We like to measure the concept of time like books when it comes to Sports.
We think of every year’s team like the next 82-and-change pages of an ever expanding tome that stretches to the first day the team was founded up until the very moment you’re reading this now. Every iteration of core players, every major trade, every championship win and heartbreaking loss wrapped up in neat little bows like chapters of a never-ending manuscript. The only way the book closes is if the team leaves the town it’s in or if it closes shop. In ice hockey...that is both frequent, and often.
Hockey is a unique sport primarily due to it’s transience. The story of the movie Slapshot, considered the highpoint of the hockey movie, underlines that fact; no matter how much ass the Hanson Brothers kick, no matter how well Reggie Dunlop gets his team riled up to beat the other team down, no matter how well the Charlestown Chiefs actually do...they will be folding; with or without a championship win.
It’s been true of NHL teams just as well as senior or minor league squads as well; The North Stars had to be moved to Dallas because the owner was so impressively stupid he somehow lost money on hockey there. The Nordiques were both a victim of the Canadian Dollar and arguably their own province’s premiere attempting to secede from Canada. The Original Senators lost nearly $60,000 and had to relocate to St. Louis, where even there; they couldn’t keep the battle going. One need only go to places like SportsLogos.net and look through any hockey league, past or present, to find that any currently running league rests on the bones of dozens of teams that couldn’t survive, for one reason or another.
The Bruins, through these last One Hundred years, rest upon many, many, many bones.
Their first-ever opponent is gone. The first building they used to play in now houses a college squad and it’s façade has been bricked up. The second one was knocked down and the current one put up in it’s place. Who knows what will happen to their current home in the far future, but it’s fair to say the Boston Bruins may yet live to see the new building atop it’s ruins as well.
Because it will do so.
Like the Black Bear out in the New England woods and increasingly New England dumpsters, the Bruins will adapt.
They always have.
The Boston Bruins throughout this sordid history have tried to find ways to make people care, to find a way for people to become invested, for as long as the team’s existed. This was by design; when the team came to town, it was in the wake of Boston being one of the holdouts of the Amateur-Professional debate of the early 1900s on the side of the Amateurs, before a scandal broke the city’s collective hearts. They could not spend their first few seasons doing the same, and so went out of their way to try and be winners where they could. They tried, they failed, they tried some more, and won cups.
For many fans, the 40’s Bruins are a bit of a mystery. The 50’s Bruins even moreso, seemingly known only for shattering a barrier well cracked by Larry Kwong in New York; being the team that was willing to play one Willie O’Ree, a black man in the heart of a viciously segregated city, at forward. These teams do not command the same respect as what’s to come. I believe they should, for they paved a path that many fans can say they began their journey with this team, and indeed this sport with. Their chapters, grim as they sometimes were in a time of Toronto and Montreal dominance, matter.
It’s here in the late 60’s and into the 70’s that much mythmaking is done; many of you picked up this book for the first time. Hearing about a player that played his position completely wrong, and yet made the team better for it. The Boston Bruins became Big and Bad for the first time. These afterthoughts of the bygone eras became the talk of the town. The reason many of you picked up a hockey stick for the first time. The first time you got to see what the Boston Garden looked like. The reason you know that Jesus Saves, and that Esposito scores on the rebound.
For a whole generation, the Bobby Orr Bruins were the Boston Bruins. A New Kingdom formed in the shadow of pyramids made by men like Dit Clapper and Eddie Shore. Now anointing pharaohs of their own for the two cups brought in during this time. Rivalries were born, fists (and shoes) were thrown, and a new life was breathed into this team through adaptation; turning the Defenseman into a scoring threat.
But now that they’d innovated, they needed to perfect it.
If Orr busted a door down, then Bourque; a man brought in towards the tail end of these salad days, knocked the entire wall down around it. He was more than just a good skater, more than just a good shooter and shot-blocker, he was good at these things and so much more. It could be very seriously argued that he was a wizard with the puck. Those kids who’d grown up idolizing Orr were going through their teenage years with a Super Orr.
It’s a pity the team around him never rose to that.
