Boston Bruins 1979 Draft Flashback: Ray-sing the Stakes

Bourque

As the decade of the 1970s drew to a close, the United States struggled through a sluggish economy, long gas lines, and growing tensions in the Middle East with ominous warning clouds gathering over Iran and Afghanistan. 1979 also marked the year in which the Boston Bruins held the most important and impactful draft in the team’s history.

            Even if the fruits of the ’79 entry draft (the first year of the name change after having previously been known as the NHL amateur draft since 1963) did not result in a Stanley Cup championship in Boston, each of the seven players the B’s drafted saw NHL action. In fact, the elements of that wildly successful class of players ensured that the B’s remained contenders throughout the entire decade of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, with a pair of Stanley Cup final appearances in 1988 and 1990, as well as three more trips to the conference final series between 1983-1992.

            The fact that the 1979 NHL draft class as a whole is considered to be the greatest of all (though 2003 will challenge that assertion when all is said and done) underscores the importance of Bruins GM Harry Sinden and his scouting staff’s tremendous haul, the centerpiece of which was a defenseman who would go on to be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest offensive producers in NHL history with 1,579 points in 1,612 career games with the Bruins and Colorado Avalanche: Raymond Bourque.

            The Bruins could have called it a day alone with the selection of Bourque, but they went on to add a pair of 200+ NHL goal scorers in Keith Crowder and Mike Krushelnyski, while landing one of the powerhouse Brandon Wheat Kings’ biggest stars in Brad McCrimmon, who would go on to be one of the top stay-at-home defensemen, with more than 1,200 career big league games under his belt.

            Although this group was unable to secure hockey’s ultimate prize for Boston, the B’s Class of ’79 is rivaled only by the 1980 and 2006 team drafts as the most critical in franchise history.

Continue reading

Bruins prospect interview: Kyle Keyser

Dominic Tiano did the bulk of the work here to do up the background post and track B’s undrafted free agent goaltender Kyle Keyser. We’re both glad to give you the most current update on a player who came from a non-traditional hockey market, but who played his junior hockey with one of the OHL’s most storied franchises- the Oshawa Generals. The Gennies, who most recently won the Memorial Cup in 2015, are responsible for producing some of the top Boston Bruins players in franchise history: Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and…Bobby Orr. Without further ado, enjoy this post and interview about one of the more unheralded prospects in the B’s organization. With Tuukka Rask firmly entrenched as the No. 1, but getting a little long in the tooth, the Bruins must start looking to the future in net, and Keyser deserves greater attention despite not having been drafted.- KL

Goalie #38 Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals

Photo: Brandon Taylor/OHL Images

A future NHL goaltender from Coral Springs Florida?

Hockey was gaining steam in Florida and more and more youngsters were getting into the game at the time Boston Bruins prospect Kyle Keyser was. But very few were willing to strap on the pads with visions of guarding the 4 X 6 cage at the National Hockey League level.

Keyser finds himself at the doorstep, but it has not been the traditional route you see goalkeepers take.

As a 14-year-old, Keyser made the move to Michigan to play Bantam AAA hockey for Belle Tire for the 2013-14 season. The following year, Keyser guarded the net for the Victory Honda Under-16 team. He even got into a game for the Under-18 squad and all he did was shut the door stopping every shot he faced.

Prior to the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Oshawa Generals General Manager Roger Hunt had his sights set on drafting Keyser and made no secret about it. But the Flint Firebirds selected Keyser with the fourth round, 74th overall, four spots before the Generals would make their selection.

Keyser would appear in 17 games during his rookie season and was named the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award as the top academic high school player.

But prior to the 2016-17 season, Keyser asked for a trade and there was no doubt Hunt would get his netminder. Hunt would give Flint back their own second round pick at the 2017 Priority Selection to acquire Keyser.

Keyser’s NHL draft year was his first with the Generals where he posted a 3.41 goals-against-average and .891 save-percentage. And much like it has been throughout his career, his numbers are always better in the playoffs as he posted a 2.37 goals-against-average and .937 save-percentage- A true money goaltender.

Many independent scouting services had him ranked for the NHL Draft. NHL Central Scouting had him 11th among North American goaltenders. Yours Truly had him as the third ranked goaltender from the OHL behind Michael DiPietro (Round 3, 64th overall – Vancouver Canucks) and Matthew Villalta (Round 3, 72nd overall – Los Angeles Kings).

