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OTF Travel Diary: Boston

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A journey to the birthplace of our nation for a little hockey and lot of walking.

“The heart of the world beats under the three hills of Boston.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

A site tradition since 2014, it was time for a hockey road trip, along with a corresponding entry in our running travel diary. In case you missed any previous entries, here’s some links to check out:

For this entry in the diary, I visited the great city of Boston to check out TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins.

The City

The capital of Massachusetts, Boston is a city built by and for immigrants to our great country. The “cradle of liberty” lit the spark of the American Revolution—led by brave folks who were themselves descendants of immigrants to a foreign land—then provided a haven for many of Americans immigrants during the industrial revolution and various 20th Century displacement crises.

Bostonians literally and figuratively built the city of Boston in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Figuratively, they built it’s spirit of togetherness, by being simultaneously a blue-collar industrial working town and also a town of elite educational renown.

They also literally built it, like by filling in the water from the Charles River and Boston Harbor with land. The dark green area is the land that was here when the Puritans landed in 1620. The light green is what Bostonians added over time.

Boston’s academic prestige (MIT and Boston University on the water, Harvard across the river), the industrious South End, the elite financial district, the heart of Chinatown—all of these sit upon land that was put there by Bostonians themselves. It’s a rather wholesome element of one of America’s most notable melting pots.

And though they probably weren’t thinking about this when they brought in the land-fill, if they don’t add any land in the Back Bay area, Fenway Park would be a riverfront stadium today.

This aspect of Boston is fascinating. But the city isn’t without some maddening faults.

A great deal of Boston’s infrastucture was established ex post facto, after the city had already established its core of buildings and public establishments. All of its public buildings, like meeting houses and court buildings, along with its taverns, inns, meeting houses, and churches, were not connected by roads for much of its existence. The people of Boston just walked to and fro, leading to some well-worn paths between buildings (most of these well-worn paths were between the taverns and churches, of course—our forebears liked to drink and pray, about as equally).

Then eventually they started building roads and all hell broke loose. The road intersections in Boston are known for being some of the most confusing and dangerous in the world. Here are some examples.

There are eight streets meeting at this intersection, but only a few traffic lights. Good luck out-of-towner!

There are four traffic lights for cars approaching this intersection of five different streets. Which one do you follow?? Does it matter??

You can read more about how the intersections in Boston got this way here. My suggestion to those visiting is to use the very friendly mass transit system (the “T”) because you do not want to rent a car.

Fair warning, if you do walk/use transit, you will walk about 8-10 miles a day in order to see most of the important Boston sights. We saw the Freedom Trail, the Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center (where the lead photo for this story was taken), Fenway Park and the Back Bay area, the Museum of Science, and the New England Aquarium, all in a little over two days.

And boy do my ankles feel it.

The Arena

Many of the trips in the OTF Travel Diary have been to see the Predators play in a visiting arena, but that was not the case with my Boston trip. We hit up an afternoon matinee between the Bruins and the Panthers. The game was a blowout (more on that later).

Getting to TD Garden is easy (again, as long as you don’t drive yourself), just take the T to North Station and follow signs to arena. There was some construction going on while we were there, but I would imagine on a normal day you’d have less detours and it would be even easier.

The lower concourse is narrower than Bridgestone Arena (most arenas are) but there’s still plenty of room to browse the concession options and simultaneously find your section.

Our seats were in the 300-level, so we went up a few escalators. Had we been thirsty from our journey upwards—and had we been beer drinkers—here’s what we would have paid.

Seemed pricey to us, so we passed.

As far as concessions go, they had a decent selection. The burgers and nachos both seemed tasty, and of course there was no shortage of hot dogs. The most eye-catching option was this “bigger-than-your-head, two-hands-required” slice of pizza.

The pizza slices are measured in feet, not inches.

When we arrived at our seats, we were greeted by 17 NBA Championship banners and six Stanley Cup banners, along with various other accolades and retired jerseys.

It’s an impressive array.

And our view from the shoot-twice end of the arena was just fine.

Our section was full of friendly Bostonians, all of which were eager for the Bruins to put up yet another goal on James Reimer and the hapless Panthers.

The Game Experience

Here’s where I diverge from a conciliatory tone to a more self-righteous one: a Bruins game atmosphere really has nothing on a Predators game atmosphere.

I don’t mean that the Bruins fans weren’t loud, because they were at times, but the overall game atmosphere was lacking in a certain ferocity that is present at nearly every game in Bridgestone Arena.

For starters, there was virtually no hoopla over the team introduction (and they didn’t announce the Florida starting lineup at all). When the PA announcer greets the team (“Here are your Boston Bruins!!”) the team just... appears on the bench. There’s no skate-out or anything. They announce the starting lineup—in this case, the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line—but the Bruins crowd gave it something of a golf clap. There was a much louder return for Tuukka Rask, but the overall feeling was “yeah, we get it, let’s get to the game.”

And this sentiment seemed to permeate the whole game. There wasn’t much beyond the in-game activity that got this crowd interested.

Speaking of in-game activity, here’s a rank correlation of what really got the crowd going during the game.

  1. Fight between McQuaid and Haley
  2. Fight between Acciari and Weegar
  3. Rask save
  4. Bruins goal
  5. Team intro

I get it, hockey crowds like fighting. Bridgestone Arena is not immune to this disease. But this crowd hit stratospheric levels for the two fights.

Team intro? Meh. Bruins goal? Nice. Big save from Rask? Awesome.

Fight? HELL YES

Other tangential game experiences—the mascot, the anthem, the goal song (“Zombie Nation”), the in-game entertainment, the jumbotron camera gimmicks—were minor league. I don’t know that I expected an Original Six team to rely on these sorts of crowd pleasers, but it was a disappointing level of engagement.

One fellow traveler likely also recognized a difference between Predators and Bruins home game experiences.

Oh and they have “woo-ers” as well, built into every goal announcement. As much as we hate “the woo” at least it isn’t a crowd response built into every single goal call from Paul McCann.

The Game

The Bruins beat the pants off the Panthers. Despite going up 1-0 early in the first period, the Panthers conceded possession at every turn and gave up five unanswered goals in the 1st and 2nd period. James Reimer was replaced by Roberto Luongo, but it was too late: the Panthers, and their playoff hopes, were toast.

The Panthers had a lousy afternoon, despite the wishes of one fan’s sign that read “I hope both teams have fun!”

From what I saw on the ice, the Bruins look like the Eastern favorites. They were without Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and newcomer Rick Nash, and they looked about as dominant as any team I’ve seen this year. They have speed and skill everywhere.

Looking at the Eastern Conference playoff picture, they might have a cakewalk to the Cup Final too. In the first round, they will likely face the worst team in a three team race between New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Florida. Then they would take on the winner of Toronto-Tampa Bay, before facing their toughest challenge: the survivor of either Washington, Pittsburgh, or Columbus.

If Nashville can get back to the Cup Final, we might be seeing these pants stumbling around Bridgestone Arena in June.