The parallels between the current Stanley Cup run and the Cup run of 2011 are numerous and well-documented, but a few of the special traditions that began in 2011 have a unique twist to them this year. "Boston Strong" is proudly plastered around the city and rightfully so, around the TD Garden and the Bruins organization.
One of the traditions that began in 2011 was having a flag captain waiving a Bruins banner before each game. In 2011, the flag captain each game was a former Bruins great – Milt Schmidt, Bobby Orr, Cam Neely. This year, the banner is a flag that that says "Boston Strong" with the Spoked "B" and the flag captains each game are first responders, victims, or others effects by the Boston Marathon bombings.
The second tradition that began in 2011 was awarding the "player of the game" a jacket to wear during interviews after each win. After the next win, he passes the jacket onto the next player. In 2011, it was an old school Bruins Starter jacket that Andrew Ference found on eBay. Like the new spin on flag captains, the Bruins player of the game jacket this year represents something much larger and more serious – a customized Army Ranger jacket.
Army Rangers are a very elite infantry unit in the US Army. Just to wear the Ranger Tab requires graduation from approximately two months of specialized training in combat leadership and small-unit tactics. They live by the motto "Rangers Lead The Way."
The jacket was given to Ference when he visited the summer after winning the Stanley Cup. From the May 17th edition of the Boston Herald:
Throughout the  Cup run, Ference kept in touch with a group of Rangers. He received pictures from Afghanistan of forces proudly waving a Bruins flag, and was told tales of how they’d come back from battle eager to watch the games.
To show his support, Ference wore an Army Rangers T-shirt throughout the playoffs. That summer, he was invited to Fort Benning in Georgia, touring the base and going to both a graduation ceremony and sniper school.
The Rangers put a picture of the Bruins winning the Cup in their hall of fame, and gave Ference the jacket.
Ference has been friends with Army Ranger Staff Sergeant Lucas Carr of Norwood, MA, since 2007. Ference could be seen rocking the Army Ranger tab often during the Cup run, and still does to this day. (Also: this. Warning: emotions.) Many other Bruins teammates and members of the organization are also friends with Carr, as well as his fellow Army Rangers. According to the Army, Carr is "a former member of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and now a Reservist living in the Boston area."
Carr ran the Boston Marathon this year, as he has for several years, for the Boston Bruins Foundation, wearing a singlet with the Bruins Spoked B logo on the front. He crossed the finish line only a few minutes before the bombs went off, and immediately returned to the finish line upon hearing the first explosion. As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he said he knew right away, before the second explosion even happened, what the situation was.
Fast forward to Fan Appreciation Day at the Garden. In a moment that makes me smile just to think about, Carr was one of individuals honored in the annual "Shirts Off Their Backs" ceremony in the last home game of the regular season that is normally held for season ticket holders upon the completion of the game, but this year was dedicated to first responders, police officers, and others effected by the bombings. When Carr walks out, Ference is told he is his favorite Bruin and to skate over, the laughter and hug they share is that of two long-time friends that I truly love.
Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports
Watch it around the 5:00 mark here. This is when they exchange jerseys - Ference gives him his game-worn jersey, and Carr gives Ference the running singlet with the Bruins logo that still hangs in the Bruins dressing room.
The bond now exists between the Army Ranger unit and the team as a whole. While the athletes insist they shouldn't be compared to war heroes who risk their actual lives. In Shawn Thornton's words: "Obviously, what they do is above and beyond it."
But the intersection of the Army Ranger jacket and the Boston Bruins team is not just a wonderful symbol.
Tuukka noted that it gives a little extra motivation while putting things in perspective. Even as Krejci said succinctly, "it's important to show your support."
Ference adds that (another quote from the Herald article): "...we have a lot of respect for what [the Army Rangers are] doing. We know that we provide entertainment for them and a lighter part of some of their days. I think most guys feel pretty honored to get [the Army Ranger jacket] after the game." The part about 'providing entertainment' in the 'lighter part' of the day is important because it's what many of us strive for and look forward to in the midst of our chaotic lives. Just looking at photos of soldiers representing the Bruins in Iraq or Afghanistan shows how important it can be, even if it's just a tiny part of their lives.
"Seeing the guys wear the jacket, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been getting emails and Facebook messages left and right. The guys that are seeing this are in awe. They’re very humbled: ‘Oh, my God, this professional hockey team is using our insignia, out there performing for us. We’re their heroes.’ Hockey players can have heroes too. That's what Andrew's conveyed for the team," Carr said.
