With preseason in full swing in these parts, and the start to a (full length, thank god) season right around the corner, it's time to take a look back at what this group's predecessors were getting themselves up to in (*drumroll*) This Day in (Bruins) History!! Jazz Hands.
For this edition of OTBH: TDI(B)H, we turn our attention the the squad of 60 years ago, who were preparing to begin the 1953-1954 NHL season. The League was different then: it was right smack in the center of the period of a six-team (maybe you've heard of them) league; the Norris Trophy had yet to come into existence (it would that season); and the Bruins were coming off a Stanley Cup Final loss to the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins were returning some familiar faces that fall -- Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart, both entering their 18th seasons in the NHL, were two -- as well as welcoming some youngsters to the fold.
Camp was slated to begin September 19th, and on the 18th (that's today!) the Globe reported that Schmidt, Dumart, and 39 other players were making their way to Hershey, PA, where they were to practice for a week before playing in three exhibition games against the (baby) Bears. Among the highly touted youngster going to camp that year were Don McKenney, Doug Mohns, Skip Teal, and Gordie Wilson, along with goaltending prospect Ray Picard. Picard, in particular, excited a lot of chatter among the Boston media, but all these young players seemed exciting possibilities for the Bruins faithful.
And that's really what This Day in (Bruins) History is all about -- there wasn't a game, or a fight, or a memorable comeback or a crushing defeat. There was only the weight of expectation on the part of the media and the fans as the Black and Gold began their march toward another season of (hopefully) exciting hockey. What would the kids bring to the table? Would Dumart and Schmidt still be able to contribute to the team's success? Would the crushing defeat the previous year at the hands of the Habs light a fire for the Bruins, or would it shake their confidence?
On September 18th,1953, all that fans had were questions, not answers. We, of course, now know the answers -- we know how the season went (the Bruins lost in the first round of the playoffs to -- of course -- the Canadiens), we know that the first ever James Norris Memorial Trophy would be awarded at the end of the season to Red Wings defenseman Red Kelly, we know that Art Ross would retire as general manager of the Bruins and that for the first time since their inception, the Bruins would be completely without his guidance and influence. We know that Schmidt would transition to player-coach he next season, that Dumart would retire, and that the kids, well. As with any group that goes to a training camp, it's so hard to know who will emerge as bona fide NHLers, and who will fade into obscurity.
Ray Picard, the former standout goalie for Northeastern, never played a game in the NHL -- or the AHL, for that matter, though he did play a season in the Eastern Hockey League for the Worcester Warriors. Similarly, Gordie Wilson never saw an NHL game. Skip Teal, the promising center, did suit up for the Bruins for one game during the 1954-1955 season, but spent most of his career in the AHL and other minor leagues. On the other hand, Don McKenney, a promising rookie on this day in 1953, would go on to play 798 NHL games, would be a 7 time All Star, and spend 8 1/2 seasons with the Bruins, serving eventually as captain. Doug Mohns would make the team out of camp in 1953, which was only the beginning of the eventual 22 seasons he would play in the NHL, 11 of those for the Bruins.
Of course, all that was still to come. On that day, much like today, fans of the Bruins were arguing amongst themselves about which of these unproven kids would transition best to the pro level, and how the team would far this year, and whether training camp and exhibitions would give them any real sense of the Bruins' chances that year. I've said it before, but there's something cleansing about the start of a new season, about the proverbial blank slate. Everything is possibility, and for every Ray Picard there is a Doug Mohns. Half the fun is in finding out which is which.