Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thirty Nine Years

In the summer of 1971 my family temporarily moved north across the border to Vancouver. Yes, that Vancouver. I had seen a Hockey game before but it was in Vancouver that I was first truly bitten by the bug. It was there I first held a stick and learned to shoot left. And it was there that I discovered NHL hockey.

With a few exceptions I recall Vancouver as dull and lifeless. I remember standing outside in the rain waiting for the school bus in the mornings. It rained almost every morning, yet it never really rained. It just sort of misted a lot. Everything was perpetually wet. Summer lasted a few weeks at best. A lot of the people were like the weather: dreary and whiny. On the whole, I didn't really like it much.

It was thirty nine years ago that I walked into my 7th grade art class. My classmates were rowdy. Our teacher was new and just out of school. He told us he'd forgotten something and that we should all sit down. He went out the door and down the hall, leaving us to our own devices.

Someone started chanting quietly, "Rangers... Rangers... Rangers..." This was quickly met by others chanting, "Bruins... Bruins... Bruins.." Soon the class had split into two groups on opposite sides of the room. I remember sitting on a wide windowsill chanting "Bruins" with about half the class. It was the day of game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins were up 3 games to 2 and going into New York with a chance to win it all. A lot of people all over the continent loved the Bruins back then, mostly due to Bobby Orr. Soon we were chanting ever more loudly and I remember banging something on the windowsill in time with our chant.

The teacher came in and weakly tried to get us to stop, but we all just ignored him. Exasperated and upset he ran back into the hallway. That just made us chant more loudly. The whole school must have been able to hear us by then! After a while the teacher returned with the Principal and he managed to make us stop and sit down. Needless to say the Principal was pretty angry.

Later that night I watched Phil Esposito resume his battle in front the of net with the evil Walt Tkaczuk. Espo didn't score a goal that series, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Bobby Orr put on a clinic as usual, scoring the first goal. In the end it was a dominating win. Cheevers got the shut out and the Bruins won 3-0. Bobby won the Conn Smythe again, of course.

From that day on I have been a die-hard Bruins fan. We've been through a lot over the years. The close calls, the games that were lost that could have been won.

Thirty nine years. My oldest son will start 7th grade next year. He loves the Bruins too, of course. I wonder, what would it mean to him to see Big Z raise that cup on Wednesday?

But win or lose this has been a great ride! Win or lose on Wednesday I will remember this season as one of the best and this team with great fondness. They don't need to win it for me. I'll be back next season no matter what. But I'd sure like to see them win it for each other.

Thirty nine years ago Bobby Orr was my childhood hero. But that was so easy... he was everybody's hero. He dominated the game like no other player has before or since. My "adult" hero is Tim Thomas, and his winning would be much more sweet. After all he's been through and after all the idiots who said again and again that he wasn't good enough, it would make me so happy to see Tim Thomas take home a cup, two Vezinas and the Conn Smythe!

Maybe someday I will take my sons on a pilgrimage to Boston. Maybe, just maybe, we will watch as the number 30 is raised to the rafters to join number 4.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Jekyll and Hyde Series

I can't recall a playoff series where the home ice advantage had such an impact. It's not just that the Bruins and the Canucks are winning their home games, but that the games themselves are so completely different.

Last night's game 5 in Vancouver was much like the previous two, a tight-checking low-scoring affair. In these three games the Canucks have outscored the Bruins 5-2, recording two shutouts. The Canucks have won all three but by thin one-goal margins. The games have been close but Vancouver has always had the slight upper hand.

The two games in Boston were completely different. There, Boston completely dominated. The Bruins outscored the Canucks 12-1 and recorded one shutout.

If this pattern continues the Bruins should be favorites to win game 6 at home. But they must, of course, remember to bring their A game from the start.

And should they reach game 7, in order to win the cup the Bruins will have to break out of the previous pattern. There is some hope for that from what we saw in game 2 in Vancouver--a game in which the Bruins led at one time and was won in overtime.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bruins Bite Back

Canucks Bullshit

It's been an experience getting to know our hockey counterparts in Vancouver. They are, after all, from that distant land of the West where Bruins seldom tread in these days of a 30 team league.

