A day before the puck drops on the 2016 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 1, an alumni game between the storied organizations will take place.
This won't be your typical alumni game. It won't be played like a game of shinny. Both alumni organizations are pulling out all the stops and building some impressive rosters, including goaltending.
This game will have shades of the 2003-04 conference quarterfinals. For the Bruins alumni, former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft will be in the net. At the other end of the ice, the Canadiens "old-timers" will respond with Jose Theodore.
Raycroft, 35, is now a goaltending coach for the University of Connecticut and also works for a financial firm in Boston. Theodore, 39, is a hockey analyst for TVA Sports in Montreal.
ESPN.com recently sat down separately with each to talk about the upcoming rematch as well as other hot topics.
McDonald: How much fun do you guys think this alumni game between the Bruins and Canadiens will be?
Theodore: I think it's going to be great. First thing, seeing a lot of old friends and old teammates, that's always what you miss. I only retired two years ago, but the thing I enjoyed the most is when you go back to the arenas and see different players that you played against, or played with, and that's the most fun. So now being able to have a game and play with old teammates, that's going to be the thing I'm really looking forward to.
Raycroft: It's going to be fun. Time goes by fast. It's crazy how fast it goes. Obviously, I'll probably be one of the younger guys out there. My career ended pretty recently compared to a lot of guys, so that will make it a little weird that I'm playing in an alumni game just in general because it makes me feel a little older than I actually feel, but that happens to everybody and you learn to deal with it, but it's going to be fun.
McDonald: Given that Bruins-Canadiens is one of the best rivalries in all of sports, what do you think the competition will be like at the alumni game?
Theodore: It's going to start pretty friendly, then slowly as the game goes on, you're going to see the level of play getting more intense, more intense and you'll see the level of competition getting higher and higher because it's all people that want to win. You want to play well and, at the end of the day, you don't want to look foolish. You want to go out there and play hard, but I'm sure as the game goes on you're going to see some of the guys doing a little extra. Looking at the rosters, it's a pretty good lineup, so I'm sure the level of competition is going to be pretty high for an alumni game. Nobody's going to want to look back and say they looked old or looked bad, so they're going to push hard.
Raycroft: You hit [it] on the head. Initially, I was thinking, 'Oh, this is going to be fun, just a little twirl.' As it's getting closer, you realize it's actually going to probably end up pretty serious once the puck drops. It's not even comparable to what's going to happen the day after, but I would imagine the juices will get going. Again, it's not going to be playoff intense, but it will get going and I'm sure everyone's going to want to win. That never changes.
McDonald: Both of you have been retired for a few seasons now. As a goalie, how do you prepare for a game like this?
Theodore: As a goalie, it's going to be hard because I haven't been playing. I haven't really been skating a lot. I've been keeping in shape with other things, playing tennis and going to the gym. As a goalie, you can't go play in a beer league and just say, 'Well, I'm not going to stretch to play' or 'I'm not going to go down, I'll just stand up.' If you play, you've got to really play hard, so that's why I don't really play in those kind of games. I don't play in a men's league. I do other things. My flexibility is what I'm most worried about, but I've been training a little bit for that game just so I don't hurt myself. As a goalie, you can't cheat your way. If you're a forward or a defenseman, you can cheat your way [through]. There's no hitting. You can skate and you don't have to push as hard and it won't show, but as a goalie, if you have to dive, or have to make a split, you just have to make it. You're not going to have time to think. You have no choice and that's the one aspect that worries me as a goalie. I'll prepare myself in the gym accordingly, and hopefully everything goes well and nobody gets hurt.
Raycroft: Without question, I'm not just going to put the pads on that day. I'm going to get out and practice a little bit. I haven't put the gear on for a year and a half, so I'll have it on here in the next month and a half a few times and be ready to go.
McDonald: Now, what type of equipment are you going to use?
