So over the last few days I have been trying to collect the words to describe the surreal feeling surrounding the newly acquired reality…The Boston Bruins are 2011 Stanley Cup Champions! It almost seems a bit absurd, as a long-time fan who had pinned my hopes on other Bruins teams for so many years, it seemed that the Bruins always meant well, but were always missing a key ingredient or a lucky bounce. I actually had come to believe that Mr. Jacobs had so scorned the Gallery Gods with his role in the 2004-05 “lost season” that the Bruins might actually never win the Cup.
I am a product of a generation who would fight to be Orr, Espo, or Chief when we played street hockey. We idolized Derek Sanderson, Terry O’Reilly, and Wayne Cashman for the ferocity with which they played the game. There was Cheesy (“please stay in the net Cheesey” as he was known in many a home) a battling goalie who’s legendary mask was littered with stitches. They were larger than life and they were supposed to be our dynasty. As a kid when your favorite team wins 2 Cups in three years, and is arguably known as the most feared team in the league, you think that will last forever. I do not remember a single kid in school dressing up for Halloween as a member of the Patriots, the Red Sox or the Celtics; We All Wanted To Be Bruins. But then Espo was traded, Orr left town, The Chief was still here (as he is today), but somehow the tide turned. The Cup slipped through our fingers again in ’78 and then our hopes were pinned on a flashy young defenseman with a spark to ignite the smoldering embers of Cup dreams. But it seemed the closer the Bruins got to returning The Cup to Boston, the harder the fall. Don Cherry, Terry O’Reilly, Mike Milbury, were bench bosses that would make the toughest player tremble. They kept the identity of the Bruins intact, the proud blue collar team that reflected the way its fans lived and loved their hockey. However, still no banners, no ticker tape parades, and in the neighborhoods less and less black and gold, more and more red and blue.
Almost unforgivably, Mr. Jacobs had allowed this proud organization in a rich hockey community to become an afterthought. The Boston Garden was torn down and replaced with a shiny new arena which seemed to change names as quickly as the Bruins changed their identity. The magic was lost, the new building had no ghosts, the Gallery Gods had been chased from the balcony rafters, and the team was searching for its collective soul as Black and Gold bleeding hearts broke all over New England. The last link between the Bruins’ storied past and hopeful future was traded away, so he could chase his own Cup dreams.
Then there was the “Lost Season” and the Dave Lewis era, and in an instant, Bruins hockey ceased to exist. There were players in black and gold jerseys taking the ice, (most times too many of them) and the last shred of pride seemed to have disappeared. Players did not seem to understand the Spoked B on the front was far more important than any name on the back. Our Bruins hockey heroes were to be forged out of blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice, not a birthright or draft spot. It was painful to watch what had become of my favorite team, and of what had become of a proud fan base that had openly embraced their favorite sons as members of the community. At that point there was a huge chasm between the glory day and the present day. There was a complete disconnect between ownership, management, coaches, players and fans. This proud Original 6 organization was in trouble, the faith of the fans was shaken. Players would always come and go, but we the faithful had remained and had been forgotten. We wore our old sweaters, and spoke of the days of Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, Adam Oates, Don Sweeney, Craig Janney, Lyndon Byers, and Joey Juneau represented the last touchstones of our B’s storied past. Even though that generation of Bruins did not hoist the Cup, they pulled on their sweaters and played the game with pride, grit, and determination worthy of our hearts.
Then five years ago it seemed that the organization finally realized drastic changes needed to be made if the Bruins were going to survive, never mind return to a station of respect in their own league. The city had left them behind, teh Celtics had revived their magic, and the Red Sox and Patriots now owned the airwaves, the sport pages, and the city was awash in red, white, and blue (not the favorite colors of your die-hard Bruins’ fan: see Habs). New management was brought in, a new coach at the helm, trades made, free agents signed, a team started to take shape. It seemed however that there was still a missing link between what the Bruins played like, and what it meant to be a Bruin. There was talent being assembled, young and raw, as well as some more seasoned, but how long would it take for the team to reclaim their identity?
