"See you at the roast," I said.
"Keep your head up." warned Doc.
On every dinner plate there was a puck that carried a photo of a tight-lipped Reece surrounded by his game stats—25 shots, 14 saves, a .560 save percentage. On the other side was a picture of a grinning Sittler and this note: HALL OF FAME TICKET. FEB. 7, 1976 GAME PUCK. SIX GOALS, 4 ASSISTS.
The five-page program for the evening included old newsclips headlined REECE IN THE CREASE AWAITS HIS RELEASE, and REECE'S NIGHT TO DISREMEMBER, and The Boston Globe's game story quoting a shell-shocked Reece: "If there ever was any doubt that this isn't a cutthroat business it's gone now. We're down 8-4 and what are they doing? Pouring on the coal. More steam! More steam! Guys are fighting each other to get over the boards. Guys are shooting from everywhere." At least Sittler hadn't stripped him of his sense of humor, I thought.
There were gifts: the alleged game puck, a hunk of rubber battered almost beyond recognition; a Bruins jersey with REECE on the back—"We picked it out of a trash can at a Springfield bus terminal, Dave"; a goalie glove with no pocket or webbing, supposedly the one Reece used that night; the promise of a tube of Solarcaine for the burn the goal light had left on his neck; and, finally, a Pick-Me-Up bouquet, which, if it didn't pick him up, at least set him up for what came next: the videotape.
"We thought you'd like to see these goals, Dave, because we know you didn't see them the first time," said Simmons, the M.C., switching on the VCR containing a tape of all the game's goals.
Reece leaned back in his chair, and laughed as the game appeared on the TV monitor. There was Toronto's Lanny McDonald picking a corner with a perfect shot. "No way I could've had that," said Reece to a chorus of groans from the rest of us. Toronto's Ian Turnbull put one in the net high on Reece's glove side. "Good hands, David," said someone at the table. A fight broke out in the game. "I should've been third man in and got myself thrown out," said Reece. On the monitor, Sittler scores, then Borje Salming, then Sittler again.
"They're sending a guy to Trailways for the bus ticket now," someone said. Sittler completes his first hat trick with a 50-footer off Reece's stick, and George Ferguson makes it 8-3 Toronto. On the screen Sittler scores three more, the last from behind the net on a bank shot off a skate. The tape ended and Reece got to his feet and applauded. I was sitting beside him and it seemed to me he was genuinely amused and, more than that, relieved.
"A toast, gentlemen," someone said, "to the man who made Darryl Sittler a legend."
Reece's friend Larry Smith gave a slide show of highlights of Reece's career and among the jabs was an ego-saving picture of Reece at the University of Vermont when he was the state's 1971 Athlete of the Year. Of that award Reece said, "I beat out a..." and then laughed so hard he could barely say "cow." Everyone laughed. Someone told the story of the way Dave used to toss pucks up in the air and bat them, baseball-style, out of the zone with his goalie stick and of how in an overtime game at Vermont he tossed a puck in the air and whiffed on the swing. The puck rolled into the cage, costing his team the game. There was absolute quiet in the rink until Reece's father shouted from the stands, "The only thing left now is suicide." Reece laughed at the memory.