OTBH: Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back

Let's party like it's January, 1995.

Guys guys guys did you hear about hockey being back?? Man, I am SO excited to see how the B's do in their first game back against the Flyers on January 22nd - will Cam Neely be awesome? Will Ray Bourque?? How will Lindros play for the Flyers, and will the Bruins' D be able to contain him??

...oh, you guys are probably excited about this current lockout ending. Got it. But while we're on the topic of "Whoooo HOCKEY" and "uh, so what exactly is a 48 game season going to look like," what if we looked at the first game of the 48 the Bruins played in 1995? Questions abounded that season, too. Would the Bruins be ready for real, grown-up hockey? How would the long layoff affect their playoff chances? And what of Blaine Lacher, the B's rookie netminder?

Questions and concerns, for sure, but folks were pretty gosh darn excited about the return of hockey to Boston in 1995, too. Reports from opening day paint a picture of fans practically apoplectic with joy (not that we know anything about that, do we, kids). Interviews conducted with those at this first game back sound like something out of a sports movie about the triumph of the human spirit: as the doors opened, one dude "wearing a Ray Bourque shirt and a tattered Bruins baseball cap, thrust his fist into the air and headed up the ramp into the Garden." A teenage girl's mother summed it up the best when she told the Globe that for her daughter the lockout was "awful...It was agony. It was worse than watching a losing game. At least then you have a chance to be part of it, win or lose."

Jubilation at hockey's return aside, however, the fans and reporters -- like all of us, right now -- wondered what an abbreviated season would hold. Concerns about chemistry, goaltending, health, all of these things mean that, for many, the Bruins "went into [the] opening game against the Flyers with more questions than answers."

The 1995 NHL season opened on January 20th, with 8 games on the schedule. That meant many teams, including the Black and Gold, had to wait their turn to drop the puck. So on January 22, with people waiting impatiently when the Garden's door's opened at 12:30 that afternoon, the Bruins finally, finally got back on the ice in front of a hometown crowd apprehensive and excited about how the start of a lockout-shortened season would go.

It went awesomely, as it turns out.

Here's what happened: Cam Neely had a hat trick (swoon), Adam Oates and Bourque assisted on each of those goals, Lacher robbed Lindros and the rest of the young, hungry Flyers squad (including one Dr. Recchi) left and right, and the Bruins won 4-1 in front of an insatiable crowd of onlookers. It was the last season in the Garden, and everyone knew it. Sentimentality and affection ran rampant as everyone -- fans, media, players, and staff -- came back together to celebrate (as our old pal KPD wrote at the time, not a single mention of the lockout was made that night). It was pure, Bruins-style magic, and everything the fans in Boston had been missing during the previous three and a half months of labor stupidity.

We are all lockout-weary as hell -- not just from this work stoppage, but from the two others that have happened in (most of) our lifetimes. In 1995 people were clearly not as worn out or cynical, but a labor dispute still sucks, and it certainly brought on a certain amount of hate for the League/Bettman/the Union/Harry Sinden/Jeremy Effing Jacobs. For most people, though, the resolution of the lockout meant the return of Bruins hockey, a return that we ourselves have been impatient for since September 15th. We want our boys back, and so too did they.

I think one 1995 reporter spoke for a lot of people then (and people now, for that matter) when he wrote that fans were fed up with the money-grabbing and the politics and the assorted other bs, but despite all that, despite everything -- when it came to the Bruins themselves, "the Bruins players? It was welcome back, welcome back, welcome back. And no hard feelings."

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