I remember the little TV. It was a tiny black & white, maybe 6 or 8 inches and it had a little handle on it. My dad usually kept it in the garage to watch stuff when he was down there working on a car or whatnot, but one day the TV in my parents bedroom crapped out and he hauled it upstairs, tin foil, antennas, little crappy speaker and all. This had to be somewhere in the 1978-1979 time frame, but I really can’t remember. But I remember this – that was my first exposure to the Boston Bruins, or at least the first one I can remember. The Bruins were my original must-see-TV.
There were countless nights after that, spent laying on the bed watching the games with my dad. Probably hundreds of them. It is one of the stronger fabrics of my childhood. The years flew past, as they do. The mini-TV got moved back downstairs in favor of a bigger, color one and the Bruins kept playing, every fall through spring. With each passing year, my idols would retire, be traded or just change. Brad Park. Pete Peeters. Terry O’Reilly. Barry Pedersen. Rick Middleton. Steve Kasper. Ray Bourque. Cam Neely. Adam Oates…..they all just faded, one into the other, not for lack of personality or accomplishment, though — it all just rolled along like your favorite TV show – some were good episodes and some were not.
My first game was Thursday, December 11, 1980 at the old, dusty, wonderful Boston Garden. I was nine. My dad was 34. But it feels like yesterday – I can still taste the Garden pizza, can still probably draw for you the view from our seats, just under the Garden balcony overhang between the blue and red line, looking across to the Bruins bench. I have such vivid memories of being in the pro shop before the game, looking in bewilderment at all the cool Bruins stuff. Walking across through the slightly dark North Station lobby, full of smoke, old thick wood benches and a few people living on them. The big old clock down there right before you walked out to your train. The gray-walled, winding ramps up to the arena. They played the Quebec Nordiques (so BLUE!), with the Stasney brothers flying around and a local kid named Ftorek, too, early on in his career. They lost 5-3. I remember so much about it all. I was already very much a hockey fan by then and had been playing for five years already, but THAT was something else. To BE there! I remember walking outside on Causeway St after the game, my dad holding my hand. He asked “so what did you think?” I don’t remember my answer, only the question. But I can probably guess what my response was.
Spring of 1983. I’m twelve. My mom and sister are watching the big TV in the living room, so my dad and I are back in the bedroom for game 7 of the Buffalo-Boston Adams Division Finals at the Garden. We watch intently and when, in overtime, Brad Park buries his own rebound with a slap-slot from the top of the circle, we rejoice, big hugs and laughs. See it here, the video is only :33 seconds:
It’s truly like yesterday for me.
1987-88. I’m a junior in high school. We split season tickets with a family friend and thus began our regular trips into the Garden, right at the time Bourque, Neely, Moog, et al, hit their peaks. A wonderful time to be seeing live games. Of course, my dad and I attend many of them and see some great games, the most memorable is one in which he has a new company car (’88 Chevy Cavalier) and we park it at Alewife, as we always did, and take the Red Line to Park Street and the Green line to North Station. I don’t remember the outcome or who they played, but I know I had a high school game the next day. We get back to the garage, turn the ignition and……nothing. No way to get home. We end up in that flea bag motel right on Route 2 and I miss half of school the following day, which, by MIAA rules, makes me ineligible to play that night. Or so I thought. Our Athletic Director Pete Richards calls me into his office and TELLS me I was there all day (and apparantly tells the main office the same thing). I fall in line, nod in agreement and play that night.
So it goes. In and out of Bruins games, year after year after year. They make the playoffs all the time, but can never reach the pinnacle. I go off to college and watch several seasons from afar, hitting Pittsburgh and the Igloo when the Bruins are in town. At one point, I painted the large rock at Kent State with the Bruins logo, but they always end up losing to Pittsburgh in the playoffs, who were an absolute force. Neely’s career basically ends and it’s a slow, steady downward spiral. For about ten years the Bruins are irrelevant – I go to games while living in Somerville, pay $20 bucks or whatever for the back row of the balcony and always sit in the first 5 rows off the ice. Easy. A few blips here and there, such as the night I watched Anson Carter bury one in double overtime during the Tar Hut years, while drunk and watching one of our bands play at the Bay State in Northampton, MA.
But for the most part the Bruins are silent players. Then….the lockout. Suddenly there’s 30 teams (something I still hate).
Then, in the 2006-2007 season, the Bruins are relatively awful, but I watch every game, because Stephanie is pregnant and in bed every night by like 8:30, so I have nothing to do. There’s a flicker of hope in their game, though, and the next few seasons are exciting. And then there’s this season. Much like what is now a generation ago, I split season tickets with a friend. I go to 12 games and see 10 losses, but the Bruins still do well. You know the rest, right?
But I have to tell you about the ride this year during the playoffs. I can’t be silent about it. I was at every game except for Game 2 of the Montreal series. I was invested – financially, mentally, physically. Walking out of that arena after these games, I truly felt like I’d played. As cliche as it sounds, it was one of the rides of my life. I will never, ever forget game 7 of the Conference Finals vs. Tampa Bay, perhaps the best hockey game I have ever seen. Those Cup Finals games were terrific and raucous and fun and LOUD, but I have never heard a crowd that loud in my life that night after Horton scored the only goal of the game and then the moment they clinched it. Just unforgettable. Now the memories come rolling through – Thomas stopping Gionta. Horton’s double OT goal, then doing it AGAIN in OT four nights later to eliminate Montreal. The SEGUIN game! Too many amazing memories…..
My dad was with me when the Bruins said bye to Philadelphia, then again for game 3 of the Cup Finals, which I will forever remember as the night real life took over hockey (see my work blog post on that here). The memories of this run are endless and I will hold them dear for the rest of life. It might be the best money I’ve ever spent. To be a part of the crowd, to hug strangers, to high-five EVERYONE in sight, to continuously be able to trot friends and family in that building with me for the playoffs is something I will cherish for so long. The result, as you know, was tremendous. The company and the enjoyment and the feeling that you were really, truly, a part of the team is unbeatable.
So this morning, the circle for this season got closed. We brought our own boys with us right to the base of the TD Garden, where the old barn used to stand. And I swear it would have been right at center ice of the old Boston Garden where the Bruins players came out, trotting the hardware just 15-20 feet from us and spoke of their appreciation for us fans – and I felt like they meant it. I couldn’t help but think of all the games I’d seen in person and all the games I watched as a kid with my dad, which happened right on that very spot where I held my boys and stood next to my wife, watching the Cup, the Prince of Wales trophy and the Conn Smythe trophy sitting there on the stage. I felt nine again. Bewildered. Almost wide eyed. I felt the same elation I’d felt so many times growing up watching this team. But most of all I loved hearing that crowd. All as one. Can’t even imagine what it must have felt like as a member of the Bruins these past few days.
Later on, just like that Decmeber night in 1980, I asked my own boys “so what did you think?” Maybe they’ll remember their answer someday or maybe they won’t……but I got to close out the season this morning with my family next to me and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who, just like me, got to exhale this year. And boy did that feel good.