Saturday, December 19, 2015

Boston Bruins History

Since November 1, 1924, the Boston Bruins have been at the epicenter of hockey in New England.

On that day, a young grocery store financier from Vermont, Charles Francis Adams, who had fallen in love with the game while watching the Stanley Cup playoffs, paid the National Hockey League a rumored $15,000 for the privilege of owning a team in the finest hockey league in the world and icing the first American based squad in the NHL.

After that seminal day, the Bruins have served as the beloved hometown hockey team for each New England town, hamlet, city and village.

At their best, the squad has been a world-beater, with names such as Orr, Esposito, Cheevers, Bourque and Neely becoming household words as they led Boston to numerous division and conference crowns and five Stanley Cups. And even in the years when they did not post much of a challenge to their NHL brethren, Boston's hockey team held true to the notion that Bruins do not leave anything on the ice.

The first manager of the franchise, Art Ross, was a Hall of Fame innovator who led the team from its infancy through its first three Stanley Cups. However, his boss Mr. Adams certainly helped cement his credentials when he purchased the entire Western Canada Hockey League to supply talent for his club.

Eddie Shore
That substantial purchase yielded Boston's first superstar, Eddie Shore, the first in a line of Black & Gold clad superstar defensemen.

The stories surrounding Shore are legendary. One of the tamest reads thusly: He once missed a team train from Boston to Montreal in 1929 and drove straight through from Boston in a blinding blizzard to arrive in Montreal at 6:30 on the night of the game. Despite suffering from frostbite, of course it was Shore who scored the game's only goal in a B's victory.

But it was a change of venue, and the ascension of the Boston hockey fan from partisan to true fanatic, that would deliver Lord Stanley's famous jug to Massachusetts.

From 1924 to 1928, the Bruins played their home games in the venerable Boston Arena (now Matthews Arena at Northeastern University), but on November 20, 1928, the B's played their first game in the illustrious Boston Garden.

If Fenway Park is New England's communal back yard, the Garden was greater Boston's rec room. Unfortunately for the 17,000-plus in attendance for the first game in the storied edifice, the Montreal Canadiens secured a prophetic 1-0 victory.

However, the 1928-29 season heralded the creation of one of the greatest forward lines hockey has ever seen and gave the Hub its first sip from the Cup. Dubbed the 'Dynamite Line' because of their offensive explosiveness, Ralph 'Cooney' Weiland (who would later become a legendary college hockey coach at Harvard, after coaching Boston to a Stanley Cup in 1941) centered Aubrey 'Dit' Clapper and Dutch Gainor. Behind them on the blue line, Shore and fellow future Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Lionel Hitchman protected the legendary Cecil 'Tiny' Thompson in the B's net, and together they brought home Boston's first NHL championship.

Milt Schmidt
The 1930's saw the B's compile five first-place finishes, with many individual honors accrued. Thompson captured the Vezina Trophy as the league's premier goalie four times, meanwhile Shore was awarded the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) four times as well. But it was another legendary goalie, Frank 'Mr. Zero' Brimsek, who alongside Mr. Shore, lead Boston to another championship after the 1938-39 season. That year Milt Schmidt, a young man from Kitchener, Ontario, joined shore, Brimsek, Clapper and Weiland and would play a very significant role in B's history.

Schmidt, who would later go on to be the only person ever to serve the Boston club in the capacity of player, captain, coach and General Manager was joined by linemates and hometown buddies Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart. Together, the 'Kitchener Kids' or more famously the 'Kraut Line' (because of their shared German heritage) terrorized the NHL on their way to their third Cup (and second in three years.).

Although the Bruins made it to the Cup finals in 1943, World War II dismantled a budding dynasty in the early '40's as Schmidt, Bauer and Dumart enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and goalie Brimsek (a Minnesota native) left leaving to join the American war effort.

The 1950's did see three Stanley Cup finals appearances, but Boston only finished as high as second during the decade, and that high just once. Milt Schmidt retired in late December 1954 and assumed the coaching reigns, but despite his best efforts the team did not make the playoffs until 1968.

John "Chief" Bucyk
One very bright spot of the 1950's was the arrival, via a 1957 trade with the Detroit Red Wings, of future Hockey Hall of Fame left wing, John Bucyk.

"Chief" played 21 season in a Bruins uniform, held every team career offensive record for over 20 years and, to this day, remains the team's all-time leading goal scorer. He would go on to serve as team captain for five seasons and had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup twice and was rewarded with the Lady Byng Trophy as the league's most gentlemanly player twice. He continues on with the club (in the capacity of Team Road Services Coordinator) and recently celebrated 50 years with the organization.

One historical highlight came on January 18, 1958 when Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada native Willie O'Ree became the first black player to participate in a regular season NHL game. During the 1957-58 season O'Ree saw action in two games with the Bruins.

The greatest defenseman of all time, Bobby Orr, arrived during the 1966-67 season and began his Hall of Fame career with a Calder Trophy (given the NHL's top rookie) and a second-team All-Star selection. With Orr in the fold under the tutelage of head coach Harry Sinden and with Schmidt now the GM, the Bruins began an amazing run of success.

Spurred on by the acquisition of offensive stars Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from Chicago, the Bruins entered the 1970's as the team to beat in the NHL.

