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Boston Bruins

A professional hockey team in the Eastern Conference of the NHL.

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Big and Bad

  • Feb 16, 2013
Rating:
+5
Sooooo…. Does anyone really feel sorry for "OWAH SPOTS TEAMS-ER ARE-AH MOAH TAH-CHAHED THAN YOUR-AH SPOTS TEAMS-ER!" Boston anymore? Nah, I thought not, especially considering how Boston sports fans were never especially tortured to begin with. The Patriots haven't been a runaway success, true; but they do have far more winning seasons overall than losing seasons. The Bruins had a couple of nasty Stanley Cup droughts, but they made the Finals repeatedly in the midst of them. Then there's the Celtics, and anyone stupid enough to complain about sports torture when the Celtics are your born and bred basketball team needs to be smacked, HARD. It seems that Boston's reputation for tortured sports stems almost exclusively from the Red Sox drought. Once the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, the whole truth about Boston sports started to trickle out, and man, were people ever quick to turn on Boston's fans.

The Boston Bruins can lay claim to one very important thing that no other hockey team can claim: They are the oldest NHL team in the United States. They came about in 1924 because the NHL, which at the time consisted of only Canadian teams, decided it might have a little bit of success if it was willing to risk going south of the border. It took a Boston grocery tycoon named Charles Adams to talk the league into it. Adams had fallen in love with hockey watching the 1924 Stanley Cup Finals between the NHL's Montreal Canadiens and the WCHL's Calgary Tigers. So that very same year, he talked the NHL into coming to the States, and the league added the Bruins and the Montreal Maroons. Since Adams wanted the team to succeed, the first thing he did was hire an innovator and former star player named Art Ross. Ross acted as the face of the team for 30 years, which included four stints as head coach. To come up with a nickname, Adams said Ross would have to come up with a ferocious animal which would exemplify speed, agility, and cunning. So Ross came up with the perfect name: The Boston Bears! Of course, just calling them the Boston Bears would have been kinda boring, so he decided to use the old english term for brown bear: Bruin. The nickname happened to fit very nicely with the team's original uniform colors of brown and yellow, which were the colors of Adams's grocery chain, First National Stores.

The Bruins won their first-ever game against the Maroons. In case you've forgotten, though, the Maroons were the other expansion team that year, and so they played like an expansion team. The Maroons finished next-to-last in the league that year. Still, that was better than the Bruins finished - Boston went 6-24-0 on the year, good for last. The team didn't take very long to get better, though, and by their third season they had drafted the first of their many great stars: Eddie Shore, the player Paul Newman's character in Slap Shot idolized. They finished only one game above .500, but made it to the Finals anyway. There, they were one of the two representatives in the first-ever Finals to be played by two teams in the NHL. Unfortunately, it was the other team, the Ottawa Senators, who took home Lord Stanley's Trophy. It wouldn't be until the 1929 season until the Bruins would first hoist the Cup themselves.

The year after that, the Bruins posted an incredible winning percentage of .875, with a record of 38-5-1. They found the net a total of 179 times, a mile better than the runner-up Canadiens. They allowed only 98, also better than every other team. They had 77 points on their standings, where the next-closest teams were the Canadiens and Maroons, with 51 each. They got a first-round playoff bye, killed the Maroons in the second round, and in the Finals, they…. Lost to the Habs. Their winning percentage for that season is still a league record.

Despite the loss, the Bruins stormed throughout the 30's, carried by the likes of Shore, Tiny Thompson, Dit Clapper, Babe Siebert, and Cooney Weiland. That gang brought Boston to the top of the standings five times. It didn't translate into Finals success until 1939, though, which is coincidentally the same year the Bruins adopted their new and now-iconic black and gold palette. Unfortunately, great core players have a habit of growing older, so the Bruins made a few key player losses along the journey. In 1939, they traded Thompson for a rookie goalie by the name of Frank Brimsek. Brimsek was a great replacement for Thompson, as he became the first rookie ever selected to an All-Star team, won the Vezina and Calder Trophies, and picked up the nickname Mr. Zero. Faces in front of Brimsek also changed: There was the famous Kraut Line consisting of Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, and Woody Dumart. Eddie Shore was with the team until 1940, when he was traded to the New York Americans for his final season in the NHL. Although the Bruins would win the Stanley Cup again in 1941, the Shore trade closed an era.

