I’ve been watching the Boston Bruins, in their quest for the coveted Stanley Cup, for the last couple of months. And I could be wrong, but I swear I’ve been watching the games with my father. Which seems impossible, since he passed away away in 1989. But it feels that way. Let me explain.
I’ve been a Bruins fan since I was 10 or 11 years old. With aluminum foil attached to the rabbit ears of our puny television set, I remember watching the Big, Bad Bruins on Channel 38. Through that often snowy, fuzzy VHF TV image I got my first taste of sports legends like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny “Pie” McKenzie and Goaltender Gerry (Cheese) Cheevers. My father and I would watch pretty much every game that was televised, enthralled by the end to end rushes by a Bobby Orr and that incredible scoring machine named Phil Esposito. When the Bruins scored we’d jump to our feet and hoot and holler. When they’d fight we’d yell at the TV, as if they could hear us. For a kid like me, it was heaven on earth to watch the Bruins with my Dad.
My uncle Fran was a Boston police lieutenant, who had the assignment on Bruins game nights to maintain peace and civility at the Boston Garden press entrance. This, my dear reader, was akin to having the key to paradise. Whenever we wanted, including during playoff games, my Day and I would scoot surreptitiously through the old turnstiles and into the old Boston Garden. Oh, what joy!
So even when the games were sold out, we could get in. We didn’t always have a seat, but we could stand behind the last row of the first balcony. I’d often find a couple of seats and sometimes, if folks didn’t show up, we sat in the seats for the entire game. But for a 12 year old kid, just being in the building with such greatness was fantastic. I can remember going down to box seats near the ice before the games to watch the Bruins warm up. Now mind you, these were the days before helmuts, so we could get a really close look at our heroes. Orr, Espo, Ken Hodge, Johnny Pie, Wayne Cashman, Freddy Stanfield, Don Marcotte, and the rest.
But mostly we watched Orr. With his shock of light brown hair, our hero was a sight to see in person. He seemed not to skate, but to fly around and around the ice during warm-ups. He skated faster and shot harder than anyone else on either team. And this was during the warm-ups. When game time came he was even more intense. Night after night after night, Orr carried the Boston Bruins. He was dynamite on ice.
He was the greatest hockey player ever. Period.
My father cheered the Bruins on with an intensity that seemed to sometimes exceed that of the Bruins players. He was incredibly passionate about sports and it showed. When the Bruins would score, he would yell “GOAL!!!” so loudly and the sound seemed to come from deep inside him. It was a guttural sound of glee. In fact, it was so loud, sometimes I’d be slightly frightened by it. That’s how intense he was. And if there was ever a fight, he would holler just as loud.
I remember one Bruins game we attended during which we found seats fairly close to the ice. The Bruins were playing the rival, hated New York Rangers, with their star defenseman Brad Park. Orr, who was so tough nobody would dare challenge him to a fight, was bickering with Park all game. You knew something was brewing (Or Bruin?). Suddenly, near our end of the ice, Orr and Park dropped their gloves and squared off to fight. The refs let them go at it. The two star defensemen hammered away at each other. About halfway through the fight, my father, who was standing already, screamed out, “You get him, Bobby” and I swear to this day that I thought my Dad was on the verge of scaling the Plexiglas and jumping onto the ice to join in the fight. Ha ha ha. I was actually surprised, my Dad wasn’t ejected from the game, along with Orr and Park.
In the 1972 playoffs, when we watched a couple rows back behind the last row of the balcony. The game was tied in when we watched Bruins left winger Ace Bailey (who was tragically killed during 9/11, a passenger on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center) went whipping down the near side. We stood on our toes and saw Bailey’s flash of blond hair as he skated in and scored the winning goal. It was pandemonium inside the old Boston Garden. The Bruins would go on to win their second Stanley Cup in three years. It would also be their last Stanley Cup for 40 years and right up to this final series. But I’ll never forget my father using his best broadcast voice (his dream was to be a sportscaster) to recound Bailey’s goal to me after the game. Good old Ace Bailey…
Hard to believe that was 40 years ago. So many things have changed. I’m older now and have much less hair, and hopefully much more wisdom. The old Boston Garden was the victim of the wrecking ball. It has been replaced by a monolith of a building in the same spot with absolutely no personality, called the “new Garden.” Yeah, sure. And as I wrote, cancer stole my father’s chance to live to an old age. I still miss him all the time.
But the game of hockey has basically stayed the same. There was a fellow named Gerry Cheevers who used to mind the net for the Bruins. He sure was a character. Cheesy would mark his face mask with a magic marker every time he got hit in the face.
Now we’ve got another truly great goalie named Tim Thomas, from Michigan, who pretty much stands on his head to stop every shot that comes at him. He’s truly the best player on the ice every night.
The names have all changes, but the spoked B still stands out proudly in Black and Gold. And tonight the Bruins will play one of the most important games since they first started playing 77 years ago. If they lose, they will have had an incredibly exciting, with a very sad end. And if they win, they’ll have another shot for the cup in Game 7 in Vancouver.
Either way, I’ll be watching. And when the Bruins score (and hopefully they’ll score early and often), my father’s spirit will be sitting next to me, screaming his guts out, jumping in the air, throwing his arms out to me, in victory.
Yes, in sweet, sweet victory. So, for my Dad, and for all the fathers and sons who have similar stories, let’s hope the Big, Bad Bruins win.