Bruins players and fans brawl during the infamous players going into the stands game versus the Rangers December 23, 1979.
December 23, 1979 marks one of the most memorable events in Bruins history. The Bruins faced the Rangers during a Sunday matinee game at Madison Square Garden. With only seconds left in the game and a 4-3 Bruins lead, Gerry Cheevers stops former Bruin legend Phil Esposito from scoring a breakaway goal. The Bruins earned their two points for the night, but the excitement hadn't even started yet. What could be seen as a disgrace in some eyes marks one of the most recognized events in NHL history.
The melee's begins because Bruins winger Al Secord nails Ulf Nilsson. In Secord's words "I remembered the sucker punch he gave me earlier in the game, so I thought, an eye for an eye, and I suckered him." After Secord's hit, a scrum broke out between the two teams near the boards where a Rangers fan by the name John Kaptain reached over the glass and hit Stan Jonathan over the eye with a rolled up program drawing blood. After he hit Jonathan he took his stick and ran off where Jonathan was using his stick to block Kaptain's attempts. Thinking that Jonathan got punched by a fan, Terry O'Reilly was the first player to climb over the glass and into the stands. Peter McNab soon followed O'Reilly and the chaos began. Mike Milbury and Gerry Cheevers were already walking into the locker room when Milbury realized what was going on and raced back onto the ice. "I went from happy and content and ready to go home for Christmas to full combat mode in twenty seconds," said Milbury. Cheevers was quoted as saying "I was already on my second beer," on the fact that he didn't want to get involved. Once Milbury climbed into the stands, he pulled off one of Kaptain's shoes and began hitting him with the heel and once he was done he threw the shoe onto the ice.
Eighteen Bruins ended up climbing into the stands that night, where a healthy amount of punched were being thrown by fan and player. No moment was more notable than Mike Milbury beating down a fan with his own shoe however. Every Bruins player beside Gerry Cheevers had been fined $500 each and O'Reilly and McNab were both suspended for eight games with Mibury losing six games. Rangers fan John Kaptain was fined $500 and sentenced to jail for six months for his hand in the altercation.
The whole altercation can be summed up by just one man's words for the Bruins players involved. Former Sports Illustrated analyst E.M Swift stated that "We hate everything New York here in Boston, so the fact that it was the Rangers and New Yorkers getting beaten with a shoe, those guys are folk heroes up here."