That Old Boston Bruins Feeling
In the 1970s, the Bruins and Hockey were Big in Easton and Across New England
Nostalgia has spread across the Greater Boston area in the form of a longing, an acquaintance with a time and place and fervor of long past.
Something about a hockey team.
Included among my Facebook friends are many present and former Easton residents who are big Boston Bruins fans.
Here is a sampling of how my Facebook friends have integrated their affection for the Bruins into their FB page profile images:
Eric Blaney has a photo of himself, in Boston Bruins gear, standing alongside the ice at the TD Banknorth Garden while his lovely girlfriend, Jackie Belsky, also in Bruins regalia, is kissing him on the cheek; Joe Bailey’s FB profile image is the Boston Bruins logo; Linda (Wise) Ellis has a photo of her son, Harley, wearing a Boston Bruins jersey, skating in his first hockey lesson, which took place last September when Harley was five years old; Michael Hogan has a photo of himself –wearing a black and gold jersey which has the design of the head of a bruin on its front – posing next to the Stanley Cup (he actually has his hand on the cup) at an event at the 2003 NHL All Star Game in South Florida; Mark Nobrega has a photo of his deltoid muscle emblazoned with a Boston Bruins tattoo (yes, it's a permanent tattoo); and Kristina Allen Sakowich, a devout Christian, has a photo of a Bruins logo under which is written – appropriately enough – the word “BELIEVE.”
I have reports that at least two of my FB friends were in tears following the Bruins game 7 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Yes, the Boston Bruins are back in the Stanley Cup finals – for the first time since 1990, when they lost in five games to the Edmonton Oilers. Yet the tie to times of yore is not that of 1990, but that of a period of 35 to 40-plus years ago when the Big Bad Bruins skated into, and held on to, the affections of a region.
In 1970 the Bruins won the Stanley Cup; they lost in the finals the next year, and then won the Cup again in 1972. Throughout the '70s, the Bruins had a particularly passionate following in these parts. And they were the inspiration of a florescence of youth, high school, and amateur hockey; it was crazy good and crazy fun.
Those Bruins were kings – men like Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson and Gerry Cheevers and and Phil Esposito and Johnny Bucyk and Ted Green and Ken Hodge.
WSBK-TV 38, a UHF station, broadcast Bruins home games – played at the Boston Garden – during this period, and largely because of the Bruins fandom of, WSBK-TV was one of the top independent TV stations in the America.
Easton was just about as fired up on the Bruins and hockey as any place.
Hundreds of kids in Easton played in the Easton Youth Hockey League (EYHL) which fielded teams in four of the divisions of the U.S. national youth hockey organization: squirts (ages 7-8), peewees (11-12), bantams (13-14), and midgets (15-16).
These kids were committed. Consider that with ice time being at a premium, to play in the EYHL often meant getting up at five in the morning so that you could get in an hour of practice time with your teammates prior to school.
Youth hockey in town was big.
Heck, even my brother, Creig – who would play football, basketball, and run track in high school, and who would play basketball in college – played in the Easton Youth Hockey League.
I remember Creig racing around our home on Andrews Street looking for pennies, which youth hockey players from the 1970s used to replace broken plastic inserts for the garters that held up their socks.
Youth hockey in America – with Boston and Minnesota at the forefront –was developing the players who would challenge Canadian dominance in pro hockey, and Soviet and Eastern European dominance in international amateur hockey.
Highly popular in the 1970s were youth hockey “Mini 1-on 1” competitions. The top players in New England would compete on the ice of the Boston Garden, and on TV, in between periods of the Bruins games. Danny Craig, younger brother of Olympic gold medalist and "Miracle on Ice" goaltender, Jim Craig, won the 13-year-old New England Mini 1-on-1 at Boston Garden.
Easton Youth Hockey was the feeder system for the Oliver Ames High School hockey program – which was one of the tops in the area. Tiger hockey had a big following, and had many standouts. Among them was Randy Millen (OA ’75), who as a senior set the Massachusetts prep record for most points in a career. Randy went on to play four years of varsity hockey at Harvard University.
Randy was the classmate and teammate of Jim Craig. Jim was first of three brothers to play for the Tigers.
Jim likes to tell the story of how when he was in third grade, the postman who delivered mail to the Craig household on North Main Street – his name was Phil Thompson – suggested that the newly formed Easton Youth Hockey League would be a good program for Jim.
Smart guy, that Mr. Thompson.
It’s funny, Jim also tells how when he was just starting out in hockey, the older kids would not let him play in their games that they held on Holmes Pond, a small pond in the woods behind the Craig’s house. So, Jim would content himself skating along the frozen rivulets and channels of water that wound through the woods – an exercise that forced him to develop expert skating skills, as he needed to negotiate around and between rocks, branches, roots sticking out of the ice.
One of the best amateur sports takes in those days was an OA-Canton hockey game at the Crossroads Ice Arena, on Manley Street in West Bridgewater, which sat approximately just north of where now is the Wendy’s on the corner of Manley Street and Rte. 106.
Those games were a sold out and raucous atmosphere – with hard play from the opening faceoff to the sounding of the final horn.
Actually, an OA-Canton tilt in any venue was a wonderful event. Indeed, one of the most thrilling episodes in OA sports history took place during the 1972-73 hockey season at the Four Seasons Ice Arena in Walpole when OA ended Canton's win streak at 78 games, with Glen "Pork Buff" Daly scoring the winning goal for the Tigers.
Easton had a skate and hockey equipment shop on Main Street in the 1970s.
Hockey was everywhere in town – and not just ice hockey. In the hockey off-season, especially on Saturdays, and on vacation breaks, it was common for spirited street hockey games to be played in the Main Street parking lot of Immaculate Conception Church – and in the parking lot of Holy Cross Church.
Actually, there was a street hockey rivalry between North Easton and South Easton.
“We would ride our bikes to Holy Cross Church to take on the South Easton kids, and the South Easton kids would ride their bikes to Immaculate Conception Church to play us," recalls Joe Gomes, one of nine kids who grew up on Jenny Lind Street; three of the four boys in the family skated for OA. "Sometimes we would play a double-header at one site."
I didn’t like when we played street hockey in gym class (actually it would be called "floor hockey" indoors) because I was totally out of my element. I had many schoolmates who were hockey players – and their skills transferred readily to floor hockey; they took it seriously.
Prior to the floor hockey ball being dropped, these guys – guys like my friends, John McEvoy, an ice hockey star who went on to play Division 1 in college – would be getting fired up. As part of their preparation, they would bend, to their custom, the plastic blades on the floor hockey sticks.
Then the game was on – and these hockey players would move the ball with precision and speed – while I needed to content myself with getting an occasional slap at the ball.
In terms of hockey skills transferring to the floor, the Crossroads Ice Arena closed in the late 1970s, and the facility was converted into Riverdale Roller Rink, a roller skating rink, and one of the hippest and most popular places around for high school kids to flirt and develop and refine their courting rituals.
At periodic intervals during an evening of skating, there would be time set aside for the “all male” skate. Oh, man, it was something – a testosterone-laden, hyper-speed, maelstrom of male adolescence. You can imagine, that especially in this geographic area, the skating floor was heavy with hockey players – who could fly on any type of skate – and who were more robust in build than me, a gaunt middle distance runner.
Again, I was out of my element.
I was not part of the vibrant hockey player culture of the era – one that the successes of the Big Bad Bruins nurtured and supported.
And today we got some of it back.
And tonight is the start of the Stanley Cup Finals.
People around here are feeling all sorts of good and a wonderful.
Let's continue with it.