Well, here we are. Day #34607346 of the 2012-2013 NHL lockout.
(Wait, what? Only 39 days, you say? Huh.)
Instead of lamenting the potential loss of another NHL season, how about we take a trip back through Bruins history - and I mean WAY back - and learn a little something about Black and Gold players of old. This week’s theme: Bruins during wartime!
Hockey players, as it turns out, have done their fair share of military service over the years. According to the Society for International Hockey Research (#geek), around 370 players who played at least one game in the NHL also served in their country’s military during a major conflict. For fans of the Bruins, the most enduring image of wartime hockey is perhaps that of the ‘Kraut Line’ -- Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart, and Bobby Bauer -- bidding adieu to the Boston faithful in a game against the Habs in February of 1942. (Side note: the ‘Kraut line’ eventually rejected that moniker because of a reluctance to be associated with any kind of "German-ness," but that’s another post for another time.)
It wasn’t just that famous first line of the 1939 and 1941 Cup squads that participated in World War II, though: a slew of other Bruins made their way overseas during the course of the war. One such player was Terry ‘brother-of-HHOF-er-Ken’ Reardon, who also played in that February farewell game -- for the Canadiens, as it turns out, and therein lies a tale, for sure. Reardon’s story is definitely less well known than Schmidt’s or Bauer’s, but it’s an interesting one, full of enough twists and turns that it might as well be the 2011 Bruins-Habs playoff round (see what I did there, eh, eh?).
Terry Reardon was born in 1919 in Winnipeg, and played for the St. Boniface Seals and the Brandon Wheat Kings of the MJHL (that would be the Manitoba Junior Hockey League). Fun fact: Reardon was the league’s leading scorer in the 1937-1938 season! His rights were traded from the New York Americans (sniff) to the B’s in 1937, and he eventually played parts of five seasons with the Boston (splitting the first three of them with the Bruins’ then-AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears). Oh, and he won two Stanley Cups along the way. Contemporary reporters knew him as Terrible Terry, and referred to him constantly as the "spark" that got the Bruins through the first round of the playoffs in 1941 against the Leafs (and we all remember how awesomely those playoffs turned out).
Like Schmidt, Bauer, and Dumart, Reardon joined the Canadian military (in his case, the Royal Army) in 1942, and like his former teammates, he played for various armed service-related teams before being deployed to France. His arrival in Europe didn’t go super awesomely -- he was wounded while taking part in D-Day in 1944. Reports at the time described the injury as a serious shoulder wound, and the majority made clear that Terrible Terry’s playing days were most likely over.
Ah, but those reports somehow managed to forget that this was a hockey player they were talking about. Reardon not only rehabbed his way back to hockey, he did so at the highest level, playing another two seasons for the B’s, then serving as player-coach of the sadly defunct Providence Reds of the AHL (remember when the PBruins wore those throwback jerseys? Good times) until 1957.
Reardon’s triumphant return to the Bruins lineup on Wednesday, October 24th (hey, that’s today!) marked the start of the 1945-1946 regular season, and also featured the return of Schmidt, Bauer, Dumart, and four other veterans. All the proceeds from the game went to a wounded veteran’s charity and the Bruins (like all the NHL teams whose players had been discharged) celebrated the return of their stars with a ceremony and a surge in game attendance.
It’s in this context that Reardon as a figure is particularly interesting. On the one hand, here’s a hockey player who returned from war after triumphantly overcoming injury to rejoin the team he won championships with, hurrah! On the other hand, Reardon especially -- even more than a player like Schmidt -- represents a very specific moment in time in the history of North America. The end of World War II brought with it a need to commemorate and memorialize the loss that the conflict had engendered. This commemoration took the expected form of statues and memorials (and in Canada, interestingly, gymnasiums -- check out Disciplining Bodies in the Gymnasium for more, if that’s your thing), sure, but it was also manifested in the mounting of sporting events, especially those that featured soldiers coming home alive from the front.
For the Bruins, who had sent as many (or more) players to war as any of the Original Six, the return of so many players to the Garden that night in October was a symbolic moment that signaled the victory of Allied ideals over the Axis powers, and more than that, a longed-for return to normalcy. Triumphalist, sure. Deeply felt, and embedded in a collective memory forged in years of hardship? You bet.
And in the middle of this narrative sat Terry Reardon: sparkplug, wounded war veteran, two time Stanley Cup champion, general badass. The very first issue ever of the Hockey News (October 1, 1947) profiled Reardon as he began his tenure with the Reds, celebrating his tenacity both on and off the ice. He was the very picture of North American resilience and rebirth, and a perfect poster boy for the post-war era.
Reardon was far from the only Bruin to serve in uniform (‘What about John "Red" Beattie,’ I can hear someone calling out from the back of the room - to that person I say, NERD!), but from his playing career to his military time to his frankly awesome return to the National Hockey League (and the symbolism embodied in that return), I think we can all agree that he was one tough SOB. And I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much exactly how I like my Bruins.