No one really knows why NHL GM’s didn’t call his name at the draft. However, the NHL CBA allows teams to sign undrafted prospects to an Entry Level Contract prior to the start of the NHL season and on October 3, 2017 Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney did just that, inking Keyser to a 3-year deal. The Bruins saw enough of Keyser to make the decision an easy one that season as they drafted Keyser’s Oshawa teammate Jack Studnicka in the second round, 53rd overall.

The 2018-19 season saw Keyser take his game to yet another level, having his best regular season to date. But as I said earlier, Keyser is a money goaltender and during the Generals playoff run stood on his head leading his team to playoff wins over the rival Peterborough Petes and the heavily favoured Niagara IceDogs. It was going to take a miracle to win the Conference Finals over the Ottawa 67’s and few, if any, gave the Generals any chance of winning the series. Keyser had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years heading into the series. But Keyser gave his teammates just that – a chance. The best performance I had ever seen from Keyser was in game 4 of that series. Leading 1-0 going into the third period and his team being outshot 24 – 18, Keyser put on a performance to be remembered during the third period as the 67’s pelted the netminder with 19 shots while the Generals mustered just 4.

But with less then 3 minutes remaining in the third, things fell apart in front of Keyser. William Ennis took the dreaded delay of game penalty and just a minute later, Nico Gross took a checking to the head penalty leaving the Gennies two men down. With DiPietro on the bench for an extra attacker and skating 6 on 3, Keyser turned aside chance after chance and tracked the puck like a bat tracks an insect.

With just 34 seconds remaining, Tye Felhaber would tie the game and send it into overtime. Still on the powerplay, Felhaber would win it just 20 seconds into overtime.

With junior hockey in the rearview, Keyser completed his first season of hockey with limited action in Providence of the AHL and Atlanta of the ECHL, looking forward to the 2020-21 as a springboard to his continued development.

Kirk and I had the chance to talk to Keyser in a question and answer session:

The Scouting Post: With all that is going on in the world today, first off, I hope you and your family are staying safe and well, have you begun any offseason training or will that come later on in the summer?

Kyle Keyser: Fortunately, with all the craziness going on in todays society, my family and I have been fortunate to be staying healthy amongst the uncertainty and challenging times that we face in the world today. It has obviously been disappointing to all of us with the season being postponed and not being able to be at the rink every day with the boys. I have started my off-season training with as many resources as I have available with keeping a conscious mind of prioritizing staying smart and healthy with workouts at my home. We have an excellent strength coach in Providence with Timmy Lebossiere, which he has been providing us at home workouts to stay heathy and in shape during these trying times. I’ve been working out 6 days a week trying to maintain good levels of strength and conditioning through his programs but the actual hard training aspect of summer won’t begin until things have resolved or slowed down with COVID-19.

TSP: Your path so far is not what you’d call a typical one, especially for a goaltender. What, as a kid from Coral Springs Florida, got you into the game and what possessed you to become a goaltender? Which goaltender did you admire growing up and do you try and model your game after him?

KK: Growing up in south Florida is not a traditional path for most people but has really allowed me to evolve into the person and goaltender that I am today. I grew up around the rinks as my older brother, Spencer, got into the game at a young age so it was natural for me to be around hockey all the time as I grew up and I fell in love with it around 3 years old and never stopped looking forward. I grew up idolizing Martin Brodeur as my favorite goalie and he was the person I constantly watched as I was growing up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really started to watch Tuukka (Rask) and Sergei Bobrovsky as people I enjoy watching and molding my game after. This season unfortunately I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, so I took the down time to really study a lot of their film and watch every one of their games when I was able to. I bought the NHL subscription pass to be able to watch all the Boston and Florida games whenever I could to see how they play different situations and break down their game film.

TSP: I’ve been following the OHL since the early 1970’s and I can honestly say one of the best single game performances from a goaltender I’ve seen was your game 4 performance versus Ottawa in the Conference Finals in 2019. I’m not sure you are aware of this, but heading into that series, you had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years. Despite losing 2-1 in overtime, it was a performance to remember. What do you remember most about that game?