War brewed in Europe, and the stars of the Boston Bruins enlisted. Brimsek went to war. The entirety of the Kraut Line also went to war. Bill Cowley became Boston's final remaining star, with the assistance of Busher Jackson and Dit Clapper. By 1943, though, the New York Americans had folded, reducing the NHL to a mere six teams who are nowadays referred to as the Original Six. Talent was depleted to such an extent that, like in Major League Baseball, freaky things could happen in any given season. In 1944, for example, Herb Cain would put up 82 points, which at the time was THE NHL record. While Cain had a respectable career, his second-highest point total was 45, which came in 1945, and beyond that he never climbed above 36 until he was sent to the minor league Hershey Bears of the AHL two years later, at which point his NHL career was over. The stars were back after the war, and with Clapper now coaching, the Bruins made the 1946 Finals. (They lost.) After that, the stars were losing steps. The Bruins were kicked from the first round of the playoffs for three straight years. Brimsek was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1949, and their promising young star Don Gallinger was banned soon afterward for being Pete Rose's inspiration. (That means he gambled on his own team.) Once that happened, the only star they had left was Johnny Peirson, who played until 1958 before becoming a beloved color commentator for the team in the 70's.

It was finally Boston's turn to be the dregs of the NHL. Between 1947 and 1967, the Bruins had only four winning seasons. But a six-team league can do funny things for standings, and so in 1953, 1957, and 1958, the Bruins did manage to make the Finals. Only 1957 was a winning season in those three trips, but it really didn't matter anyway as the Bruins bowed out to the Montreal Canadiens all three times. They also managed to miss the playoffs for eight straight years, from 1960 to 1967. It was a good thing the owner of the Bruins, in 1954, decided to order a new kind of machine, invented by a guy named Frank Zamboni, to resurface the ice because otherwise the fans would have had nothing to watch. They were the first NHL team to use it. In 1958, the Bruins created another milestone by by signing a New Brunswick native left winger named Willie O'Ree. He was the first black player in NHL history. Unfortunately, O'Ree just wasn't a very good player. He only played during two seasons in the NHL - 1958 and 1961 - for a total of 45 games, in which he netted six goals and ten assists for 16 points. Not good. The team didn't have a developed farm system, so when the Bruins found The Uke Line - named for the Ukrainian heritage of players Johnny Bucyk, Vic Stasiuk, and Bronco Horvath - along with Don McKenney and Fleming MacKell to enjoy a little bit of success in the late 50's, it seemed a freak accident. A long and difficult rebuilding process awaited.

In 1966, Boston found the keystone who would lead them back to greatness: Bobby Orr! He won the Calder that season, even though he was given a constant challenge physically from older vets, and won respect by beating up Montreal enforcer Ted Harris in his first fight. For 1966, Orr scored 13 goals and added 28 assists. New York Rangers defenseman Harry Howell took home the Norris Trophy for best defenseman that year. In his acceptance speech, he said he was glad to win it that year, because "Orr will own this trophy from now on." (Actual quote!) Orr, who finished second in the voting, won it for the next eight consecutive years.

With their keystone in place, it was time to REALLY start building! Boston's next move was to fleece the Chicago Black Hawks, taking Fred Stanfield, All-Star Ken Hodge, and hockey legend Phil Esposito for what amounted to three pieces of deadweight. With goaltending great Gerry Cheevers and other stars like the still-there Johnny Bucyk, John McKenzie, Derek Sanderson, and Dallas Smith, the Big Bad Bruins finally took form. Then they took it to the NHL. And in 1970 and 1972, they took the Stanley Cup again. In the 1971 season, the Bruins had seven of the league's top ten scorers. They also set the record for number of wins in a season. Whereas the NHL never had a player who posted 100 points in a season until 1969, the Bruins had four players do it in 1971. (The first player to do it, by the way, was Esposito.) You would think this team would be unstoppable in the playoffs, but in game two of a series against the Canadiens, they were up 5-1. It looked like a one-sided romp because Montreal had a rookie goalie named Ken Dryden, but Boston somehow managed to lose the lead, then the game 7-5. They never recovered, and lost the series.

