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OTBH: A Team as Strong as Any Other

1926: Bruins Rising.

Captain Sprague Cleghorn.
Captain Sprague Cleghorn.

"Boston, I am sure, will be represented by a team as strong as any other club in the National League circuit."

So proclaimed Charles Adams, owner of the Boston Bruins, on September 28, two months before the start of the 1926-1927 NHL regular season. The two previous seasons -- during which Boston's record was unequivocally terrible -- did not necessarily serve to inspire confidence in the still-nascent Boston Bruins fandom. The Bruins were bad, really bad, and had managed to miss the playoffs in a League where like only two teams didn't make the playoffs (or 4. whatever). Adams was undeterred though, certain of his team's chances even in an expanded (10 whole teams, oooooooh) League.

The players and GM/Coach Art Ross shared this excitement and determination when it came to the upcoming season. More than half the team (8 of the 14 players anticipated to be on the Bruins' squad that year) were in Boston and ready to get going as of October 26. They were itching to practice, and Ross was ready to play taskmaster and get his boys into shape for what would hopefully a less disappointing season than the two that had preceded it.

One small problem: there was no ice at Boston Arena. Ross had been promised ice, he asserted, well in advance of the opening game of the season on November 16. But as of the unofficial start of ‘training camp' there was nary a sheet to be seen, and Ross was left with 8 players (with another three on the way in the next day or so) skilled in the game of ice hockey, with no ice to put them on.

Ross, ever the pragmatist, would not be stopped from starting up his version of camp -- especially not given the aroma of hope and determination that seemed to permeate every aspect of the leadup to the season -- and so lack of ice notwithstanding, workouts commenced on October 26 as planned. What, precisely, did these off-ice workouts entail?

Chock full of enthusiasm for hockey, the Bruins had their first workout of the season at the Boston Arena yesterday. There was no ice available. Coach Ross, however, had the men fully garbed in hockey clothes, white sneakers replacing skates as they went through an hour's conditioning work.

Ross had the players tossing a heavy medicine ball and Capt Sprague Cleghorn supervised a stiff setting-up drill to develop legs and bodies for the hard checking professional hockey players have to stand. Condition will play a big part in the 1927 season, as the Bruins will play 44 games, eight more than a year ago.

I don't know about you, but I'm a little sad there was no such thing as smartphones in 1926, because the sight of Sprague Cleghorn in white sneaks and full olde-tymey pads throwing a medicine ball sounds like comedy GOLD.

The dearth of ice didn't put a damper on the Bruins' energy or enthusiasm for the upcoming season. They echoed the sentiments of Adams -- the notion that this year, finally, this year might be something special was a common thread through all the players' comments, many asserting "that Boston fans will see an inestimably stronger team take the ice for the first game with Les Canadiens, Nov 16, than represented the Hub a year ago."

This same confidence was on display once the players (finally) took to the ice on October 29. An hour of skating was followed by the same level of rigorous off-ice workouts as they had done prior to having ice time, but (the Globe opined) Ross wasn't working them as hard as he possibly could, rather "working them easily, letting the players have a free rein, because he knows that the fight for regular positions will be so keen that every man will work to be fit for the first scrimmages."

Motivation for this Bruins team was everywhere: the expectations of the owner and the GM were high, and they in turn raised the expectations of the still-growing fan base. As with every camp, players were jockeying for spots on the squad, so they had expectations of themselves to be competitive with the players around them. The team was barely two years old, but the shift in thinking from that first year was apparent to everyone watching the team make itself ready for that first game against the Habs.

The media noted this shift, writing the day of that opening game that "the greatest hockey team ever assembled by a Boston club will take the ice for the Boston Bruins at the Arena tonight...the Bruins tonight will look like another team in personnel." Some of this was bluster and talking a good game, to be sure, but there was a sense throughout the words of the players and Adams and Ross that that year felt different somehow -- that the Bruins were beginning to come into their own.

That first game - -against Cup winners and legends like Howie Morenz -- proved all that hope wasn't for nothing. A "sizzling" 4-1 win over the Habs was a statement game, showing the world of hockey that the Bruins might not be the complete pushovers they had been previously. And they weren't -- they weren't dominant, precisely, but they were fast and strong and finished with a respectable 21-20-3 record and a berth in the playoffs.

In fact, they played for the Stanley Cup that season -- they lost, but it almost didn't matter. They were the worst team in the league two years previously, and they had spent the last seasons fighting for respect and for a few wins strung together. By April 1927, they had achieved both, and the words of Adams at the start of the season seem prescient rather than blindly optimistic. The Bruins, finally, were a team as strong as any other.