KK: Game 4 vs Ottawa was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey. The entire playoffs, I was on an extreme adrenaline rush of playing the highest level of hockey and just trying too help our team make it as far as possible. In regards to that specific game, I felt that I was in a zone that only an athlete would be able to understand. I was doing my best to help our team’s season continue and move as far as we could. It was such an intense hockey game and series that I knew I had to play the best hockey of my life to give our team a chance to win that game. We fought extremely hard throughout the entire process and game and unfortunately, we came up a bit short. I wanted to win that series and game so bad that I knew that the only way to do that was being at my best. The hardest part of the game was knowing that if I didn’t perform my very best, that I was never going to be able to play another game in that uniform for my teammates and management, which puts a lot of things in perspective. I just wanted to go out and leave every ounce of energy and heart that I had to make sure I could give us a chance to win the game and crawl back into the series one game at a time.

TSP: In 2019, OHL coaches voted you as the best puck handling goaltender, after finishing second a year earlier. In today’s game, removing the trapezoid could have a huge impact. Do you have an opinion on whether it should remain or stay in the game?

KK: In regards to the trapezoid, I believe its an incredibly important part of the game and I wouldn’t want to remove it because it keeps the goalie in a safe environment where they know they won’t get run over or injured. Playing the puck sometimes puts you in vulnerable positions as a goalie and by removing it, I think you’d find a lot more injuries for goalies trying to help their team, which I’m all for keeping goalies more safe. I love playing the puck and being active to help our team escape sticky situations, but removing the trapezoid would increase unnecessary risk and I think its necessary to keep players and goalies protected without changing the integrity of the game.

TSP: Beyond the obvious speed/skill/age-experience factor of shooters, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your transition from major junior to pro hockey?

KK: I think the biggest difference is how smart the players are in pro hockey. You’re always trying to be one step ahead of your opponent at any level and its just that much harder when the players are that much more skilled. There’s not a big discrepancy in the first and fourth lines in pro hockey, so you have to be aware and alert at all times when they are coming at you regardless of who is on the ice. Another huge challenge is living on your own for the first time and being able to manage being an adult while focusing on hockey all the time. Making sure you’re eating the right foods and cooking good food to allow yourself to be at the highest level is definitely a challenge when you’re doing those things for the first time. Its a huge adjustment in learning how to balance everything in your life and making sure that you’re doing that at an elite level to be able to perform your best with a clear mind.

TSP: As the game continues to evolve with the ever-increasing speed and skill of the skaters and greater structure/systems and innovations teams are employing to improve scoring, what are some of the things you and your goalie coaches are doing to improve fundamentals like skating/footwork, hands, athleticism and even some of the tactical in-game strategies you can use as a goaltender to ensure you are on top of your game?

KK38: I think the biggest improvement and area of focus for me this year with our goalie coaches was working on the positioning aspect of the game. You find out quickly that some of the things you got away with in juniors, won’t work at the next level. I’ve always relied on my athleticism to make a lot of saves but I’ve tried to improve on using my size and positioning as the base for most of my saves in allowing myself to be square to the puck. I know that I can use my athleticism if I need to but I don’t want that to be my default in all situations. I want to have good strong positioning and patience to be able to make easy saves and then use my athletic and explosive abilities to make saves that would require those skills. Using my positioning has been a main emphasis point of focus to allow myself to be ahead of the play and then using my athletic abilities as a last resort to make saves instead of using that as my foundation.

TSP: Who are some of the best shooters you’ve faced in your career to date, and what about them made it so difficult to defend/prevent them from scoring?

KK: Just from my experiences in training camp, some of the hardest shooters to stop would be guys like (David) Pastrnak and (Brad) Marchand. The reason is that they’re so good at not giving away where they’re going to shoot the puck and they’re always keeping you guessing. As a goalie, you’re always looking to gain an advantage in reading shooters and their tendencies but when shooters of their caliber are as unpredictable as they are, it makes it very difficult to read what they’re going to do or where they’re going to shoot. You really have to challenge yourself to be patient on your feet and make sure you’re in the best possible position to give them the least amount of space and net to shoot at because most times, if there are holes in your positioning, they’re going to exploit those areas and make you pay. Those two guys have always been difficult to stop and read from my past three training camps in Boston.

TSP: What has your experience in the Bruins organization been like with regard to the coaching, player development and person-to-person interactions you have received since signing with the team? Who has been the most instrumental in your development as a player and person?