1973 began a lot of upheaval. Cheevers, Sanderson, and McKenzie all left to try their luck in the new World Hockey Association. Their coach was fired, the team was sold, and the Bruins bowed out of the first playoff round after Esposito went down injured. For the 1975 season, Don Cherry stepped behind the bench as the Bruins reloaded with lots of grinders and enforcers. Cherry made them a hard, competitive team, but 1975 was also Bobby Orr's last full year in the league. Upon a trade to Chicago, Orr only played in a handful of games before bad knees forced him to retire a few years later. Cherry's rebuilding eventually resulted in the popular Esposito being traded to the Rangers. While Cheevers was finally done in the WHA in 1977 and the Bruins finally reached the Finals again, they were no match for the Canadiens that year. Same story the following season - Boston managed to field eleven players who each scored 20 goals, but they still lost to Montreal come the Finals. In the 1979 semifinals, Boston was playing a seventh game against Montreal. (Who else?) The Bruins were up by a goal, but they were called for having too many men on the ice late in the third period. On the ensuing power play, Montreal's Guy Lafleur tied the game, and the Canadiens won in overtime. Don Cherry was fired after that.

That was the end of the Big Bad Bruins era. In 1979, the Bruins drafted Ray Bourque, the really awesome Bruins defenseman who isn't Bobby Orr. He became the new face of the team for the next two decades, and the Bruins made the playoffs every year in the 80's. They were back in the Finals by 1988, led by the like of Bourque, Cam Neely, and Andy Moog. In game four of that series, a blown fuse resulted in the rest of the game being cancelled. The game was tied at 3-3 when it happened, and maybe the cancellation and the shift to Edmonton might have mattered more in a close series. But it was game four, and Boston was down 3-0 in the series to an Edmonton Oilers team that no one stood a chance of beating. Their appearance in the 1990 Finals against the Oilers went slightly better. Edmonton was playing without Wayne Gretzky, after all, and without the greatest hockey player the world has ever seen, the series managed to expand to FIVE games before the Oilers brought Boston down again! The 1991 and 1992 seasons were really the last window for those Bruins teams, and they didn't even make the Finals in either of those years - they lost in the Conference Finals both times, to the Pittsburgh Penguins both times. After that, the Bruins never made it past the second round, with 1993 being a particular humiliation because they were one of the best teams in the league, yet they lost the first round to the Buffalo Sabres, who had the second-lowest point total among playoff teams. It was a sweep against a team which hadn't been to the second round in ten years.

In 1997, Boston missed the playoffs for the first time in 30 years. It ended the longest such streak in pro sports history. Bourque's era concluded in 2000. That year, the Bruins plummeted in the standings despite a young core bringing high expectations. Bourque requested a trade because he had not yet won the Stanley Cup, and while he wanted to go to an east coast team, general manager Harry Sinden sent Bourque to the team he thought would give Bourque his best chance at the Holy Grail: The Colorado Avalanche. In 2001, his final season, Bourque finally won his Cup, and his act in his day with the Cup was to take it to Boston for a rally in Boston's City Hall Plaza.

Meanwhile, the Bruins themselves floundered and sputtered as a shell of what they once were. Yeah, they made the playoffs a few times, but the NHL playoffs are an illusion, and so they kept failing. They didn't get past the first round until 2004, and in the second round that year they blew a 3-1 lead to Montreal. By 2007, they were in last. Fortunately, success was just around the corner. In the later half of the millennium, the Bruins brought in some great players: Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, Nathan Horton, and Mark Recchi. In 2011, they returned to the Finals, where they faced the favored, Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. Now, this turned into one of those playoff series that prove a seven-game series isn't necessarily a good series. The games Vancouver won were exciting, single-goal victories which proved Vancouver wasn't going to crawl into the night. Unfortunately, Vancouver only won three games out of seven played. Their goalie, Roberto Luongo, melted down in the other four in a way I've never seen before. Boston's four victories were some of the most one-sided events I've ever seen in sports, and so the 2011 Boston Bruins emerged triumphant. They've been playing at Big Bad Bruins-like levels ever since.

