The Boston Bruin's are Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since 1972 and Bruin's Nation is absolutely ecstatic. Now some may say "*yawn* another championship for a Boston team. All you guys do is win". Well, this may be true if you're between the ages 16-25 as all you've witnessed is winning. For the rest of us there was 16 years of nothing but frustration between the Celtics win in 86' until the Pats 1st Superbowl win in 2002. We lived and died with the Sox, Pats, C's and B's and their near misses at championship glory. Eventually the Patriots, lead by the holy triumvirate of Belichick, Brady and Kraft, upset the "greatest show on turf" and things turned the corner. 2 more Superbowl wins, the beloved, beleaguered Sox broke "the Curse" after 86 years, and the Celtics behind the new Big 3 returned to championship glory. But there was a missing element. The team with maybe the most hardcore, loyal fans, the Bruins, were lost in the shuffle and far from the average sports fan's minds having not won a Stanley Cup since 1972. That was about to change...
It's hard to explain hockey fans if you're not one. The rules are a little opaque and participation, depending on where you live, can be spotty. It's a game that plays out better live then on television. It's a game of muckers and grinders as much as it is superstars. It's a blue collar sport with the players that are most like me and you (well, once upon a time). It was the last sport where everyone, not just the rank and file, had 2nd jobs to make ends meet. It's the sport where most of the players ended up settling in the area forever and therefore were the most approachable to the fans. That's hockey fans. Then there are Bruin's fans. Loyal to the core to their team. Packing them in to the old Boston Garden where you were practically on top of the skaters giving a home ice advantage par excellence. Hard working sorts who had to watch every dollar but always set aside enough to renew their season tickets. A small, hardcore, ravenous group that had no time for fair weather fans or bandwagon jumpers. The pinnacle for these fans was the Big, Bad Bruin's of the early 70's
I was born in 1966 so I have no memories of the Bobby Orr Bruins that ignited hockey fever in the region and was in part responsible for literally 100's of hockey rinks being built around the region. My first solid memories were of guys like Terry O'Reilly, Stan Jonathan and Mike Milbury in the late 70's/early 80's. But I knew all about the Big, Bad Bruins that won Stanley Cups in 70' and 72' (and were probably the best team in the NHL in 71'). You knew the names; Bobby, Espo, Chief, Turk, Cheesy and the rest. They could skate, they could score, they could fight and they had the best player on the planet in Bobby Orr. This was the team that really defined Boston hockey. You had the poster of The Goal, it was required. You saw these guys around town as most of them settled on the North Shore to raise their families. Game 4 1970 with Bobby Orr flying thru the air was replayed over and over again. It was the peak of hockey madness and honestly maybe the most legendary team in Boston sports history
The next decade plus were lean years for Bruins fans. The Garden was still full with loyal fans but the stars of the 70's had retired or moved on. The main reason to go see them play was a young defenseman from Montreal named Ray Bourque. Bourque was a phenom and eventually they would surround him with talent like Cam Neely, Craig Janney, and the goalie tandem of Reggie Lemelin and Andy Moog. As good as these teams were, and for me they are the teams I remember best, in 1988 and 1990 their dreams, and the dreams of their fans, were dashed by the juggernaut that was the Edmonton Oilers. Looking back now I can't believe it would be another 21 years to see a return to the Stanley Cup Finals
When the tore down the Garden and replaced it with the Shawmut/Fleet/Banknorth/TD/Center/Garden it just wasn't the same. A lot of long time season ticket holders had their once great seats downgraded to mediocre seats and a lot of them were just plain priced out. Whatever it was that made the Garden such an awesome venue for hockey had been lost in translation to the (for simplicity sake we''ll just call it the...) Fleet Center despite much better amenities. Jeremy Jacobs the elusive owner was public enemy #1 with the percieved notion he was only interested in money, not the Cup. There were some competitive teams but none that got too far and none that really excited the populace
Fast forward to 2009/2010. This team started to capture the interest of the fans with dreams of Stanley Cup glory until a monumental collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers ended the playoff run rather abruptly. 2010/2011 started with a healthy Tim Thomas, key off-season acquisition of Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell, rookie standouts Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand and Bruin's legend and Hall of Famer Cam Neely as the newly named team president. Key late season acquisitions of Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly rounded out this gritty bunch. I won't rehash what happened next as you probably already know but as the frigid early spring in Boston grew warmer by the day you started to realize this was a special team
So, here I sit on the cusp of the rolling rally to fete the conquering heroes. Suddenly everyone is a Bruins fan and you know what? I'm fine with it. Pink hats and bandwagon jumpers are all welcome on this ride. The modern, casual sports fan has become more of an event oriented crowd as opposed to a hardcore sports crowd being more concerned about being a part of history then a fan of the sport. But I'm cool with that. These new (possibly short-term) fans make the difference in the relevance of a team and the financial bottom line of their owners. The more money they make, the more money they (hopefully) spend. So jump on board kids, Boston IS a hockey town! Boston IS a Bruins town. Get out your black and gold, crank up Nut Rocker and Dirty Water, get ready scream Looooooch, and Zeeeeee, and Timmmmay! Enjoy this victory, you deserve it!!