Being a level-headed sort, Defenseman Brad Park is careful not to crow unduly over his good fortune with the Boston Bruins. True, Park was suitably elated last week when the Bruins extended their home-ice unbeaten streak at the Boston Garden to 31 games. He also was pleased with his own play, including two goals and an assist in Boston's 4-0 win at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, followed by a goal and an assist in a 4-2 victory over Vancouver on Thanksgiving in Boston. By these and other means Park helped keep the Bruins, playing their first full season without Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, atop the NHL's Adams Division with an 18-4-1 record, the best in hockey.
Still, Park gloats about all this only up to a point, exercising a restraint that was evident when he and his father-in-law, a gent named Bob George, stopped for lunch the other day at a Boston restaurant called Duke's in the Park. Seated beneath a painting of a reclining nude, Park spoke of many of the changes in his life since he was traded to Boston by the New York Rangers 13 months ago, but he studiously left it to George to fill in some of the happier details of the move. This occurred, for instance, as Park discussed the relative proximity of his handsome home on Boston's North Shore to the Boston Garden.
"When I was with the Rangers, I lived out on Long Island," he said. "It took over an hour to drive to Madison Square Garden for games and there were 65 traffic lights."
"And two tolls," George interjected.
Park nodded and went on. "In Boston it takes me just 20 minutes to get to the rink and there's only one light."
"And no tolls," George said.
It could be that the blessings Park enjoys in Boston are simply too plentiful for any one man to enumerate. This was not the way things were supposed to work out, certainly, when the Rangers dispatched Park, veteran Center Jean Ratelle and minor league Defenseman Joe Zanussi to Boston early last season for Esposito and Defenseman Carol Vadnais. The way everybody had it figured, the key man in the historic swap was the gregarious Esposito, the NHL's leading goal scorer in recent years and a popular figure with Boston fans. Park had also enjoyed considerable success, having been named first-team NHL all-star defense-man in three of his seven seasons with the Rangers. As time wore on, however, the New York press and public had soured on him, concluding he was overweight, overpaid and—though only 27—maybe even over the hill. The word in New York, as elsewhere, was that the Rangers had pulled a slick one on the Bruins.
The verdict today is exactly the opposite. The change is obvious in Boston's Three B's restaurant, where news of the big trade last year set diners to grieving over their veal parmigiana and prompted owner Joe Palladino to cover up the boccie court he had installed in a back room expressly for Esposito. Now Palladino cheerfully admits, "Espo is a good guy, but Parko is, too." Parko? Palladino shrugs. "He's played so well for the Bruins, I gave him an Italian name."
A similar transformation has occurred in Madison Square Garden, where fans lustily booed Park in his last days as a Ranger. The other morning Val Tkaczuk, whose husband Walt plays for the Rangers, phoned the Park residence in suburban Lynnfield. "There was a sign in the Garden yesterday," she related. "It said, ' Brad Park we miss you, please come home.' "
Park was properly moved. "It sure was nice of Val to put up that sign," he said.