"At game time," replied Cherry.
For all his rollicking ways, Cheevers is fiercely competitive when play begins. He uses his stick liberally on foes, routinely chopping down anybody who intrudes on the crease. Exhibiting more confidence in his skating ability than most goalies—he played left wing for a short time as an amateur in his native Toronto—Cheevers ventures far out of goal to narrow the angle on opponents' shots. "You've got to blitz the big shooters, or they'll blow it by you," he says. Cheevers also roams daringly far afield to clear the puck, becoming, in effect, part of his club's offense.
"Gerry gets burned sometimes, but not as often as you think," says Boston General Manager Harry Sinden. "What seems like a gamble to you and me is not a gamble to him. He doesn't make a play unless the odds are with him. And he's the same with horses. He doesn't do anything there either, unless the odds are with him."
Cheevers' first experience with thoroughbreds was walking hots and working as a pari-mutuel clerk at tracks in Ontario. That hooked him, and five years ago he began putting his hockey winnings into his own stable, the Four and Thirty ( Cheevers wears No. 30, his friend Bobby Orr wore No. 4). He combed horse-sale catalogs, and before the 1975 Keeneland fall sale put a question mark alongside the description of a yearling that his trainer, John (Butch) Lenzini, wound up buying for $20,500. The horse was Royal Ski, who last year earned $309,704, becoming the leading money-winner among 2-year-olds. The sum included $86,046 for winning the Laurel (Md.) Futurity on Oct. 30. That evening, in the Montreal Forum, Cheevers played spectacularly as Boston handed the Canadiens their only regular-season home loss, 4-3. Returning to Boston, he shared his good fortune by renting a bus and taking his teammates and their wives to see the musical Grease. Cheevers dressed for the occasion in tails—and tennis shoes.
In January Cheevers arranged to syndicate a one-third interest in Royal Ski for $1 million, retaining the other two-thirds for himself. But the horse contracted a severe virus, and when it appeared he would not be ready for any of the Triple Crown races, Cheevers voluntarily dissolved the syndicate rather than sell a "faulty product." Out a cool million, Cheevers hopes to start rebuilding Royal Ski's market value in major stakes this summer. "I'm disappointed about not being in the Derby," said Cheevers, who watched the race on TV just before leaving for the Forum, "but I'm cocky and arrogant enough to think I'll get another shot someday."
It was Cheevers' team, not his horse, that figured to be out of the running by last weekend. The Bruins, after all, were a faceless club with little of the flair of the Orr-Esposito teams of the immediate past. But flair matters little to Cherry, a pugnacious sort who carries in his wallet a picture of his bullterrier Blue but none of his wife Rose and their two children. Cherry kept the team plugging and, after polishing off the Flyers, the Bruins had to cool their skates while mighty Montreal struggled to oust the feisty Islanders.
Facing elimination in the Forum, New York upset the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime Tuesday night to force a sixth game back on Long Island. Montreal had not lost two straight in more than a year, but now, tantalizingly, the Canadiens suddenly seemed a mite vulnerable. They were riddled with injuries, and Lafleur appeared tired. And could it be that success had, in a sense, spoiled Ken Dryden? Protected during the regular season by the NHL's best defensive corps, Dryden had known more inactivity than adversity; for want of pucks to stop, he had spent a lot of time leaning on his stick and reading the Forum's tickertape message board. Feeling the need to reassure his goalie, Bowman huddled with Dryden at the team's motel.
"People were getting on Kenny just because he hadn't come through for us this one time," Bowman said. "I wanted him to know he didn't owe us anything. I told him the odds on his having another off game were astronomical."
As though by Bowmanian fiat, the discomforts that Dryden had suffered were now visited on other goalies. The first was the Islanders' Chico Resch, who mishandled Bob Gainey's seemingly harmless flip shot and watched the puck roll into the net only seven seconds into the game. Resch settled down, but Dryden was clearly on top of his game again, and there was no more scoring for the next 49 minutes. Then, midway through the third period, Gainey caught Resch out of position for another soft goal—a play on which an obvious offsides by Montreal's Murray Wilson was overlooked by the officials. A shot by New York's Denis Potvin slipped by Dryden in the waning seconds, but the 2-1 win sent Montreal into the finals.
The second discomfited goaltender of the week was Cheevers. Though Cheevers' performance in the Bruins' 7-3 loss was worse than any of Dryden's against the Islanders, it is, remember, the nature of money goalies to be unconcerned by goals-against figures. "What difference does it make if the score is 2-0 or 18-3?" Cheevers said after the game. "A loss is a loss. All I know is that I'm going to have to make some adjustments if we're going to beat Montreal."