The Bruins face the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday and the B’s have a chance to end 39 years of waiting. The Cup has not been in Boston since the Big Bad Bruins won in 1972. But some former Bruins stars are hoping that’s about to change.
Thirty-nine years is a long time for to wait for a championship. Twenty-nine years is a long time too.
That’s how long Boston Bruins fans had been hanging on when the most famous goal in team history ended the previous drought.
“Bobby Orr," the TV broadcast said. "Behind the net to Sanderson, to Orr... Bobby Orr scores! And the Boston Bruins have won the Stanley Cup!”
Orr’s goal eliminated the St. Louis Blues in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals. Boston would win again in 1972 and return to the finals three more times that decade. The Big Bad Bruins were known as tough guys playing a tough game. Derek Sanderson was one of those guys from the mid-1960s until 1974. He says the fighting, sniping and penalties in the current series against Vancouver show that some things have not changed.
“Hockey is a physical game, basically a violent game played by violent people," Sanderson said. "It is not for everybody. The big difference between today and my day is today they have helmets. Today they hit high and we’d never hit anybody high. Why? Because I didn’t have my head protected, they didn’t have their head protected, and the players today with the helmet perceive that they’re protected and they’re not. The physical part is the courage part.”
"The city deserves it. The fans deserve it. They’ve been extremely loyal. So, hopefully it’s their time.”Derek Sanderson
Sanderson often played in front of Bruins Hall of Fame goaltender Gerry Cheevers. He says although goaltending techniques have changed over the years, current netminder Tim Thomas’s scrappy, direct style reminds him of his former teammate.
“He’s a pressure player," Sanderson said. "There’s no doubt about that. That’s the throwback to Gerry Cheevers. He’s very aggressive like Cheevers. He plays at the top of his crease. He plays the shooter, he does not play the pass. He commits to the shooter, that means his defensemen must commit to shutting off the pass. Cheevers was the same way.”
John “Pie” McKenzie was part of two championship teams during his tenure with the Bruins from 1966 to 1972. McKenzie — who still lives near Boston — says part of the Big Bad Bruins image developed out of a camaraderie off the ice that would be harder to have today.
“They don’t live the same way we did," McKenzie said. "After practice we’d go and have a couple of beers together and after a game it was an automatic. Everybody had to show up at a bar designated by somebody and have at least two beers before they went on their way and did whatever they were going to do for the evening.”
The Bruins reached the Cup finals in 1988 and 1990, but lost. Now they're the only major sports team in Boston without a title in the new millennium. Boston Globe NHL writer Kevin Paul Dupont says that's made it tough for the franchise.
“The Patriots winning. The Celtics. The Red Sox," DuPont said. "Of course, the Red Sox are this huge presence when they’re not winning. For a franchise that had become so inconsequential in town, to have that added pressure was at the very least a unique situation, sometimes daunting.”
Sanderson, who also lives in Greater Boston, says the energy and enthusiasm among fans during this year’s run rivals what he saw 39 years ago and he and his fellow Bruins alumni are excited.
“It’s really important that this team wins for, not only us — I’d love to see them win again — but the town deserves it," Sanderson said. "The city deserves it. The fans deserve it. They’ve been extremely loyal. So, hopefully it’s their time.”
Wednesday, for the first time in franchise history, the Bruins will play in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. A Game 7 may be something new, but former Bruins, and longtime fans, are hoping for an old-time outcome just like the one in 1972.
Doug Tribou is a reporter and producer for WBUR and NPR's Only A Game.
This program aired on June 15, 2011.