NEWBURYPORT — It takes a good sense of humor and a healthy dose of bravado to lace up your skates and face off against the likes of famed Bruins winger Rick Middleton and his team of "Black and Yellow" alums.
In the spirit of good fun, that's just what a group of local coaches and dads will do tomorrow at 1 p.m., when they take to the Graf Rink to battle some of the most talented and storied players in Bruins history.
While any good bookie or statistician would pick the Bruins' potential lineup of Middleton, Terry O'Reilly, Ken Hodge and Bruce Shoebottom to emerge victorious in tomorrow's game, Newburyport Youth Hockey League President Shawn Richmond is predicting a win for the young players enrolled in the city's youth hockey program. And that's what it's all about for the coaches and for the Bruins players, who still remember the joy of playing youth hockey on their local pond or rink.
"We've had some budget restraints due to some price increases at the rinks we utilize," said Richmond. "Every one of them has gone up in price over the prior year. Even the Valley Hockey League that we play in has increased their fees."
Since this year's price hike was steeper than past increases, Richmond said he had been looking for ways to curb costs without placing the burden for the increases on parents in the system. But until two months ago, it looked like there would be no other way. Then he met someone who offered to help.
"I was introduced to Rick Middleton at a Bruins game through Kenny Hodge," said Richmond. "And Rick is very familiar with the Newburyport area, and indicated he'd love to have the opportunity to do an alumni game up here. I jumped right on board with that."
With some expedited planning on Richmond's part, and thanks to the graciousness of the Bruins alumni players who agreed to travel to Newburyport on a holiday, the inaugural St. Patrick's Day Classic was officially worked into the league schedule. Richmond, who will play defense in the game, jokingly said he has two goals for the event — not to get hurt, and to raise enough money to defray 2012/2013 tuition costs.
"Over the last six years, we've been able to hold steady on our tuition and registration fees, which in these economic times is a great strength to our program," said Richmond. "But it's getting increasingly more difficult with the economy and what we've got going on with the facilities, so having these guys come in is going to help us be able to subsidize some of the budget issues."
While the Bruins alumni team has not been made official, Richmond said fans who have followed the Bruins through the years will be treated to a stroll back in time as players line up in the arena where generations of locals learned to skate and live out their hockey dreams. Fans can cheer not only for players from the past, but also for friends and neighbors like Dick Tierney, who has served as a backbone of youth hockey in Newburyport and will serve tomorrow as the captain of the Clipper team.
Others playing for the home team include Richmond and coaches Chris Groth, Tim Brennan, Mike Bennett, Paul Sullivan, Steve Marshall, Christina Lynch, Randy Bandoian, Arthur Begin, Greg Raposa, Rick Wilson, Chad Forrest, Mike Caponigro, Dan Wilson, Brendan Bruner, Dan Arel, Chris Smith, coach Nate Buckley and goalies Pat Foley and Jason "Five Hole" Donlan.
The coaches playing have all proven their mettle by improving the skills of young players in Newburyport, but Richmond isn't making any predictions on whether they stand a chance against the Bruins, especially if the B's bring to the Graf the kind of physicality they played with before retirement.
"From what I've seen of these guys when they participate, they go out there and have a lot of fun, but I still think they're competitive," said Richmond. "They want to be competitive. They may put a smile on their face, but at the end of the day, there's reasons why these guys are successful, and that's because they've always been competitive. They still have the hockey blood going through their veins."
In a bid to lessen expectations on the Newburyport team, or to let the fun, self-deprecating dialogue set an early, raucous tone for the event, Richmond predicts a future loss will be pinned on the shoulders of Donlan, who has never played the goalie position before.
The doors to the rink will open at noon for those looking to purchase tickets or find a good spot along the glass. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Attendees will have an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets and win an assortment of gift cards and gifts donated by local shops and restaurants.
"These folks want to do right for the kids," said Richmond of the Bruins alumni team. "I think they recognize this is a nonprofit, and they probably recognize the costs of playing hockey and trying to get skills and buying equipment. They've lived this life and understand what we're going through, and they want to give back to the game."