Remembering back over the years and when you were a child isn't the easiest thing to do or reflect on. But those significant memories stick and when it comes to hockey my first memories were pretty vivid. The first time I ever heard about the Bruins, Hockey and Bobby Orr was when I picked up the Record American newspaper that my Dad was finished with. I was 7 I'm pretty sure and already interested in sports and just starting to seriously read, a habit I fell in love with. I was reading this article in the sports section and it was about Bobby Orr and how he had injured his knee and was done for the season. There was a little photo of his head in black and white; he had a crewcut just like me. The article was fairly gloomy and I didn't know why and asked my Dad who he was and what were the Bruins. My Dad was a big Red Sox fan and we had gone to a few games, I knew about football and basketball and the local professional sports teams. I wasn't a real fan, just a fan that was interested because my Dad was interested. Hockey, I had never heard of, nor of Bobby Orr. I asked him about it. My Dad was casual, "It's a game played on ice at the "Garden", where the Celtics play. Bobby Orr is one of the players, he's supposed to be pretty good." At 7 years of age, "Pretty Good" means, he's OK, nothing special. I remember at the time going on to read an article about Tony Conigliaro and how his recovery after over a year after he got hit in the eye from a baseball.
The next reference to the Bruins was about a year later close to Christmas. Dad brought home a TV from Sears, where he worked. He set it up and it had this round antenna on the back in addition to the rabbit ears I was familiar with. It was new and cool and the new antenna let us us watch these three new channels you tuned in with another dial. On was TV38 WSBK. I was 9 and Dad was watching these guys going back and forth on the TV on a floor of white and they all had sticks. It was a Bruins game and I camped out on the floor about six feet in front of and below the TV. The players had funny shoes and went back and forth constantly moving around this dot thing. I could tell my Dad was pretty interested as he was sitting forward with his elbows on his knees and almost sort of moving with the flow of the team in black. I watched a little harder to see why he was so interested. I noticed this one guy when he played, always had the dot and moved smoothly around the other guys. I remember thinking, this must be like a game of keep away and the other guys can't get it. Sometimes the guy used the stick to the give the dot a push and another guy would use his stick to get it, he almost always gave it right back to the other guy who was so smooth. Then all of a sudden the stick went back and he hit the dot and it went at a net and in and he raised his hands. My Dad shot up to his feet and raised his arms and loudly said "GOAL!". I was shocked, my Dad rarely was this emotional and never when watching TV. I remember the voice from the TV, "Bobby Orr, another goal Bruins up two to nothing". I thought "oh Bobby Orr, the guy with the bad knee, this is what he does, plays keep away". Well it wasn't long before I was watching all the time. I found out pretty quick that this was new to my Dad as well as me and it was so very fast and smooth. So we watched and we learned about hockey and we had something we could do together at home and be excited about. I couldn't tell you much about the game that first year, but I knew who Bobby Orr was, number 4 and when he was on the ice, special things happened. I was Hooked! Later that year after Christmas my Dad took me to a few games. Looking back now, I realize we were poor. We couldn't afford to go see the Bruins. My first game was between the Boston Braves and Providence Reds. The first impression I had was, Wow, it's really cold in here. I think we were at the Boston University Arena. We went back a few weeks later and saw the BU Terriers and Harvard Crimson. Same place. Cold, peanuts in the shell, hot chocolate and games skating around the ice yelling, Here! Over Here!, Shoot! Pass It! I guess my Dad could see how hooked I was, I would lose track of time watching the games and get excited about everything. I must have learned the game pretty quick also, as I was explaining what was going on to my father and what it meant. New phrases like icing, offsides, face-offs and where the puck dropped. I started doing crazy things, like taping and nailing scrape wood on broom sticks and baseball bats and trying to create sticks so I could whack around at some balls. Older kids played street hockey at the schoolyard and I'd watch the games. One day a 'Miracle" happened; one kid broke half the blade of his stick off and after the game was through, he jammed it in a trash can. I hung around and after everyone was gone, took it home and showed my Dad. He sawed down the shaft for my height and then I had a stick of my own. That's how my Love Affair with Hockey started. I've never regretted it.
Over the years, I watched the games, played forever with that hacked up stick in street hockey. I bought trading cards, read newspaper stories, learned to skate. I started playing hockey on ice a couple of years after discovering the game. Saved my pennies for pucks, got a paper route to help with the cost of getting on an organized team and buying equipment at swap meets. We had organized street hockey games on my street with all the neighborhood Dads and boys and girls of every age. Every Sunday after dinner from when the Bruins lost in the playoffs, until the Bruins started again in October. We built our own nets from electrical pipes and torn up and resewed volley ball and tennis netting. I was away from the game for the four years I was in the Army. I missed some good hockey and events. However, while I was away, I parachuted into Fort Deven's, Mass; and rode shotgun on a grader after the "Blizzaed of 78" clearing up Route 2 from Leominster to Cambridge and I was in Lake Placid, NY during the Miracle on Ice in 1980, as part of an anti-terror team. I got to watch the games against the Russians and Finns while I was off duty on TV. I was home and watching when ESPN came on TV and started showing out of market games for the Boston area. I saw the end of the Islanders Dynasty and Oilers and Gretzky years. I saw Lemieux score his first goal in his first professional game against the Bruins in the Garden. On and on through the years and Bruins Stanley Cup drought. I cried the night the Colorado Avalanche won the Cup and Joe Sakic handed the cup to Ray Bourque. I've suffered through three lockouts and the starvation of being limited to AHL and College hockey.
Hockey, even in New England is not the first love of sports fans. There are the Celtics and they're 17 banners, Patriots and 3 of 6 Superbowl victories and the Red Sox winners of 3 world championships in 10 years. Then, come the Bruins, 1 Cup in the last 42 years. Not everyone likes or loves hockey. It's hard to follow, expensive to buy tickets for and the rules change and sometimes it's hard to find a game on TV and ESPN has washed it's hands of the game. I love the game and feel it showcases the best athletes in sports entertainment. Compared with the other Professional sports leagues, there are very few scandals, few players that embarrass their game with drugs and crimes, it is a truly International game where the best players from around the world come to showcase their sport. Athletes performing their skills on a friction free surface at high paced speed with full contact, IMHO, makes the other sports pale and dreary. While I'm sure your average Pro Hockey player can play American football, Soccer, Baseball and Basketball, I doubt that many Pro Athletes can standup on ice in skates and make a game of it. When I think of baseball and disabled lists for hangnails and blisters and muscle strains, then see hockey players bleed from cuts that are sewn, teeth that are lost and take the next shift, I know what tough is. The challenge of playing 4 games in 5 weeks for a Superbowl, seems dim compared to up to 28 games in 56 days for THE CUP. Basketball for all it's moments during a game of dunks and free throws, seems lame compared to a 1-0 Hockey game with teams throwing themselves at one another and firing 60 shots at goaltenders. The running clock of a Soccer match seems slow to competition between whistles in a hockey game.
Hockey is my Game! If you want to know it or hear about, you can come here and I'll tell you about it. If you have questions, send them, I can set you straight. I am the NHHockeyGuru and your reporter on the Ultimate Game!
Until Next Time!