Snoopy was standing there at the blue line, gritting his teeth and snarling as he listened to the last few words of the national anthem before the start of the hockey game. "Ten more seconds," he thought, "and I can clobber somebody." The Boston Bruins tacked the comic strip onto the bulletin board in their dressing room, and a player penciled in a final caption: "Snoopy could play for us."
So he could. The Bruins are the biggest, toughest, roughest, meanest, most penalized team in the National Hockey League this year. Led by the wondrous defenseman Bobby Orr (see cover) and Center Phil Esposito, who is on a scoring binge, the Bruins can also play hockey. They have a strong grip on first place in the East Division and are threatening to win their first championship and their first Stanley Cup since 1941. And this is only the start of what seems certain to be the next dynasty in the NHL.
The Bruins have lost only one of their last 21 games, despite a heavy run of injuries that Coach Harry Sinden hopes reached a climax last Thursday night when seven Boston regulars were unable to play in a 2-2 tie with the Red Wings in Detroit. Forward Tommy Williams (knee) and Defenseman Gary Doak (mononucleosis) both have been lost for the balance of the season. Derek (Turk) Sanderson, the brash 22-year-old center with the longest, thickest sideburns, the widest bell-bottoms and the biggest Cadillac in the league, did not play for a month because of an injured hip. And volatile Eddie Shack has been in only one game since he suffered a mysterious hand injury just before Christmas.
During this siege, neither Sinden nor General Manager Milt Schmidt has cried poor mouth. Instead, they have reached down to Hershey of the American League and Oklahoma City of the Central Pro League and recalled some of their prize young prospects. According to hockey experts, the Bruins have more potentially outstanding young pros in the minor leagues than any other NHL club—not forgetting Montreal.
Oklahoma City, as usual, is leading the Central League. After scouting the Blazers one night a St. Louis Blues official decided that Oklahoma City right now probably could finish third in the West Division of the NHL. Toe Blake, retired coach of the Canadiens, challenged the Russian national hockey team, which is trying to schedule a grudge match against the NHL, to "go down to Oklahoma City and beat them first."
The young players called up during the injury crisis, particularly Don Marcotte, Wayne Cashman, Rick Smith and Jim Harrison, have performed like hardened Bruins. They have been rough and mean and not afraid to pick up penalties. Cashman started Boston to one victory when he smashed New York's Reggie Fleming with an elbow thrust. Smith has replaced Doak as the team's regular fifth defenseman. Harrison, who has been centering Sanderson's line the last month, has been the most adventurous replacement of all.
Harrison wears his sideburns almost as long and thick as Sanderson and plays with the same disrespect for his elders. During his first shift in a game against the Canadiens in the Forum, Harrison successively ran at John Ferguson, Henri Richard and Ted Harris. Harrison spent six minutes in the penalty box that night, but he so angered the Canadiens that they spent most of the game trying to retaliate and almost forgot about hockey. The Bruins won easily, and Harrison made the Montreal headlines.
Then, last week in Detroit, the 21-year-old rookie confronted Gordie Howe—the man you do not challenge—and the Red Wings for the first time. Slam. He put Howe into the boards. Later they collided again, and this time Howe's stick fell to the ice. Harrison looked at it, paused and then kicked it 30 feet down the ice. "He's what you'd call a disturber," says Milt Schmidt.
Such disturbances have helped the Bruins to accelerate their momentum during what could have been very difficult times. Orr, the 20-year-old marvel who gradually is replacing Bobby Hull as the league's most exciting player, and Esposito, who leads all scorers with 73 points and may become the first player ever to get 100 points in a season, have manipulated the assault so well that the Bruins are the league's highest-scoring team. Meanwhile, there has been the usual pugnacity by the other Bruins. Teddy Green, the team policeman—and an All-Star defenseman—has enforced law and order according to the Bruin code, with considerable help from Ken Hodge (who also has scored 26 goals), Johnny McKenzie, Don Awrey and both Cashman and Harrison.
The Bruins also have the league's most vociferous fans. They do not tolerate timid players. The fans particularly dislike players who wear helmets—the Bruins have none—and when they urge the team on, their choice of verbs is not Beacon Hill.