When Ference visited Fort Benning for the Rangers in Action event and graduation (visit the link, there are some great pictures of Ference at Fort Benning), he was accompanied by Lyndon Byers, who said, "The Rangers and their leadership, there are a lot of similarities with sports. Coaches try to build winning teams, and they put together a successful Ranger School. It puts you in awe. I have huge respect for them. It's an honor to come out here and see where the big boys play."
When Gregory Campbell broke his leg blocking a shot and finished killing the penalty for almost a full minute afterwards, the word "warrior" was thrown around a lot. While the comparisons of hockey and war can, in fact, be a bit out of touch when talking about lives lost, Carr is happy that the team draws upon the motto of the Army Rangers as inspiration and believes that the hockey team, in terms of brotherhood and what you're willing to do for each other, isn't that far off base.
"It's about the man beside you."
Carr called his graduation from Ranger training school the proudest moment in his life, and said wearing the "Ranger" tab, or patch, for the first time "makes you feel like you're invincible."
"Some guys aren't as strong as others, but every guy that graduates on Victory Pond that day, they are the proudest human being in the world. And they will run through a brick wall for you," he said. "The sacrifice that that MVP (of the game) makes to wear that jacket is what it takes to be the best. It just means a lot to us, and the guys who have sacrificed so much, that they put that on at the end of the game. "
What the Bruins can accomplish together as a team is truly amazing, and the run they have put together so far, and hopefully will complete as they continue to battle against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, is the epitome of what is always described as great hockey. And that includes tough, physical battles, even if those battles are far removed from actual battlefields - it's best that way. We need hockey to take us away from those horrors of the real world - from war, from terrorist attacks. We try to do every little thing we can to help, and for the Bruins, that means bringing a city together, a fan base together, and giving it their all on the ice and honoring those who do the same off the ice.
After each win, whoever is wearing the Army Ranger jacket represents the logo that sticks with Ference and the Bruins that drives them to do their best each night: "Rangers Lead The Way." As Ference said, "it's important to have guys step up." This team has stepped up in a big way, and I can't help but look to the Army Ranger jacket as a source of that extra push that has helped get them this far, especially when they were so close to getting knocked out. But they found a way, when their city needed them most.
Watching first responders wave the Boston Strong banner at home games, I can't help but feel infinite gratitude that the team did find a way and have made it this far into the playoffs, if simply to give those who have suffered the relief, happiness and joy that is being apart of playoff hockey like this. So let's hope that Ranger jacket leads the way three more times, and maybe we'll even see it around a certain silver trophy.
Here's a list of each player who has worn the Army Ranger jacket after each win thus far:
Game 1 vs Toronto, 4-1 win: David Krejci
Krejci kicked off the new Army Ranger jacket tradition in the 2013 postseason, as he was chosen by Ference to be the first recipient after the team went up 1-0 in the Toronto series. He had a goal and two assists, and led all forwards in ice time at 19:03. He assisted on Horton's power play game-winning goal and scored the goal that gave the Bruins a two-goal lead. He set the tone for generating great offense that the Bruins were struggling with at the end of the season.
Game 3 vs Toronto, 5-2 win: Milan Lucic
Lucic had three points to give Boston a 2-1 series lead over Toronto. He was a plus-three, threw five hits and three shots on net, and had an all-around commanding presence.
Game 4 vs Toronto, 4-3 OT win: Nathan Horton
Eerily similar to when Horton was knocked out of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, leaving the Starter jacket hanging in his empty stall, the Army Ranger jacket was awarded to Horton after this game, but hung in his empty stall as he was injured on the last play of the game that led to the overtime winning goal. The injury wasn't serious - he was back at practice the next day. But anyway, Horton took a big hit from Dion Phaneuf to push the puck forward to Krejci in overtime, which led to an odd-man rush that Krejci scored on to win the game. The goal capped off a hat trick for Krejci, but Lucic elected to award Horton the player of the game jacket. He had two assists, a plus-two rating, two hits and three shots.
Game 7 vs Toronto, 5-4 OT win: Patrice Bergeron
Bergeron assisted on the Lucic goal that brought the Bruins to within one goal with just under 90 seconds left in regulation after being down 4-1 in the third period, then added the game-tying goal 30 seconds later to send the game to overtime. Then, of course, he scored the series-clinching goal six minutes into overtime. It was magical. Bergy had two goals, an assist, a plus-three rating, six shots, 4 hits, 1 takeaway, and a 75% success rate in the faceoff circle (16-for-22).
Game 1 vs NYR, 3-2 OT win: Zdeno Chara
Chara had a goal and an assist, opening the scoring in the first period, and getting an assist on Marchand's overtime game winner. He had a ridiculous 38:02 of ice time with Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference both lost to injury. He also had nine shots, six hits, a plus-two rating, and two blocked shots.
