BOSTON – When Mike Sullivan talks about his youth, his memories of playing baseball in Marshfield, a suburb of Boston, we could believe it.
Sullivan was raised as a Boston Red Sox fan. With his grandfather, he used to listen to the games on a very small radio, and to live the great moments of the club, but above all, the many disappointments of the time when being a Red Sox fan came with its share of suffering.
“He would sit in a rocking chair and we would listen to Red Sox games on the radio. He was smoking a cigar with the window open,” Sullivan said as he prepared to fly from Pittsburgh to Boston, where the Penguins will face the Bruins at Fenway Park in the 2023 Discover Winter Classic. the NHL on Monday (2 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, TVAS).
Sullivan grew up in the Boston area, he went to Boston University, he played for the Bruins in addition to managing them. But since 2015, Pennsylvania has been his home, he was named head coach of the Penguins on December 12, 2015. He won the Stanley Cup that same season, then the next.
Every time he set foot in Fenway Park it was as a fan, very often with his father George Sullivan, who died four years ago. That’s what comes to mind as the January 2 date approaches.
« I think about it all the time, » he said.
George Sullivan, who was born in South Boston, passed away on September 15, 2018. Although it will be difficult for the Penguins driver not to have his father close to him as he leads a game at Fenway, he consoles himself by remembering that George was there for the two Stanley Cup conquests, but also when Mike brought the trophy back to his hometown for the celebrations.
« He was staying at my house with my wife on those two Stanley Cup trips, and he was at the parade with us, » Sullivan said. It was an incredible experience to go through all of this with my father. I’m really grateful for that.
“I think about it even more as the event approaches, because I know how excited he would have been to watch me lead a game at Fenway Park, which we loved so much.
“My dad took us to a Red Sox game once a year. It was the ultimate privilege to be able to go to Fenway Park. »
Sullivan shows his gratitude to the group of current owners of the Red Sox, who modernized the stadium built in 1912 while allowing it to retain its historic character.
« It’s incredible, » he said. I always get chills when I set foot in the stadium. I’ve taken my kids to games and get chills when I see the Green Monster, when I smell the smell of peanuts and everything associated with the ballpark experience. »
When the Winter Classic made its first stop at Fenway Park in 2010, Sullivan hadn’t been at the helm of the Bruins for four years. He was then an assistant with the New York Rangers. He admits to having had a slight twinge in the heart when he saw that the Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers were going to cross swords at the legendary stadium on January 1, 2010 as part of the third Winter Classic.
“I was a little jealous. I would have liked to be part of it. »
This time he will be part of the party. His family too. Sullivan decided to invite everyone close to him, including his children and his wife, but also his brothers, extended family and school friends.
It will be a special day for everyone. Whether in Boston or Pittsburgh, Sullivan knows the impact sports can have on a family, in victory or loss.
“I can’t tell you how many times my heart was broken in the playoffs with the Red Sox before they were finally able to win the World Series (in 2004), Sullivan said. I think sport has a big impact on people and it’s a unique way to bring families together.
“Whenever we had family parties in the summer, we inevitably chatted about the Red Sox with my uncles and cousins. That’s how I grew up. I don’t know anything else. »
And that’s why Sullivan struggles to describe the significance of what he will experience on Monday.
« It’s hard to express, because it’s so personal, » he said. I was born and raised in Boston. I have great memories of Fenway Park, going to Red Sox games with my dad, my brothers and my family. So to have the chance to take part in the Winter Classic in such an emblematic stadium, for me as well, is the experience of a lifetime! »