Bobby Orr
These were magical years for Bruins fans, as Orr set league records and standards for defensemen, Esposito became the first player in NHL history to record a 100+ point season and Gerry Cheevers seemed to stop every puck shot towards his goal. In 1969-70, Orr became the only player to ever win the Norris, Hart, Ross and Smythe Trophies in a single season. In the playoffs that year, everything came together in near perfection and in the final game, against St. Louis for the Stanley Cup, the score was tied 3-3 after 60 minutes of regulation. As the overtime commenced, folk hero Derek Sanderson fed Orr whose shot found a break in Blues goalie Glenn Hall's pads.

Orr sailed through the air in front of the cage and into history, not only as the man who returned the Stanley Cup to Boston after an absence of 29 years, but perhaps also as the greatest player of all time.

In 1971-72 the magic came back as the Stanley Cup returned to Boston after a year's hiatus. The Bruins went through the playoffs losing only three games in taking the quarterfinals from Toronto, 4-1, and sweeping St. Louis in a four-game semifinal to set up the Final vs. the NY Rangers. Orr set an NHL record for assists in the playoffs with 19 and for points in the playoffs by a defenseman with 24. On May 11, 1972 in New York, the Bruins took their second sip from the Jug in three years with a 3-0 win over the Rangers. Orr became the first player ever to win two Smythe Trophies as he again scored the Cup-winning goal.

Terry O'Reilly
The rest of the seventies were exciting for the Bruins and their faithful fans, what with the club reaching the finals in 1974, 77 and 78 and the arrivals of defenseman Brad Park (another Hockey Hall of Famer) in 1975. However, the legendary Orr would be beset by injury and he would play very few games alongside the talented Park before moving on to Chicago in 1976.

Under the new ownership of the Jacobs family, during the late 1970's 'Lunch Pail A.C.' and the 'Big Bad Bruins' replaced the firepower of Orr and Esposito, and despite the lack of superstar talent, the B's had superstar heart embodied in the bench bound bravado of coach Don Cherry (he served from 1974-79) and Terry O'Reilly.

O'Reilly epitomized the Bruins of his generation with his toughness combined with offense. He is one of only four players to lead the team in scoring and penalty minutes in the same season and served as team captain from 1983 to 1985. He still ranks eighth on the team's all-time scoring list and is the B's all time leader in penalty minutes.

Under O'Reilly (as his captain, and later as his coach), a young defenseman from Quebec would lead the Boston charge into the 1980's.

Ray Bourque
Raymond Bourque would begin his twenty-year tenure on the Boston Blue line. Bourque was the first non-goaltender in league history to win the Calder Trophy and also be named a First Team All-Star in his rookie season (1979-80). Bourque emerged as the leagues preeminent defenseman, won five Norris Trophies and would finish his career in Boston as the team's all-time leader in games, assists and points.

But playoff success in the form of Stanley Cup Finals appearances did not emerge until, in 1986, Sinden (who would remain the team's GM until 2000) engineered a trade with Vancouver, which yielded power forward Cam Neely.

Named an NHL All-Star on four occasions, Neely led the team in goals in seven of his ten seasons, including three 50-goal seasons, and holds the team record of goals by a wing with 55 in 1989-90. He won the Masterton Trophy for dedication in 1993-94 when he scored 50 goals in just 44 games after missing most of the previous two seasons with thigh, knee and hip injuries. He, like Orr, played until it simply hurt too much to continue.

Encouragingly, the Bruins reached the NHL finals in 1988 and '90, but ran into the powerful Edmonton Oilers teams captained first by superstar Wayne Gretzky ('88) and then by the ubiquitous Mark Messier ('90) and were only able to muster one win between the two final series.

Cam Neely
However, led by Bourque and Neely, as well as fine goaltending in the form of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin, an unprecedented string of success against the Montreal Canadiens highlighted the early to mid 1990's as the B's defeated their legendary rivals, and their Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy, in three straight playoff match ups during the decade. However, perhaps having saved their best for le bleu, blanc et rouge, the B's failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals.

That success against the Habs and a change of venue for the club in 1995, when the team moved to the building now named the TD Garden, brought an air of optimism to the city.

But early playoff exits in the conference quarterfinals, the retirement of Neely, two playoff DNQ's and the departure of Bourque had the Bruins on shaky ground to start the millennium.

However, high draft selections in the form of Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov and Nick Boynton, added to names like Glen Murray, Hal Gill, Byron Dafoe, Brian Rolston and Kyle McLaren, had the Bruins of the pre-lockout NHL competing at a high level until the playoffs where they were twice derailed by Montreal, once by Buffalo and once by New Jersey.

After the lockout and the trade of Thornton, acquisitions like current captain Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard,  as well as the additions of veterans including Mark Recchi, Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg (coupled with the continued development of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tim Thomas and Milan Lucic), lent a hopeful tone to the second half of the  first decade of the new millennium, especially as Cam Neely, now the team's president, General Manger Peter Chiarelli, Assistant General Managers Jim Benning and former Bruins standout Don Sweeney, steered a course to victory in the contemporary NHL.

That leadership group, anchored by the play of Vezina trophy winner Thomas, led the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup to end a 39-year title drought. Coming into the playoffs as the seventh seed, the Bruins eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in dramatic fashion, swept the Philadelphia Flyers, battled past the Tampa Bay Lightning, and rose above the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 to win The Cup. Text by Bruins /

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