Theodore: I'm actually still waiting for a pair of pads. The pads I had, I auctioned them off for charity. As of now, I was planning on having pads to start skating, but I'm still waiting for some Vaughn pads. I was talking to my rep for Vaughn pads and I was bugging him because I said, 'Listen, I know I'm an old-timer now and I'm not playing in the NHL, but please, I gave you three months to make one pair of pads.' I said, 'Please, for old times, take care of your boy. I may have to go on eBay or to the store to buy a pair of pads.' He was laughing. [When] 'I was playing in Montreal, I would receive one pair every week and now I call you in August and I still don't have a pair of pads,' so I was bugging him, saying, 'OK, I can see the difference and I know where your priorities are with the old-timers.' It was all fun and games. But, I'm still waiting for a pair of pads and hopefully I will get them soon, so I can break them in a little bit because not only is it hard to play with new equipment, the fact that I haven't played in a couple of years.
Raycroft: I went up to Wilmington [Bruins' practice facility] two days ago, and it's been literally 10 years since I was up there. The training and equipment staffs are still around and I haven't seen those guys in a long time, but to see them in Wilmington was kind of back to the future. I picked up some equipment and it'll take me a few practices to break it in.
McDonald: Who will you guys skate and practice with to prepare?
Theodore: In South Florida, there are maybe seven or eight guys around my age that just retired that live around here, and we can get ice time to skate. There's Petr Sykora, Marty Havlat, Ed Jovanovski, Marco Sturm -- he's playing for Boston's alumni, so he'll be my opponent. These guys will be able to warm me up and get me ready for that game, but the problem is I need some equipment. I don't want to look too old out there. I still want to look quick and give the fans something to cheer for. I'm getting excited, to be honest. We're all proud guys and it's only been two years since I played my last NHL game and I finished on bad terms. I finished with an injury and that's why I wasn't able to keep playing because I tore my groin. That's how my career ended and it always leaves a bad taste in your mouth. For most of the players, that's how a career ends and it never ends on a positive note. Now, I just want to make sure I'm able to skate and feel good out there, and I'm just looking forward to again putting the Montreal jersey on because I played 10 years for the Montreal Canadiens, so there are a lot of things for me to get pumped up [about].
Raycroft: The alumni are going to put a few skates together. I'm still helping out at UConn, so I've talked to them and I'm going to be able to go on the ice before a practice, but the college kids are pretty excited to shoot on me at some point. I just make sure they'll keep it below the knees and we'll be OK. That's what I'm looking forward to doing the most, and I'll be able to do it kind of on my own and work into it slowly so I don't embarrass myself right now. I'll get on the ice and quietly getting ready.
McDonald: You guys battled during the quarterfinals of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins led that series 3-1 before the Canadiens eventually won it in seven games. What will it be like now to look down the other end of the ice and see each other?
Theodore: There are certain players or goalies around the league that bring back memories. It could be good memories or bad memories. When I played against Raycroft, even when he was playing for Toronto or other teams, for me it was always great memories because it would bring me back to that series when we made a comeback against Boston. It was a great battle between me and Raycroft, and every time I play against him, it brings me back to that series. It was his rookie year and he started that series on fire and we just couldn't beat him. Slowly, I started to feel good about my game when we were down 3-1. I had a solid [Game 5] in Boston and stopped 43 shots [in a 5-1 win], and then we came back to Montreal and I knew the fans would be pumped. That was the game we needed to win, and we won that game and the fans were awesome.
In Game 7, it's anybody's ballgame, but I knew we were facing a rookie goaltender and I thought maybe his lack of experience would show, but Raycroft, to all his credit, he didn't panic and played a solid game. It was 0-0 all the way to the third period when Richard Zednik scored a goal and added an empty-netter to make it 2-0. I'm still talking about that series and I remember pretty much everything that happened. It was a great series for hockey fans and there were a lot of things that happened. Now, being able to play against Raycroft, it brings back a lot of good memories.
Raycroft: Obviously, those are the ones you look back on the most. Personally, that was the most exciting time in my career, playing in that playoff series. We had some good duels and it was a lot of fun. He obviously had a great career. He was always a guy, even through juniors, that I looked up to. He was a first-rounder and a world junior guy, so I always was trying to keep up as best as I could to his career. I know [Theodore] well enough to say 'Hi' but we really didn't have much of a personal relationship. We played against each other for a long time and have many mutual teammates over the years. I'm sure we were in the same establishments a few nights over the years but nothing real personal. I always really liked him. Always thought he was someone I would hang out with.
McDonald: As the game gets closer, how do you think you're going to feel?
