This is a new series where we’ll recount some of our favorite underappreciated, cult favorite players in Boston Bruins lore. Kirk kicks it off with the Boys of Spring- Bruce Shoebottom and Moe Lemay, who helped jumpstart a magical run in 32 years ago. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but against Adams Division archrivals Buffalo and Montreal. those two made an unforgettable impression on the high school sophomore from Hudson, N.H. Enjoy! -KL
SHOOOOE! SHOOOOOE! SHOOOOOOE!
The chants rang down from the Boston Garden rafters during the Boston Bruins Adams Division semifinal series against the Buffalo Sabres in the spring of 1988.
The B’s were up 2-0 after capturing both home games to open the seven-game set and in Game 2 on April 7, defenseman Bruce Shoebottom swooped in from the point and fired home the winning goal in a 4-1 victory.
“Shoe” was a burly, stay-at-home, old school hockey defenseman who had played for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes in junior and was in his third pro season, having bounced between the AHL and IHL in exotic locales like Binghamton, New Haven and Fort Wayne, Indiana before signing with the Bruins as a depth free agent in 1987.
The hard-nosed, square-jawed ruffian of a player racked up more than 570 minutes in penalties in his first two pro seasons had gone on to set a new personal best with the Maine Mariners of the AHL that year with 338. He did enough to get called up to Boston to make his NHL debut in three regular season games wearing No. 40 that spring.
But the stage was set at the Boston Garden that night in April for Shoebottom to become a new favorite of the Gallery Gods. Brought in for added muscle to match up against the likes of a bruising, upstart Sabres squad that featured Mike Hartman, Kevin Maguire, Lindy Ruff, Bob Halkidis plus industrial-grade sandpaper irritant and stealthily ferocious Mike Foligno. The Sabres had an intriguing blend of skill and toughness, and after continuously coming up short against the Bruins (the B’s were to Buffalo what the Habs were to Boston), they desperately wanted to reverse course.
It’s not the the Bruins really needed a player like Shoebottom- they already had not one, not two but three NHL heavyweights in their lineup: Jay Miller, Lyndon Byers and the long-in-the-tooth but still tough Willi Plett. Keith Crowder and Gord Kluzak were no shrinking violets either, and Randy “Stump” Burridge had a huge heart and ultra-feistiness to him. Oh…and we seem to remember a certain right wing who motored around the Boston Garden sniping goals to the tune of 42 that year who could also do a different type of work with his fists- Cam Neely and his 175 penalty minutes.
So, Shoebottom was another hired gun to round out the posse and he did just that.
Shoebottom fought Hartman in the series’ first game- April 6 at the Garden, alerting the Garden faithful to his toughness and willingness to battle and pay the price, even if his modest playing ability didn’t seem to indicate much of an impact beyond the fisticuffs.
The next night, April 7th, was when he jumped in fired a shot on net and saw the puck find the twine for his first NHL goal to make it 2-1, standing up as the eventual winner. And when it happened, Bruins fans hurled shoes onto the ice in delirium and celebration of a true blue collar guy who seemed to defy logic that he was playing in the NHL, but with a fight and goal on consecutive nights, had done enough to secure his place in B’s lore.
Two nights later, the series shifted to Buffalo and Shoe would fight Hartman again.
The Sabres won both home games at the Old Aud to tie the series but Boston seized control in Games 5 and 6, closing out the Sabres. It would be another five years (and two more playoff losses) before Buffalo could get the Boston monkey off the back- a four-game sweep and May Day Brad May’s OT goal in 1993.
As for Shoe, he would play just 4 games that spring, finishing with the one goal and a whopping 42 penalty minutes before skating his final shift. He received an extension from the team and in 29 NHL games in 1988-89, scoring his only regular season goal and just three more games total in 1989-90 and 1990-91 before his NHL days were done for good. He bounced around in the AHL and several lower minor leagues, before concluding his playing career in earnest with a brief stint on the Austin Ice Bats in 1997-98.
But, for years after (at least until the building was torn down after its last game in 1995), people in the Boston Garden, whether empty or full, would swear they could still hear the ghostly chants of SHOOOE, SHOOOOE, SHOOOOE!!!! raining down from the rafters.
Maurice “Moe” Lemay got the call on March 8, 1988 while he was playing for the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL club in Nova Scotia. A little less than a year earlier he was on the Oilers’ roster that captured the 1987 Stanley Cup championship in a grueling seven-game series that heralded the arrival of rookie goalie Ron Hextall to the NHL, and the beginning of the end of the Oilers dynasty. Now, he was an Oiler no more- traded to Boston. Just another scrappy journeyman forward trying to get back to the show after being a semi-regular with the Vancouver Canucks in the early-to-mid 80’s. He’d always made his living providing modest but timely offense and some middleweight toughness, even though he wasn’t what you would call a feared fighter.