...[in game one versus the Rangers, Chara] became the first Bruins defenseman since Ray Bourque to score a goal and register nine or more shots on goals in one playoff game (one goal, 10 shots in a double-overtime game at Carolina in 1999). He's only the third blueliner to accomplish the stat since 1999. (source)
Game 2 vs NYR, 5-2 win: Gregory Campbell
Campbell scored a goal and also dropped the gloves in a fight in game two. His penalty killing presence was significant, helping the team kill off five New York power plays. He had three hits, two shots, and one blocked shot.
Game 3 vs NYR, 2-1 win: Daniel Paille
Paille scored the game-winning goal late in the third period after assisting on Johnny Boychuk's game-tying goal earlier in the third. He and the rest of his Merlot Line linesmates continued to be one of the advantages over the New York Rangersthrough the series.
Game 5 vs NYR, 3-1 win: Tuukka Rask
Tuukka won his first Conference Semifinal series, advancing deeper into the playoffs than he ever had before. He outplayed reigning Vezina champion Henrik Lundqvist and more than made up for slipping on an invisible banana peel in game four that led to the Rangers turnaround and overtime win. In game five he stopped 28 of 29 shots, and in the entire five game series against New York, had a save percentage of .936 and goals against average of 1.86.
Game 1 vs Pittsburgh, 3-0 win: David Krejci
Krejci was awarded the jacket again, scoring the first two goals against the Penguins for his sixth and seventh goals of the playoffs. He led all skaters with seven shots, and had three hits and one takeaway. He was fourth on the Bruins in ice time (and first among forwards) with 19:29, with only defensemen logging higher minutes than him. He also won five of six faceoffs.
Game 2 vs Pittsburgh, 6-1 win: Jaromir Jagr
What a surprise! Krejci passed the jacket onto his childhood idol! Jagr had his best game of the playoffs, recording two assists, one shot, one hit, and a plus-three rating. The team overall dominated, but at the crucial juncture in the first period when Tomas Vokoun was pulled after the third goal, and the Penguins scored to make it 3-1, Jagr made a big play that led to Brad Marchand's goal only seconds later to put the Bruins back up 4-1 heading into the first intermission:
...Jagr came out on the right end of a car crash with Brooks Orpik. The former Boston College defenseman tried to keep the puck inside the offensive zone. But Jagr thumped Orpik to nudge the puck into center ice. From there, Jagr gave the puck to Patrice Bergeron. In turn, Bergeron fed Brad Marchand.
Game 3 vs Pittsburgh, 2-1 double OT win: Patrice Bergeron
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Bergeron scored in double overtime by driving hard to the net and tipping in a pass from Marchand on a play that was almost exactly the same as the one that they pulled off in game one against the Rangers. It was Bergeron's fifth of the playoffs and on his fifth shot on goal of the night at with under five minutes to go in the second overtime.
Game 4 vs Pittsburgh, 1-0 win: Adam McQuaid
McQuaid had his second goal of the playoffs and the only goal of the game, which he scored five minutes into the third period.
Game 2 vs Chicago, 2-1 OT win: Chris Kelly
Kelly scored his first goal of the playoffs to tie the game at one in the second period. He centered the line that generated the most chances for Boston and scored the overtime winner with Paille and Tyler Seguin on the wings. Pierre McGuire said during the NBC broadcast that Kelly was being an outstanding leader on the bench, challenging players to be better and by far the most vocal of anyone on either team's bench. In McQuaid's own words, from his NHL blog:
Chris is a guy that is a leader on our team and does a lot of the little things that maybe go unnoticed. Not unnoticed to us, but he's been kind of snake bitten on the score sheet. He's been doing a lot of the little things, killing penalties, blocking shots and he is a leader on and off the ice for us. It was nice to see him get that goal. It was a big goal for us to get us back in the game. It was a pleasure to be able to hand it off to him and give a little speech.
I really would love to hear the speeches they give before handing off the jacket. Maybe one day we'll know when one of them writes a memoir.
Game 3 vs Chicago, 2-1 win: Dennis Seidenberg
Seidenberg had a strong game alongside Chara as they both played over 25 mintues. They were strong in all zones, helping Tuukka Rask earn a shutout as well as generate chances in the offensive zone. Seidenberg had six shot blocks, playing a major role in helping kill off five Chicago power plays. Seidenberg also had one shot on net, four hits. He looked pretty badass in the Army Ranger jacket, and added an extra touch of awesome with the Boston Strong shirt underneath.