Theodore: There are so many great memories playing against Boston, the timing couldn't be better to have an alumni game. For this to be my first game back with the Montreal Canadiens against the Boston Bruins, I couldn't ask for a better scenario. I had most of my success in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and most of them came in the playoffs against Boston, so for me, this alumni game is the perfect scenario. It's great.
Raycroft: It's going to be a pretty cool thing to do, and now my little guy is six and a half, so he'll be able to come down, hang around and hopefully he'll remember most of it. That's the cool part about it for me.
McDonald: Speaking of equipment, what do you think about the league possibly making changes again to the goaltending equipment, or deciding to go with a bigger net?
Theodore: I don't think any changes should be made. It's not a problem. The game is in good health. You look at the game the last four or five years, it's been the best hockey with a few a minor adjustments. It's really fast. There are a lot of quality chances. The biggest problem wasn't enough goals getting scored, but there weren't enough quality chances. Yes, the goalies are bigger and better, but you can still have a really exciting 1-1 game, or 2-1 game and it's still exciting. I feel there are a lot of quality chances and the goalies are better, which is just a reality of the game. I don't feel there should be any changes. Protection-wise, a goalie would have to give up too much and this is pretty much as small as they can be. The nets, if you make the nets bigger then you would have to rewrite all the history and record books and it would be a new game, so I don't think you should change the nets either. I would just leave the game as it is because I think it's healthy.
Raycroft: The goalies are huge now. The bigger nets just doesn't work, it doesn't make sense to me right now. They could definitely bring the equipment down way before they open the nets up. The chest protectors are overprotecting without question, but at the same time, not playing anymore I don't want to be "that guy" where I'm criticizing these guys. Players now are shooting hard, a lot harder than when I was playing and it isn't fun to get hit by pucks in practice every day, so I do have a lot of sympathy [for] the fact that more padding the better, through practice at least. But the goalies themselves are physically bigger and the equipment hasn't gotten that much smaller despite all the rules that they put in place. It doesn't seem like it's gotten streamlined the way they want.
McDonald: So, how would you change the chest protector?
Raycroft: A company can't make specific custom equipment for all 130 goalies in all the NHL systems. That becomes a bit of a problem. Some guys have bigger shoulders than others. Some guys have longer arms, so basically they can only make a large or extra large, so it's going to be tough to make every goalie that specific and that custom. You can protect a guy pretty much as well as you are now with lowering it an inch and a half on the shoulders, or shrinking it on the arms a little bit -- if possible. Logistically, it's more difficult than the fans maybe realize sometimes.
McDonald: Why do you think the league seems to be focusing on goaltenders and not the sticks or equipment of players?
Theodore: Because it's a normal reaction. If you feel that there are not enough goals being scored, you're going to focus on the goalie. I don't really think the league is pointing at the goalies or the net, they're just trying to think of any idea to improve the game to get more goals. The only thing that might be an option, and it wouldn't be a big change, and it might help some the scoring, is maybe change the way the goal posts are. If you make them more in a triangle way so that the angle goes towards the inside of the net, you know that every shot that's going to hit the inside of the post it will deflect into the net. You can do that without changing the size of the net, or the dimension of the goalie equipment. That could be an option that would be minimal but would improve the scoring. Overall, I just don't feel the game is boring. Since [the rule changes] in '04, the game's been playing at a fast pace and that's all we want to do. We complain about All-Star Games because there are too many goals being scored and it's not an exciting game. We want to see a good exciting game, so I don't think we should change anything because the game is healthy.
Raycroft: The bottom line is its entertainment. The reality is if no one is going to watch hockey because it's a 1-0 game every time, then goalies' salaries go down. So, I think if you pose the question: Would you rather get paid more and give up a few more goals, or would you get paid less and give up less goals? I think most guys would give up a few more goals and get paid a little bit more. Goalies are going to push back and I'm completely on the goalies' side. I think the guys would rather have their equipment a little bit smaller than making the nets bigger. That would be my opinion if I was still playing. I would rather have my equipment a little smaller, just as protective and have the nets the same size then make the nets bigger and make my job so much more difficult and have to change your game completely. It's going to be one or the other at some point. It's simple math: When the goalies get bigger and fill more net, there's less net and less goals and at some point you can't have guys shooting on a goalie without any goals because the game won't survive.