MAY 9, 1977
Thirty years after he backstopped the Boston Bruins to the franchise's fifth and last Stanley Cup championship, Gerry Cheevers remains devoted to the team and its cause. For the last seven years the Hall of Fame goaltender has worked as a pro scout for the Bruins, tracking major and minor league talent that could help build the club into a champion again. And though Boston bowed to Montreal in the first round of this spring's playoffs-after putting together the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season—the 61-year-old Cheevers believes the team is on the verge of something special. "You're always in this thing for the ultimate goal: to win the Stanley Cup," he says. "The Bruins are so close. I'm just a scout, but I'd like to have a little role in that."
Of course Cheevers once played a large part in bringing the Cup to the Hub. In 12 seasons with Boston (1966-72 and 1976-80), he went 229-93-74 and, along with Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, led the Bruins to Stanley Cup titles in '70 and '72. The short-on-talent-but-long-on-heart team earned the blue-collar nickname Lunchpail A.C. (Athletic Club), and Cheevers, his mask decorated with stitches for every time a puck hit his face, was one of its most emblematic heroes. His stats, while solid (a career goals-against average of 2.89), were never good enough to earn him a Vezina Trophy, or even get him selected for the All-Star team, but his clutch play won him leaguewide acclaim. Don Cherry, Canada's Mr. Hockey and Cheevers's coach with the Bruins from 1976 through '78, once called him "the best ever to play the game."
"You hear that stuff sometimes, and you just giggle," says Cheevers, who broke up his stints in Boston with a three-year run with the Cleveland Crusaders of the WHA. "You lose as much as you win. Luckily, everybody forgets the losses."
Modesty notwithstanding, Cheevers built a reputation as one of the finest postseason goalies of his era. In 1970 he won 10 straight playoff games, an NHL record at the time. "I think my approach to playoff games may have been more serious than it was for regular-season games," he says. "But we just had such a good hockey team that no matter how badly any person would play, the team would always make up for it and win."
When Cheevers retired in 1980, he immediately signed on as Boston's coach, becoming only the fourth goaltender in NHL history to move behind the bench. The Bruins made the playoffs in his first four seasons, winning two Adams Division championships, but when they struggled during the 1984-85 season because of injuries and dwindling confidence, Cheevers was forced to resign. A relaxed character as a player, he was criticized in the media for maintaining a similar demeanor as a coach. "After that, I decided I never wanted to coach again," Cheevers says. "It's just too tough. You have to be a 24/7 guy, and I just don't think I'm that type."
So Cheevers began a broadcasting career with Sports Channel New England. For 10 years he did yeoman's work in providing color commentary on the pallid play of the Hartford Whalers. "Calling one of their games then certainly wasn't like what it is today," he says of the Whalers, who five years ago moved to North Carolina to become the Hurricanes and are playing the Red Wings in this year's Stanley Cup finals.
Cheevers still works in broadcasting, doing about 20 Bruins games a season for the New England Sports Network, and still lives outside Boston with Betty, his childhood sweetheart and wife of 38 years. The couple's three children are grown, and Cheevers spends much of his free time doting on his four grandchildren, two of whom live in the Boston area. "I'm just hibernating up here in New England," he says. Cheevers also makes time to raise money for the Ace Bailey Children's Fund, a charity that supports programs for children and families coping with stress and illness. The charity is named for one of Cheevers's Bruins teammates who was aboard United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower on Sept. 11. "Ace was a good friend," he says.
One pastime Cheevers no longer pursues is horse racing. In his playing days he was an avid reader of the Daily Racing Form and once owned a colt named Royal Ski, who was the country's leading 2-year-old money winner in 1976, finishing ahead of Seattle Slew. The next spring, however, Slew was winning the Triple Crown and Royal Ski was sidelined with a virus—leaving Cheevers convinced that racing was not his game. "I don't own horses or watch racing anymore," he says. "I got spoiled with a really good horse, and I got out of it."
These days the man the Boston faithful once affectionately called Cheesy is content with lots of golf and his Odyssean quest to win another Stanley Cup. "I wouldn't trade my career for anything," he says. "You're always in this for the Cup. I want to be a part of that."