But before I start crooning, "Getting to know, you..." let me say that the experience hasn't been very positive. The Canucks organization, players, and many of their fans are Bullshit artists, plain and simple. They seem to think that the taunts, dirty hits, bites, forwards riding Thomas across the crease, not to mention the obvious dives, are simply part of Stanley Cup championship hockey. I disagree.

But they have taken things to a whole new level by not merely defending their suspended teammate Rome's despicable late hit on one the Bruins top goal scorers, landing him in the hospital and out of the playoffs. Rather, they have suggested that this was somehow Horton's own fault and that they, the poor misunderstood Canucks, are actually the victims. They have further added insult to injury (and I mean actual injury!) by their theatrical appeal to the NHL over Tim Thomas' standing up against a forward about to run him over.

Not only has all this meant that I, every Bruins fan alive, and I suspect many others watching, have lost all respect for their total lack of class, but I suspect they may pay the ultimate price for it.

You see, apparently way out west the word never got to them about the Bruins. The number one rule when playing the Bruins is simple.

Do not taunt the Bear!

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's Not Over Yet: Going into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final

Obviously tonight's game is huge. The recipe to win is simple. The strategy that worked so well against Tampa in Games 5 and 7 isn't working well enough against the Canucks. Rather than the team that beat Tampa, what we need to see tonight is the team that beat Montreal. They need to come hard tonight, with overwhelming quickness and desperation. Once they get a two goal lead (please God, not three) then they can play the more conservative/opportunistic game.

You boys still want it, right? Then go out and take it!

P.S. I didn't have the chance to say it earlier, but I'd have sat Seguin in game 1. It worked before. And I'd be willing to bet that Thornton would have played balls out. Seemed like a no-lose proposition to me. But now it's too late.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bruins vs. Canucks

Who wins this series? I think anyone who claims to know is either delusional or lying. I would not be surprised if the Bruins swept in four. On the other hand, I wouldn't be all that surprised of the Canucks completed the sweep. Six games? Seven? I guess that's why they play the games.

Some people seem to think the Western Conference is much stronger than the East, and therefore the Canucks will win. The Western conference has won three of the last five cups. But these days the two conferences are almost like two different leagues. Not many people follow all 30 teams. Most of us have way more experience with one conference or the other. You can cite stats between the two, but when it comes right down to it the final is between the Bruins and the Canucks, not the two conferences, so I don't think this line of reasoning says all that much.

I think of the Bruins as bigger and better 5 on 5. Most people seem to think the Canucks are more skilled, but this may just be bias. Higher skilled or just more prominent? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. I've noticed that various network commentators seem to underestimate the Bruins.

Both teams have been buzzing around the playoffs for several years looking for deeper success and both seem to be just a bit surprised to find themselves in the final. So I doubt there will be a big difference in desire to win.

The people who should know how the teams stack up (such as Chiarelli and various players) all seem to say the same thing: the teams are in fact very similar. So who knows?

The one thing I can say is this: I don't believe the Bruins have given us their best yet. We saw them take their game to another level in game 7 vs. Tampa but I think they can do even better.

A big deal has been made of the Bruins terrible power play and their less than stellar penalty kill in the playoffs. But the past in the playoffs isn't much of a predictor of the future for special teams because it's all about how the teams match up. There is no reason to believe the Bruins won't have a breakout on the power play. Or they could remain just as inept. Over the regular season the Bruins penalty killing was very good, although better at some times than others. So again, the potential is there. We'll just have to see.

A lot has been said about the officiating in these playoffs. Some have complained that Colin Campbell has favored the Bruins because his son plays for the team. That's completely silly of course. The biggest discipline decision regarding the Bruins so far this year was the hit Tampa's Marc-Andre Bergeron made on David Krejci. They chose not to apply rule 48 in that case. And everyone knows Campbell has excused himself from discipline questions regarding the Bruins all season long. At best you could argue that the guy who replaces him isn't entirely consistent with Campbell. Regardless, there is a report today that Campbell has officially stepped down.

Much more important, in my opinion, is how inconsistent the officiating has been. In one game every little thing is called and in the next they call nothing. Sometimes one team seems to get penalized much more than the other. The officials have been all over the map on hooking, holding, interference, and goaltender interference. This is frustrating for players and fans alike. Here's hoping for more consistency.