That experience and grit was perhaps why he was getting another chance with a new organization, one where he just might get a shot at another extended Spring run.
The good news for Lemay- he didn’t have to go far, heading to Portland, Maine and the B’s AHL farm club the Maine Mariners, where he played 11 games before getting brought to Boston to close out the regular season.
It isn’t like Lemay was a scrub, and at age 26, he was far from washed up. For his age, he had a surprising amount of wear on the tread already, but the trade to Boston for tough guy Alan May, was a lifeline and he would do his best to grab on tight.
The fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 1981, he erupted the following season with 68 goals and 138 points for the OHL’s storied Ottawa 67’s before turning pro and playing five NHL games in Vancouver to close out the 1982 regular season. His best year was in 1983-84 when he played on the same roster as a rookie named Cam Neely and popped in a respectable depth contribution: 30 points in 50 games. The following season, he scored 21 goals and 52 points- his best in the show, but he couldn’t get back to that level and the Canucks moved him to the Oilers for depth at the 1987 trade deadline (for Raimo Summanen).
The Bruins were loaded with experience, toughness and some skill that spring. They hadn’t been able to beat out the hated Montreal Canadiens for the Adams Division regular season title, but they were close. And after a black-and-blue series win over the Sabres to open the 1988 postseason, you just got the feeling that as the Bruins prepared to meet the Canadiens in the Adams Division final, looking to beat Montreal for the first time since 1943, things maybe…just might be…different this time.
Okay, we’re not going to sit here and tell you that Lemay was the reason the Bruins eliminated the curse and erased 45 years of frustration in 1988 just five games later, but he played a part in it.
After losing Game 1 at the Forum by a 5-1 score, things to be lining up to be the same ol’ same ol’ for the hapless Black and Gold, but something funny happened in Game 2.
April 20, 1988-The Bruins pulled out a big 4-3 win on the road to even the series, and what do you know? Lemay scored a key goal in that game to help the Bruins get out of Montreal with a victory. He hammered a slapper coming in off the wing- a smoke show and most people don’t even remember No. 36 blasting it in. Wish we had the video to show you, but we do have an ugly clip (recorded on an old VHS no doubt) of his scrap with Mike Lalor from the same game. We don’t have video of the goal or assist, but this is the fight portion of Lemay’s Gordie Howe Hat Trick in that game. There would not be another Bruins player to post a playoff Gordie for another 23 years (Nathan Horton)…Neely and Milan Lucic never had one as a member of the B’s. Gritty, grimy…check.
He scored again during the series and for a brief moment, got some attention in the Hub. Our favorite story was in a Globe piece about Lemay, who was living in a Boston hotel, called in to a local pizza joint to order up some dinner. When asked for his name, he gave it and the employee asked him if he was related to the guy on the Bruins. “I am the guy on the Bruins,” was Lemay’s response, and needless to say, the pie and a few other things were delivered to him…on the house.
The Bruins knocked off Montreal for the first time in 45 years…five games. Lemay will always be a part of that legacy. He ended up with four goals in 15 games that spring, and he rode the wave to a series victory over the New Jersey Devils, helping the B’s reach the Stanley Cup final series for the first time in a decade. The final result did not differ from what had happened at the hands of the Habs in 1978- Lemay eventually found himself swept at the hands of his mates from just a year earlier. Hockey is cruel that way.
Just like it was cruel on Dec. 30, 1988- when Harry Sinden sent the journeyman to Winnipeg for an even more over-the-hill Ray Neufeld. For both Neufeld and Lemay, it was the end of the line. They were pretty much done in the NHL. Lemay played just 10 games for the Jets and then was off to Europe for nearly a decade more before calling it quits in Germany in 2000 at age 38. Neufeld played one game in Boston the following season before finishing his hockey career with Maine and a solid farewell 27 goal, 56 point campaign.
Shoebottom and Lemay…together- barely a drop in the bucket of Boston Bruins universal hockey mojo, but together in 1988 they were the Boys of Spring. They helped the B’s beat Buffalo and Montreal…Buffalo. And Montreal. Back then, that was a big deal. Back then, those Adams Division rivalries meant something. Lemay and Shoebottom…Two unlikely heroes who came up, stepped up and for those who witnessed their brief impact, are not forgotten.
After all, one man’s scrub is another man’s cult hero.