Here at OTBH, I try to stay away from super overt references to the issues facing hockey today. Ok, that's not really true: by issues what I mean is the lockout. I don't want to talk about the lockout, and you definitely don't want to read about the lockout anymore. Besides, you come here for the Boston hockey history, not more moping about the season that's wasting away in front of us.
Sometimes, though, the connections between the past and the present are too striking to ignore. At times these connections are rather obvious - the similarities and differences between the lockouts of 1994-1995, 2004-2005 and today have been well documented by people more qualified to speak on them than I. This work stoppage resonates with the past in less blindingly apparent ways too, however, going all the way back to the dawn of professional hockey in the Hub.
Picture this: it's 1924. Charles Adams has obtained permission for a professional hockey franchise in the city of Boston. This new Boston team (one of two to be admitted to the NHL that year, the other being the Montreal Wanderers) was largely made up of players from Western Canada and Seattle. This rag-tag new team played it's first exhibition game game against the Saskatoon Sheiks (I'm letting that name choice pass in silence. For the moment, anyway...) on November 27th, and in advance of that matchup, manager Art Ross and the press both urged patience with the team and with its supporters. The players needed time to adjust to professional hockey, Ross opined, and as for the fans, the Christian Science Monitor summed it up nicely: "Boston is reputed to know hockey; now it must learn a new method of playing the game."
So from a fan perspective, hockey was awesome! Yay, hockey! But the type of hockey this new professional team would bring to the city was still a great unknown. As a November 11 article in the Boston Globe perfectly stated, "all Boston fandom will be anxious to see professional hockey, played by men in condition, with something at stake" (emphasis mine). The whole city of Boston sports fans was allegedly on edge, waiting to see what the advent of NHL level hockey would bring to the city, but not entirely sure what to expect.
Gee, doesn't that sound familiar.
As we not-so-patiently wait for the NHL and the NHLPA to figure their sh*t out, we wonder what hockey will be like when it returns. How many games will there be? At what level will they be played? Will some guys be rusty, will the ones playing in Europe be all discombobulated from playing on a bigger ice surface, will rookies like Dougie Hamilton have benefited from more time in the OHL, or will their development have been hindered? Almost more important than these questions are the ones that focus on intangibles: what will fan response be when the NHL finally comes back? Will the bitterness be palpable at games? Will the league suffer from an unhealable rift between owners and players? What will hockey be like when it comes back, because we all know it won't be the same game it was before, just like it wasn't the same after 2004-2005 or 1994-1995.
We're not so different, the fans of 1924 and us. We have expectations, certainly, but we don't totally know what to expect from our hockey club, or from professional hockey in general. Obviously, as a fanbase, we are sad, disillusioned, and angry where the supporters of the Bruins in the 1920s were skeptical, perhaps, but generally excited for the future of their new team.
And they should have been - the Bruins played their first professional, non-exhibition game on December 1, 1924 at home against the Wanderers, posting a big 2-1 win. Carson Cooper scored both Boston goals, and it was reported that "the visitors' condition was far below that of the locals." Even though the good times wouldn't last (the Bruins went 6-25-0 in that first season, yeesh), the stage was set in Boston for an enthusiastic support of the local professional hockey squad.
December 1st - that makes this weekend the 88th anniversary of the very first NHL game played by the Bs. The doom and gloom of the lockout makes it hard to remember what it feels like to start a regular season, all the anticipation and the excitement and the analysis of who's playing on which line with who. But maybe for a moment we can re-remember what it's like to be a part of a hockey fandom (which, ps, did you know that was a word in 1924?? In use since 1903, the dictionary tells me. Fascinating...) that is anxious about the sport, and not because we dread what the latest CBA update will tell us, but because we're excited to see the sport we love, played by men in condition, with something at stake. I'm not advocating optimism or warm fuzzy feelings towards the NHL right now (seriously, does anyone have any of those left?) but as lovers of the game, taking a look back at that moment when no one knew yet what the Bruins could be is a nice reminder of the good kind of anticipation, where not only a season but a whole team was new, and literally anything was possible.
Happy Anniversary, Bruins.
"Pro Hockey Ready to Make Boston Debut," The Christian Science Monitor, Nov 26, 1924, p. 6.
"To Start Pro Hockey Here," The Boston Globe, Nov. 11, 1924, p. 19A.