Art Ross in the community - Bruins Clinic, c. 1934 - BPL/Leslie Jones
It's a community thing.
A few days ago, a group of Bruins (including Tyler Seguin, Adam McQuaid, Chris Bourque, and Captain Planet himself, Andrew Ference, among others) visited Newtown, CT. They played street hockey and signed autographs and hung out with people whose lives had been turned upside down by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. The event was closed to the public, and while a few Boston beat reporters were on the scene, tweeting commentary and pictures, the event was very much about the town and its resilience in the face of overwhelming tragedy.
Obviously, this isn't the first time this team has been involved in community/charitable events -- involvement in causes like this is one of the things that defines the Bruins organization and indeed the NHL as a whole. So many players individually support charities, as do teams and their front offices. The League also participates in charity/community driven initiatives of various kinds; for me, one of the most gratifying parts about being a fan of this sport is knowing how engaged hockey people are in their communities.
This engagement on the part of the hockey world has deep roots. Heck, we all know about the charitable origins of the NHL All Star Game -- after Boston's Eddie Shore ended Toronto's Ace Bailey's playing career, a benefit game was held on February 14, 1934 with all proceeds going to support Bailey and his family. Eddie Shore himself was selected to participate in that game (the whole Shore-Bailey incident and the aftermath to it is a fascinating one, and deserving of its own post), but he was far from the only Bruin to engage in charitable play during that 1933-34 season.
On March 20th, 1934, Boston hockey writer Victor O. Jones wrote that "the Boston Garden tonight will resemble nothing so much as a house divided against itself, with the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League tackling the Bruins' Cubs of the Canadian-American League in an exhibition game." This all-Boston-area hockey matchup was designed to be a charity game, with all the proceeds going towards the Boston Emergency Campaign of 1934, an organization that provided funds to 110 different charity and welfare organizations in the greater Boston region.
The game was scheduled for only two nights before the Stanley Cup playoffs were meant to begin. For Boston, alas, that wasn't a factor, since the Bruins had long since been eliminated from playoff contention. Rather than pack it in for the season and head back to their (mostly Canadian) homes, however, the Bruins, under the management of Art Ross, decided to stage a game that would see Boston's professional hockey squad face off against its local semi-pro team, the Boston Cubs.
The Cubs were a CAHL -- predecessor of the AHL -- team that played (under different names) from the 1926-27 season through until 1935-36. They were fairly successful as well, winning the Fontaine Cup (the CAHL Stanley Cup, yo) three times in that period and making it to the finals in four additional seasons. In fact, in the season in question the Cubs were once again in contention for top spot in the League. Given the quality play of the Cubs, and the decidedly sub-par season the Bruins were coming off of, it might be reasonable to think the game would be a more even match up than might otherwise be the case.
That's where one might diverge from Boston writers of the time, however, who were collectively convinced of the Bruins' superiority going into the game. The article previewing the matchup led with the headline "Bruins Meet Cubs to Aid Relief Fund: Big Team, Now Showing Best Form of Season, Expected to Win Garden Game Tonight," while another writer opined that "it doesn't seem likely, however, that the Cubs, good as they are for their class, can beat the Bruins, inferior as they are in theirs." Yeesh, the Bruins season was rough, that year.
And indeed, the Bruins did win the game 4 to 1, scoring a power-play game winning goal (be still my heart, Bruins of yesteryear). At the end of the day, though, the winner of the game didn't much matter. The important piece of the story is the desire on the part of the team and its players, even after the end of their season, to participate in a game meant to benefit the local Boston community. Between the game itself and the intermission entertainment (which included figuring skating and speed skating competitions), the small but committed crowd was thoroughly captivated, according to reports, and the eventual total from the charity drive (of which the game was only one part) was well over 2.5 million dollars.
(Side note: in articles about the charity drive that lead up to the game, the vast majority of people mentioned as key organizers are women. They headed up the collection efforts in their wards and were among the biggest individual donors of money. Between this and the rooters, it's fascinating to see the various ways in which women participated in olde timey hockey fandom.)
This game is really just one random selected (if interesting) example of the ways in which the hockey world and the Bruins in particular have engaged charitably with the larger community. In our modern day North Americans society, we don't shy away from imbuing professional athletes with the qualities normally associated with superheroes. They are celebrities, and we often attribute to them physical and mental powers beyond those of normal people. To a certain extent, that's an attribution that makes total sense, since most pro sports figures are at peak physical condition, and every day do things with their bodies that most of us can't even imagine. It also leads to moments of intense disappointment, however, when athletes all too often prove to be ordinary humans, complete with normal human foibles, despite the fact that they have won the genetic lottery (and take home a hefty paycheck as a result).
The Bruins' trip to Newtown was a nice reminder of the good that these people do with their position of privilege, and how the ability and willingness to engage with local communities and charitable causes is one of the truly great things about the sport and the people who are a part of it. Of course, the cynic in me cries out that this is all part of creating good PR for the team, but even if that's a happy side benefit, the good inherent within those kinds of efforts remains.
Whether it's a charity game held to benefit the city in 1934, or an event like the one a few days ago, the Bruins have long proven their commitment to community involvement, and it's truly one of the things that make me most proud to be a fan of this team -- and the sport they play.