. "I'm a little nervous, it's a pretty big deal to get invited to be a part of an event like that," she says. Thanks to her father Mike's role as the Team USA strength coach, Michaela has been around top-tier athletes as long as she can remember, and is pretty familiar with the lineup of professionals she's going to take the ice with. Don't think that will keep her from going full-speed, though. "I think I've always been looked at as a little sister or that kid on the other side of the glass, so whenever you get the opportunity to get on the ice with them, you always have something to prove."
Boyle will have plenty of eyes on her, with a lineup of pros that includes the Pride's Knight, Bellamy, Alex Carpenter, Jordan Smelker, Brittany Ott, Emily Field, Gisele Marvin, Alyssa Gagliardi and Jillian Dempsey. Also in the mix are Connecticut Whale skaters Kelli Stack, Hickel, Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno. There might even be an appearance by Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero.
"I think it's a really cool opportunity," Knight says. "It's really cool for us to be able to skate with the younger generation, and for them to skate with some of their idols and have that interaction that's so close on the ice. I think it's going to be really rewarding for both of us."
Of course, everyone wants the yet-to-be announced prizes, but for Knight and the rest of the pros, there's also a chance to help the future of their game.
"I know it's a very small event, but also there's that give-back just through sport. If the younger girls can just pick up an ounce or so here and there of what the next step looks like, it'll be a successful day for everyone. Hopefully everyone wants to do it again the following year, and maybe we can do it again on a bigger scale."