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I was fully dressed, goalie's pads and all, almost an hour before the Boston Bruins were due on the ice in the Spectrum against the Philadelphia Flyers. It seemed as good a way as any to wait for my five-minute stint in the goal. The rest of the Bruins sat around in their long white union suits—the first layer of hockey apparel—and played cards or chatted easily. My behavior was not considered especially odd. Don Cherry, the Bruin coach, came over and said there was nothing consistent about how professionals prepared for a game. " Bobby Orr was the earliest one I ever saw in the locker room," he said. "If it was an eight o'clock game, Orr'd get there no later than three in the afternoon. He'd pace around with a big weighted hockey stick, iron on the bottom of the blade, so that when he picked up his regular stick it felt like nothing. He'd get half dressed, watch TV and fix his sticks until game time. Then you have the guys who come in late. Wayne Cashman comes in late. Brad Park comes in 10 minutes before the team's due on the ice for the warmups. What difference does it make?" Cherry studied my attire. "But I don't know many players who get completely dressed so early. When are you going to put on your helmet?"
"Very soon," I said.
Cherry told me about some of the pre-game rituals. Phil Esposito laid out his stick in a certain way, and his gloves, too, and if anyone rearranged them or stepped on his stick, there was always a big commotion. Just before going out on the ice, Orr always went around the locker room and touched everyone with his stick, and Terry O'Reilly has carried on that practice with the current team.
"Do you have any rituals?" Cherry asked.
"A lot of sweating," I said.
"I can see that."
My roommate at training camp, Jim Pettie, had described the odd pregame behavior of a fellow goalie, Dave Reece, who had played with Pettie at Rochester. "Dave and I were talking before a game," Pettie told me, "discussing the players on the other team—just a normal sort of conversation except that I noticed Reece kept looking up at the clock on the locker-room wall. Suddenly he quit talking in the middle of a sentence. He had just said, 'Now you got to watch this guy because he comes down the ice and cuts....' And that was the end of it, like he'd been gagged, and from that time on he never spoke a word until after the game. That was his ritual—exactly an hour before the opening face-off he'd quit talking. He made it quite hard on himself, because if he wanted water or something, or had something really important on his mind to say, he'd point down his throat with a finger or he'd wave his hands around and look at you with this pleading look, hoping you'd understand what he wanted. But he'd never say anything, ever. In fact, he never said a word until after a game was over—just a lot of nodding and finger-waving."
The tension in the Bruin locker room did not really begin to settle in until after we had come off the ice from the 15-minute pregame warmup. A stick lay in front of each player, facing out into the room. The constant sound was the rip of tape; the players applied strips of it to their skate-boot tops and to their pads, and they worked on their sticks. Through the locker-room door we could hear the organ playing and the distant and increasing murmur of the crowd. At intervals a thin, squeaky voice emerged from a squawk box on the wall: "ten minutes," "five minutes," the time remaining until we were to go out. That sudden foreign presence would break the quiet concentration and ignite a number of exhortations from the more voluble of the Bruins. "Be loose and tramp 'em!" someone called out. "Stick it to 'em." "Everybody work out there."
I sat looking bleakly out into the room. The goalies were all in one corner. Gerry Cheevers had some suggestions to make. "The Flyers have two incredible cannons at the point—Bladon and Dailey," he told me. "Look out for them. When MacLeish gets the puck, as he comes across the middle he cuts loose, usually high, a shot he can get off in full stride. MacLeish and Leach shoot if they have half a chance, and remember they don't have to get set to shoot."
"Right," I said.