"THESE GUYS ARE GOING TO SEE WHAT IT'S LIKE," said Derek (Turk) Sanderson, long-ago Bruin, part of the last two Stanley Cup champions, in 1970 and '72, the teams that stitched and stamped the Bruins into the fabric of Boston life. "Good for them. They're going to get a taste of how good it can be around here."
A forgotten strand of DNA has kicked back to life. Memories have been stirred. The game and the team that captivated a previous generation—JESUS SAVES, ESPO SCORES ON THE REBOUND, the bumper stickers read then—are captivating the newest generation.
"Where do you start with the disappointments?" Heather Steadman, a veterinary technician from Gloucester, Mass., a season-ticket holder for 36 years, asked. "I go all the way back to when we got Brad Park to play with Bobby Orr, and we were going to win Cup after Cup, and Orr got hurt and it never happened. Too many men on the ice in 1979. Edmonton, the fog on the ice, the three-overtime game in the 1990 finals."
Coaches came and went, one after another, gruff coaches, happy coaches, all styles of coaches, walking the plank to unemployment. Players shuffled through the roster. Dark moments abounded.
"In 1996 I made my debut as a color commentator doing the games on radio with WBZ," said Andy Brickley, former Bruins forward, now the color man on television. "They had the worst record in the league. It was embarrassing. You had to learn to be creative in a hurry."
A standard of success had been laid out by the Orr teams of 1970 and '72. The picture of the flying Orr, tripped by defenseman Noel Picard after Orr scored the Cup-winning goal against the Blues in '70, became a staple of New England barrooms and kitchens, hung next to portraits of John F. Kennedy, the Pope and maybe Carl Yastrzemski. "I was eight years old, 10 years old, when they won those two Cups," said Brickley, who grew up in suburban Melrose. "Everyone played hockey. Everyone wanted to be Sanderson, Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Kenny Hodge."
The Boston Garden, the old Garden, the home of those teams, was cramped and loud. The patrons hung over the ice from the third deck, the Gallery Gods in the cheap seats. "The people who followed us were working guys," Sanderson, a center, said. "They liked us because we were working guys. Policemen and firemen liked us. They'd give you about eight minutes to get going in the first period. If they sensed no effort, no bounce, you'd start to hear the comments, 'You wanna wake up, you clowns? You want to wake up?'"
An image of the Bruins hockey player emerged. He wore an open blue collar. He was not afraid to dirty his hands. Punch in, punch out. An honest effort. The Lunch Pail A.C. That was the nickname. The Bruins were the bottom-line Boston team. They were family, not just sports entertainment. Family and friends.
The players on the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, as the money grew larger and larger, became wealthy visitors. The Bruins routinely stayed. They bought houses. They raised kids. They shoveled the driveway and said hello. Family. Family and friends.