The Bruins surprised many in 07-08 pushing the top seeded Canadiens to 7 games. In 08-09 they were absolute beasts on ice during the regular season, but Scott Walker provided the final dagger for a team that could not seem to live up to its building expectations. Some would say Bruins fans are impatient, I would argue that we were far too patient for far too long. The organization seemed to sense the need to put the team back in touch with its rich heritage, and the Winter Classic more than accomplished that goal. The alumni game, the return of the old guard to be honored at games, The Statue, all seemed serve as an ongoing history lesson for the team, and a way to reconnect with the loyal fan base. However, Bruins fans are nothing if not a cynical group. We’ve been hardened by generations of disappointment and promises left unfulfilled. By the time the team had hit rock bottom many of us had endured so many heartbreaking disappointments that the last of our forgiveness it seemed would be stolen from us on the stick of Danny Briere in game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Gut wrenching doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of that loss to the Flyers. Players, coaches, management none of them even attempted to provide answers or take accountability. It was spirit breaking, how could we, as fans, been once again fooled into believing that this time would be different? How could the answer be “we don’t know what happened”, and the outcome ever change? There was the missing link, a group of talented individuals “trying” does not a team make. In fact the problem seemed very clear, Bruins fans were dreaming about the day the Cup would return to Boston, but their team had not embraced that same dream. The 2010-11 regular season was anything but a “dream” season. There were moments, glorious moments where I thought I was watching the Big Bad Bruins of years gone by, slugging their way through opponents, imposing their will. There were head scratching lapses where the team seemed devoid of direction or purpose. There was the loss of Marc Savard, crushing not solely for his value on the ice, but because if nothing else, Bruins fans love the guys small in stature who play the game with immeasurable heart.
Savvy was a Bruins reclamation project at a time the team was building the foundation for future success. Savvy was a player of unquestionable ability, however not known for working especially hard in any zone but the attacking zone. He was a bit of a flopper, and actually upon arrival best described as a bit of a whiner. Yet, his growth as a player is an exact reflection of the growth of the Bruins team during his tenure. He became dedicated to playing the game in all three zones, became a clutch playmaker, who would just as unselfishly block shots. Losing Savvy this season hurt the hearts of Bruins fans and players alike. It’s not a knee injury like Orr, or the leg/hip injury which cost Neely his career, it’s a devastatingly debilitating head injury, which stole many things from Savvy including the ability to be there and celebrate the Cup victory with his team in Vancouver. The loss of Savvy would have derailed a lesser Bruins’ team, but this year they used it as something to fuel their desire. This team played for one another and they set a singular goal of becoming the team to return the Cup to Boston. The embraced our dream, and made it their own and they did it AS A TEAM.
The ensuing celebrations and euphoria which has gripped the Bruins and their fans is reflective of just how amazing it is to realize your dreams. I have said on more than one occasion, players pull on a jersey for a limited number of games, but fans hold a team in their heart forever. For fans, each passing game over the last 39 years the dream of the Cup returning to Boston seemed to slip a little further away, until a team, the 2010-11 Boston Bruins, made it their singular goal for their fans to realize their dream. Every hockey player dreams of that moment when the Cup is passed to him and he hoists the 35 pounds of glimmering silver above his head. It is the moment which validates the physical and emotional toll of their chosen career; the men who have their names engraved on the Cup have a shared glory in the sacrifice necessary to claim their prize. However as the 2011 Conn Smythe recipient, Tim Thomas said, “You wanted it, We got it”. This Bruins team cemented the broken bond with their fans, not because they brought the Cup back to Boston, but because as the most beloved teams in Bruins history have done, they believed in our dream, as much as we the fans believed in them.
Thank You Bruins for reminding us old and cynical and young and hopeful alike, that dreams are worth having, and when they come true, celebrating with millions of others is worth every tear shed along the journey. There will again be street hockey games returning to neighborhoods, fans clad in their black and gold heading to work on the Orange, Red, and Green line sharing a knowing smile, and young dreamers dressing as their favorite Bruins’ hero for Halloween. Thank you Bruins for sharing our dream, and thank you for bringing the Cup home!
About the Author: NHL Blogger, a fan of the Boston Bruins for 40 years, mom to the famous/notorious Bruins dog blogger, The Pup. The Pup is a savvy hockey dog in search of cookies (the jar is on the top shelf).