Boston's greats are a hell of a roster of their own. Bruins with retired numbers are Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman, Bobby Orr, Dit Clapper, Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, Johnny Bucyk, Milt Schmidt, Terry O'Reilly, and Ray Bourque. Although it's generally accepted hockey knowledge that Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player to ever lace 'em up, people can still make a very solid argument to give Bobby Orr that same title. Phil Esposito is an Orr fan, and he makes the case in Thunder and Lightning, his autobiography. (It's not a very good book, though. Esposito really doesn't come off very well.) Esposito is one of the greatest pre-Gretzky players and, good autobiography writer or not, one of the league's most colorful characters. Ray Bourque is in the conversation for greatest defenseman, along with Orr and Paul Coffey.

The Boston Bruins have a very heated rivalry against the Montreal Canadiens. The rivalry is largely one-sided in Montreal's favor, although it's evening out lately. As all Boston teams do, they also have bad blood with the New York Rangers. The Buffalo Sabres - against whom Esposito played his final game - also have a heated rivalry against the Bruins, but I think that's probably more on our end than theirs. After all, the Sabres were created in 1970, and the other two are Original Six teams who grew up with the Bruins. There are a lot of great moments in Bruins history, but the one that really stands out the most to ANY NHL fan is The Flight. That is one of the sport's great iconic images. It happened in the overtime of game four in the 1970 Finals. 40 seconds into overtime, Orr scored the winning goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Glenn Hall and, at the moment the shot was taken, he was tripped by Noel Picard of the Blues. He flew through the air with his arms raised in triumph. It's arguably the sport's most recognized image of all time.

Every time I turn around, it seems like the Bruins have a dangerous new superstar to show everyone. It makes sense - Boston is a big, exciting city, and the Bruins are a storied and popular team which guarantees a lot of exposure. The team has built its brand on being the big and bad players of the league. Even outside the Bid Bad Bruins era, there was Bourque. There's Zdeno Chara now, being the face of the team, and one of the most talented and nastiest players in the league. Milan Lucic is a hitter - last season he famously slammed Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, which set the tone for Buffalo's season when the Sabres didn't retaliate. They're a team that easily comes off as everything all of us other fans wish our teams were: Insanely skilled, willing to give and take hits, and can take some brute punishment and stand up for themselves in fights. The sweaters of the Bruins are also icons. Their logo is a letter B surrounded by a spoked wheel, representing the Boston area's nickname of "The Hub." The Bruins have won the Stanley Cup six times, more than any American hockey team except the Detroit Red Wings.

I'll be honest: I HATE the Boston Bruins. Passionately. They were the first sports team I ever learned to hate. I couldn't stand the way they kept taking the division and the first round in the playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres every year. And yet…. If the Montreal Canadiens represent everything a professional hockey team should be, the Boston Bruins represent the appeal of the sport to its fanbase, from the speed and skill to the blue-collar roughness and big hits. Ray Bourque is one of my favorite players, ever. I wish Zdeno Chara played FOR one of my favorite teams. You're not going to find a better representation about hockey, of both what it is and what it CAN be and so, much as it pains me, if you're an aspiring fan looking to adopt a team, I am giving the Boston Bruins my absolute highest recommendation. Above even the teams I cheer for, I would have CHOSEN the Boston Bruins.

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February 17, 2013
Hockey is one sport I like to watch LIVE rather than on TV.
 
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Quick Tip by . May 25, 2011
People around here are psyched about the Bruins possibly going to the NHL Stanley Cup finals for the first time in over 20 years. Although I am not a big fan of regular season hockey I find that playoff hockey is dynamite. Here's hoping that this years edition of the Bruins will not disappoint and claw their way into the NHL finals. Let's go B's!
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2011
Congratutations to the Boston Bruins who defeated the Vancouver Canucks tonight in Vancouver 4-0 to win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. This was a whale of a series and Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was spectacular. On the road to the championship the Bruins won 3 Game 7's! It's the first time it has been done!
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