Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bruins' Stanley Cup title takes me back in time

The last time the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup I was a senior in high school in Maine.

Now I am closer to be a senior citizen I feel like I’ve waited a lifetime for their win another one.

Thank you.

The big, bad Bruins have always held a fond place in my next. They helped get me through a dark time in my life. My parents had divorced and my mother re-married and moved me and my youngest sister to a new house way out in the country, away from my best friends in town. It was a painfully lonely time and I didn’t have much fun or excitement to embrace.

Yet I remember one Sunday night in particular when I went to bed and couldn’t fall asleep. I turned on my tiny transistor radio by my pillow and happened upon a Bruins’ hockey game. I didn’t know one name from another but one name stood out. It was a catchy name. Just liked the sound of it.


My radio dial thereafter was tuned to Espo. Soon I started to differentiate one name from the other. Bobby Orr I knew. Phil Esposito I came to love. The others I learned. Wayne Cashman and Ken Hodge, his linemates. Captain Johnny Bucyk and Pie McKenzie. Gerry Cheevers and Fred Stanfield. Ted Green, whose career ended when a Toronto Maple Leaf player smashed his stick on Green’s head. “Ace” Bailey, whose life ended, tragically, as a passenger on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers.

And Derek Sanderson? I wanted to name my first-born son after him.

Their games got me though a tough patch in my life.

One thing led to another. My dad bought me a table top hockey game one Christmas and a hockey stick the next. I bought a “Jesus Saves, Esposito Scores On The Rebound” bumper sticker. The Bruins started winning and I started following them with the same passion I reserved for the Red Sox. I’ll never forget the call on CBS by the late, great hockey announcer, Dan Kelly, when Orr, on a give-and-go from Sanderson, scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in Game 4 in the old Boston Garden. It remains a sports classic to this day … Orr, parallel to the ice, arms extended, celebrating the goal that gave the Bruins their first Stanley Cup in 29 years.

The Bruins were beloved again in a city that deep down has always been a hockey town, even when the Celtics were hoisting all those championship banners.

The Bruins captured my heart and imagination when I needed a distraction. Their Stanley Cup championship in 1970 filled an empty void in my life.

Eventually I moved from Maine to other states and other jobs and I lost touch with the Bruins. Checked the standings to see how they were doing, but never had the same enthusiasm for them. Tim Thomas, out of the University of Vermont, I knew. The others I didn’t really learn well enough until these Stanley Cup playoffs.

They didn’t have a Bobby Orr – who does? – but they had the same grit and determination that the Bruins of the late 60s and early 70s possessed. They were a blue-collar team. They were the Dallas Mavericks to the Vancouver Canucks’ Miami Heat, if you get my drift.

The best team, not the most talented, won. The Canucks, who had the most goals scored and the fewest goals allowed in the regular season, were outscored 21-4 in the final five games of the Stanley Cup Finals. Their players took cheap shots at Bruins’ players and their fans vented their frustration by booing American-born NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman when he handed the Conn Smythe Award (for playoff MVP) to American-born Tim Thomas, denying the 40-year-old Canucks their first-ever NHL championship and Canada of its first Stanley Cup in 18 years. That anger spilled out into the streets into rioting.

Way to go, Vancouver. Great city. Poor sportsmanship.

As for the Bruins, they left the ice with class and the Cup, their first championship in 39 years. It was an extraordinary effort by one of the Original Six.

I now rejoice with Bruins fans but my appreciation of the Bruins goes deeper and is much more personal. Through a transistor radio 43 years ago, the Bruins brought joy to me at a time when there was little to look forward to in my life. The big, bad Bruins were good for me.

Then and now.


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