KK: My experience so far in Boston has been nothing short of incredible. From top to bottom, the organization is first class in their staff and how they treat each and every player. Whether you’re a perennial 50 goal scorer or on an entry level deal, they treat every player with the same amount of respect and honesty, which goes a long way. I have been extremely fortunate to know that they will always put me in good positions to succeed and give me all the resources I need to play at the highest level. Coach (Bob) Essensa and Coach (Mike) Dunham, the two goalie coaches in the organization have been instrumental in my success and ability to grow. They have helped me understand different aspects of the position that I wasn’t aware of the importance. They have allowed me to grow tremendously as an individual and as a goalie by always encouraging me to improve and try new things that I didn’t know I needed to.

As an athlete, you’re always working on things to get better and reach the highest levels and those two guys have always been right by my side to provide me with insightful information and new things to help me accomplish that, so I know without their guidance, I would not be in the position I am today. They’re so great at being genuinely great people and always dropping everything if I ever needed anything whether it be from a hockey or personal aspect of life. I’m very grateful for their support and guidance throughout this journey thus far and I’m excited to keep working with them every day and growing as a person and goalie.

We want to thank Kyle Keyser for taking the time to share his insights with us here, and to 3 Amigo Dom for setting it all up and providing the analysis in this post.

 

Bergeron scores 300th goal, Flashback to 2nd Olympic gold

Bergeron3

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After missing the last 16 games to injury, Patrice Bergeron showed zero signs of rust, promptly scoring the first 2 goals of his team’s Saturday matinee against the struggling Nashville Predators, and adding an assist (here’s hoping the NHL properly credits him with a 2nd helper on David Pastrnak’s 2-on-1 dagger goal to make it 4-2) to lead his team to another key win, as the Boston Bruins roster is slowly getting healthy again.

The second tally, which put his team up 2-1 briefly early in the third period, was the 300th career NHL for the 45th overall draft pick in the storied 2003 NHL Draft. He’s still looking for his 1,000th career game in the Black & Gold- a quest derailed by 1.5 lockouts, nearly an entire season lost in 2007-08 on a Randy Jones hit from behind and numerous other setbacks that have taken a physical toll on Boston’s Mr. Everything.

300 goals in a Bruins uniform.

As the esteemed Kevin Paul Dupont pointed out, he’s only the sixth player in team history to accomplish that feat. B’s 300 club members (by order of goal totals): Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Rick MiddletonRaymond Bourque and Cam Neely. If you know anything about Bruins team history, then you know that’s quite an esteemed group to be a part of…Boston hockey’s very own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And just think how much sooner Bergeron would have hit the scoring milestone had he not missed so many games over the years.

Don’t tell him he’s 33, either- he shows no sign of slowing down. Even if he loses a step in his skating, which was never elite to begin with, he’s such an intelligent player with a sublime set of mitts, that it’s hard to envision his game going off a cliff all at once.

Enjoy his excellence while you can- he’s one of the greatest players in franchise history, and nothing lasts forever.

Here’s a trip down memory lane going back to the 2014 Winter Olympics when Bergeron was still on the right side of 30 and had just helped Team Canada to a second consecutive gold medal.

You can’t say it enough- when he walks away from NHL ice for the last time as a player, he’ll have built one hell of a legacy. It’s pretty damn fine today at the end of 2018…what more is in store for us?

Enjoy the ride!

Here’s a re-posting of an article I wrote in New England Hockey Journal in February, 2014- K.L.

***

Man with the Golden Gun: Patrice ‘Mr. Everything’ Bergeron nearing Perfection

Perfection is not a word taken lightly.

Using it to describe any athlete or performance, no matter how sublime, threatens to cheapen its meaning. When using it to describe one Patrice Bergeron-Cleary, there aren’t many other roads you can travel that won’t lead you back to perfection in its purest form.

“Whatever it takes, right?” Bergeron said to NBC’s Pierre McGuire after a two-assist performance over Norway to kick off the schedule. “I’m just happy to be here, trying to chip in any way I can. Whether it’s the right side, the left side, it doesn’t matter to me.”

That’s as close to perfect an answer you will get from the veteran Boston Bruins heart and soul center, who also just captured his second Olympic gold medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. If they didn’t know it already, proud Canadians and hockey fans around the globe are certainly coming to grips with the importance of the man teammates and coaches call “Mr. Everything”.

With Canada’s third Olympic triumph in four iterations going back to 2002, it seems to strain the bounds of credulity to realize that Bergeron has been such an integral part of multiple championships beyond Olympic competition.

