August 04, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore," which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams — whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Next up, representing the Boston Bruins, NESN's own Jack Edwards (yes, that Jack Edwards).
By Jack Edwards
Bobby Orr — Quite simply, he is the greatest player ever to lace up skates. I understand the Gretzky and Lemieux arguments, but no one changed the way the game is played as much as Bobby Orr did. It is ridiculous to think that a defenseman could lead the league in scoring. Orr did it. Twice. In what is one of the most emblematic sports photographs of all time, consider that Orr — a defenseman — is being tripped up by Noel Picard JUST OUTSIDE THE CREASE after executing a give-and-go with Derek Sanderson in the corner. Before Orr, defensemen who got that close to the attacking-end crease usually won themselves a seat on the end of the bench for the rest of the game for being reckless and irresponsible. But Orr could beat the counter-attack if his forays failed, blowing by everyone who would try to catch him up ice. The man was Plus-124 in 1971. That mark will still be standing when we're all dust.
If you look into the background of that Cup-winning moment photo, you can see the crowd erupting. As those fans sprang from their seats, rinks sprang up all over New England and created a hockey-mad atmosphere whose multi-generational rites of passage have given Bruins fans their own special island in the pantheon of New England sports. Incidentally, in a 2010 online poll at NESN.com, Orr was voted the greatest sports legend in the region's history, ahead of the likes of Ted Williams and Bill Russell.
Ray Bourque — No one ever accepted obligation with as much integrity as Ray Bourque. He always did what was right. Inheriting the legacy of Orr as the designated next great defenseman of the Bruins, he completely accepted the impossibility of comparison and — in a head-shaking twist of fate — became one of, if not THE longest-lasting high-performance defensemen the game ever has known. Bourque's ability to turn defense into offense with his vision of the game, his skating or passing ability, gave Boston stability that extended its all-time record make-the-playoffs streak to 29 consecutive seasons. His trade to Colorado was seen as a humanitarian gesture as much as anything, and Boston threw him a City Hall rally when he won the Cup with the AVS! Few could touch him in his ability to keep the puck in the attacking zone on attempted clears; none was in his league when it came to getting a hard shot on goal to produce a rebound; he gave up his number for Phil Esposito at Espo's retirement celebration, perhaps the truest display of humility and character ever seen in Boston sports; and no one ... ever... outworked Ray Bourque.
Milt Schmidt — We should all aspire to live the life of Milt Schmidt. Ninety-two years old at this writing, still with sparkling eyes, great wit, and a sweetness that runs through his entire being, he symbolizes the Boston Bruins franchise. Classy. Superb in his play on the ice and his representation of the game off of it. Schmidt is a Hall of Famer as a player, having won NHL scoring titles, the Hart Trophy, and two Stanley Cups. But he also gave up three years of his career to fight in World War II. No doubt, if there were a real Bruins Rushmore, Schmidt would defer credit to his "Kraut Line" (ahh, for the days before political correctness) partners and boyhood buddies Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. And probably everyone else in the organization, all the way down to the janitor who turned out the lights at the practice rink. Schmidt not only excelled as a player, but as general manager he also pulled off the seminal deal that created the team around Orr: He traded Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris to Chicago for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. And you think the Joe Thornton deal was lopsided? Let me know when the Sharks hang their second banner and we'll take it up again.
Cam Neely — In some comparatively meaningless regular-season game that we covered while working for a local TV station in Boston in the 1980s, Cam Neely took an errant stick across the face. It knocked one tooth clean out, busted off another one at the gums, and sheared-off a third in a diagonal line that left the nerve exposed and dangling out of the razor-sharp serrated edge of the broken tooth. Neely talked the trainer into putting a piece of adhesive tape over his broken teeth and returned to the game. My photographer and I went straight to his locker after the game — he was the only story that night, as far as I was concerned — to ask him what the heck he was doing coming back into the game. Through a lip swollen to the size of a jumbo bratwurst, he mumbled, "I felt I owed it to the guys in the room." You need a huge goal? Neely. You need someone to make a statement with physical play? Neely. You get in a bit of trouble and need a policeman? Neely. You need to have the entire team jump on somebody's back? Yeah. Cam Neely. If the guy didn't inspire you, you cannot be inspired. He's the team president now, and so he is in our list not only as a Hall of Fame player but also as the symbol of the future.
Regrets: John Bucyk, edged out by Neely.
Dit Clapper, Frank Brimsek, Lionel Hitchman, Eddie Shore — I just can't put these players' careers into perspective. I plead guilty to the prejudice of the present. It is brutally hard when creating lists such as these, to separate achievements with perspective across eras when one did not witness one or more of those eras. Those who played most recently always get disproportionately rewarded.
Phil Esposito, brilliant in the Cup runs of '70 and '72, the first player with 70 goals, the first player with 100 points, but not quite incredible enough, long enough, to get into the selection.
Terry O'Reilly, who not only played with the heart of a lion but inspired the teams he coached to play that way as well.
So that's that.
Now the real fun begins. Take your shots, everybody. Lists drive passionate disagreement. Let's have a go!
Mount Puckmore photo by B.D. Gallof of Hockey Independent