In fairness, the NHL of the 80s was a different beast, and is lionized with good reason; it could very easily be argued that it was the perfect blend of what people liked about hockey. It was fast, it was hellaciously violent, and scoring was effectively a matter of choice. It was hard to win because of the sheer level of incredible talent that bubbled to the top onto a few select teams was overwhelming...and of course a hated rival who managed to drag the Bruins down to their level; ensuring that even when the Bruins won...they also found a way to lose a little bit as well.
It’s just painful knowing how close he’d get in Boston. Especially when he started to get help.
The Bruins of the 80s and 90s were a series of chapters that always started the same way and mostly ended the same way. It was frustration, and passion. Individual and team records being shattered. Battles becoming taut and heated. Then heartbreak. Always heartbreak. But still boldly they ran headfirst into their game; continuing to fight for the goal as it has always been.
The Bruins watched their league balloon in size during these days, and in their shame...it could never happen to these players in the same way it could for Orr and Sanderson and Esposito. Heartbreaking decisions were made. Transition began. A few dark chapters begin, but not without bright spots.
The NHL hardened after the mid-90’s. The Neutral Zone Trap became the name of the game. The game changed to something theoretically the Bruins could’ve done something with, but always there was something holding them back. Guys like Joe Thornton were brought in and could bring this team success, but never enough to justify a meaningful return to the playoffs. Not yet. But it would require an aggressive move after years of middling performances. It would require making difficult choices to abandon the path they were on.
Instead...they chose a different path. A more perfect path. One that didn’t immediately bear fruit, but set in motion something that would become beautiful.
The modern Boston Bruins fan; the one that became a fan during the late 2000’s, starts in the decision to move on from Joe Thornton and to prop up Patrice Bergeron. Many didn’t like the idea at first, but that was always a a longer term plan. A nostalgia act with new blood added to a new fervor for this team. Youth was added. Veterans were added. It wasn’t always successful out of the gate, and often caused just as much aggravation as it did joy...but it was all about patience, as we’d learn.
Because glory awaited this team on the other side of 39 years, with a cup placed in the hands of giants.
The chapters of the 2010’s seem to be always full of some great twist and turn, always trying to find the repeat of those wonderful days in 2011. Anything at all that could recreate the magic. They got close. Oh they got very close. One could make the argument however that due to the change in playoff format, the Bruins would begin to make that magic in the early rounds. Old rivalries became new again, and new faces would soon become household names. Records both good and bad would be broken.
Heartbreak and Tragedy would be assuaged by Black and Gold.
Today, we sit here on the 100th season of the Boston Bruins.
We don’t know what will come next.
For many, the last two chapters were their Boston Bruins. Everything they have ever known about this team has either begun to retire or has actively retired already. We spent most of an offseason lamenting the one-two punch of Bergeron and Krejci.
It was true of the Bourque Bruins. It was true of the Eddie Shore Bruins. It was true of the Bobby Orr Bruins.
It will be true of the David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand Bruins as well.
In a weird way, I think it’s best for the team to come to this 100th year in a state of mystery. It was a state of mystery in year one. Could an American NHL team succeed? Could they win a cup? Could they even stay afloat long enough to win? The questions now seem relatively tame in comparison: Can this team survive without a true #1 center? Do they have what it takes to keep up with a changing Atlantic division? Is Matthew Poitras really the next guy?
They’ve done all of that and more. They’ve answered these kinds of questions before. They have outlasted generations of their fans, their rivals, their hated foes, their beloved icons, their own homes. Always bolstered by the future; the present and past bringing their young to see this game. To see this team. To marvel or to sit in a crowded room of 17,000 hoping for the best. All for the chance to see a giant metal bowl be raised high.
We do not ever know what the future will bring, so together we all go to meet it with open arms and clear eyes. We all open the book to the next chapter because we want to see how it ends.
Together, like our forefathers, our fathers, our mothers, and our children have done, will do, and are currently doing...we open that page and recite the words together. Because we are fans, and that’s what our job is to do. To make a man-made cave feel like a battle to exist in.
So for the next 82 pages in this long season, we once again call out
Let’s Go Bruins