“(Bergeron) deserves very much to be honored correctly,” B’s teammate Torey Krug said via email after Canada captured gold to close out the winter games. “He is the most honest guy I have ever met and that’s what makes him special. When he comes to the rink, he’s honest with himself in terms of effort and his mentality. He never takes a day off.”

In many ways, Bergeron’s hockey stardom defies logic. Nearly eleven years ago, he was completely passed up in the first round of the NHL draft in Nashville because scouts felt he wasn’t big enough or fast enough. A few months later, he broke camp with the Bruins a little over 60 days after he turned 18 precisely because he proved he was.

Back then, Bergeron was a shy teenager who spoke fluent if heavily accented English, but he sure could speak the language of an impact player from the get go. Some things may have evolved over the decade-plus he’s skated for the Black and Gold, but what absolutely has not changed is his disciplined approach and sheer presence as part of any winning formula.

“I think that a lot of what I do is natural,” a 17-year-old Bergeron said in the very first sit down interview he did with New England Hockey Journal at the 2003 NHL draft. “But I always work and prove my place. I think that (vision/hockey sense) is natural, but the other parts of the game have to come when you work hard. It’s like when you learn on the job and as you work more, you get more confident and better at your job. With me, it’s the same thing.”

He came into the NHL a virtual unknown as the league’s youngest player in the 2003-04 campaign, but was a world champion before he turned 19. Team Canada saw enough to add him to the 2004 World Championship roster after the NHL rookie’s B’s were unceremoniously dumped by the hated Montreal Canadiens (and his current bench boss, Claude Julien if that doesn’t beat all) in the first round.

A little more than six months later, the 2004-05 NHL lockout meant that Bergeron was adding a World Jr. Championship title (and tournament MVP honors) to his resume, the first player ever to win a hockey senior world championship before doing the under-20 thing that so many of the elite NHL players go through before they become pros.

He stands for so much more than the on-ice success he’s enjoyed since first stepping foot in the TD Garden dressing room. If not for Zdeno Chara, Bergeron would be unequivocally wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in Boston, but his humility, inner fire and unimpeachable credentials make him the ideal alternate, and heir apparent to the B’s captaincy when that day eventually comes.

“If he’s feeling down he doesn’t get too down,” Krug said. “If he’s confident and on a roll he doesn’t get too high. He pushes himself and it forces other guys to do the same if they want to stay and compete at the level he is at.”

When Bergeron became the youngest player in team history to hit the 30-goal mark at 20, he appeared poised to become one of the club’s top snipers. A crushing hit from behind by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones a little over a year later nearly ended Bergeron’s career, but when he returned during the 2008-09 season, he reinvented himself as one of the NHL’s purest defensive centers.

Since then, all Bergeron has done is won an Olympic gold medal on home soil in Vancouver despite a nagging groin injury that left him a shell of himself. Oh, and then there’s that encore he had in the same town in the spring of 2011, when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head along with the rest of his Bruins mates, bringing hockey championship mana to Boston for the first time in 39 years.

For good measure, Bergeron added a Spengler Cup to his trophy case during last season’s lockout when he was playing in Switzerland alongside former B’s teammate Tyler Seguin. Hosted by Swiss team HC Davos just after Christmas each year and considered the world’s oldest invitational hockey tournament, Bergeron’s made the most of his presence on Team Canada, thanks to another round of NHL labor strife.

Whether you need the ultimate team award like Lord Stanley’s chalice or a pair of Olympic gold medals, or an individual accolade like the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which Bergeron won in 2012 for being the NHL’s top defensive forward, the 28-year-old has already delivered one hundredfold that other players have spent many more years trying in vain to achieve. Multiple championships are the closest thing to perfection we have in the world of team sports, and Bergeron is among the best.

If there’s been a recent blemish on Bergeron’s fantastical hockey resume, one could point to last spring’s defeat by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a true black-and-blue series that saw the Boston alternate captain exceed any sane threshold for pain to compete.

Broken rib… check. Separated shoulder…check. Collapsed lung…check. Yet, instead of checking into the ICU, he very nearly willed his team to victory with one of the grittiest, most productive finals performances in team history.

So, even when the a-ha! Sherlock Holmes moment comes when you might say that Patrice Bergeron is indeed imperfect, he still did everything humanly possible to debunk that notion. As fine a player Bergeron is, in hockey, you can’t go it alone.

“He brings the same thing to the table every game, whether were playing last place team or playing in the finals,” said Krug. “His honesty has influenced everyone in the locker room. He could be a top scorer in the NHL but he chooses to be a bigger part of the puzzle on one of the most consistent teams in the league.”

Nearly 11 years after the B’s used the 45th overall compensation pick they took from the NHL to allow Bill Guerin to walk away to Big D and collect a $9 million payday on Bergeron, Boston’s payoff has been astounding.

The team not only has reaped the rewards of his presence and individual play as Bergeron continues his climb within the top-20 of the team’s all-time leading scorers, but he helped lead them to a Stanley Cup championship, a two-goal Game 7 showing in 2011 a fitting coda to how important he is. It’s why they refused to even let him reach free agency, locking him up for another seven years last summer when he had a full year remaining on his existing deal signed back before that magical return to glory three years ago.

Mr. Everything? To some B’s fans, he just might be the only thing that prevented USA’s big flameout in Sochi from being any more disappointing.

But even with another gold medal to go with the others and a Stanley Cup ring, Bergeron knows how agonizing it was to get so close to winning a second ring only to come up short.

And if Mr. Everything has his way, the only fitting follow up to an Olympic triumph would be raising another Stanley Cup banner in Boston next October.

That would be perfect.

Nifty’s nifty night in Boston

Middleton retirement

(Image courtesy of NHL.com)

It took a shootout and winning goal on the fourth iteration from rookie Ryan Donato to secure a 2-1 victory for the Bruins against the NY Islanders (Brad Marchand tallied Boston’s lone regulation goal) but the home team closed out a special night in which one of the franchise’s greats had his number 16 officially retired.

Richard D. “Rick” Middleton, known around the Boston Garden as “Nifty” from 1976-88, saw his digits raised to the rafters in a nice pre-game ceremony. The former Oshawa Generals great and first-round draft pick of the NY Rangers was acquired in one of longtime B’s GM Harry Sinden’s heists, sending veteran Ken Hodge to Broadway to rejoin his pal Phil Esposito for the electrifying but inconsistent Middleton, who was still figuring out how to be a pro hockey player in the Big Apple.

It didn’t take Middleton long to figure it out, and he became one of Boston’s true hockey stars in the late 70’s and 80’s. Although often lost in the mix when it comes to Bruins greats over the years, Nifty would end up making three trips to the Stanley Cup finals during his Bruins tenure, and he was a member of the 1979 B’s squad that experienced devastation and heartbreak in Montreal in the infamous “too many men on the ice” game 7. He’s the most recent Bruin to win a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, earned after the 1981-82 season.

In the early 80’s Middleton was the linchpin at forward for some very good Bruins teams, but they unfortunately ran into the NY Islanders dynasty.

What could have been a storybook ending for Middleton’s NHL career ended in a sweep by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1988 Stanley Cup final, but on the way, Nifty exorcised some Canadiens demons by being on the first B’s team to beat the Habs since World War Two was ongoing. Middleton’s breakaway game-winning goal in Game 3 at the Garden may be one of his most iconic moments in Boston; although he wore a Jofa helmet and no longer had the long golden locks that flowed behind his helmetless head when he got up to speed for so many seasons, the “old man” still had it and scored one of the most symbolic goals of his career.

Middleton didn’t make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame and in all honesty- he likely never will. But, for a lad growing up watching the Bruins, there was something magical about him. People can grumble about the team retiring his number if they want, but for those of us who saw him in his prime, elevating his play year after year in the midst of the Firewagon Hockey era of the late 70’s and 80’s, Nifty belongs in the rafters.

Thanks to Tuukka Rask’s excellent play in net, and Donato’s slick deke and tuck of the puck inside the post for the winning score- a move that no doubt made Mr. Middleton smile- one nifty, nifty night (to coin a phrase from Jack Edwards) ended the way it should have: 2 more points in the bank and one of Boston’s classiest and more unappreciated stars honored the right way.

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

Here’s the Middleton retirement ceremony highlight video- published on YouTube by the NHL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOCyB2wj6b4

 

 

 

 

 

On Rick Middleton’s No. 16 going to the rafters

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that Richard D. Middleton aka Rick Middleton aka ‘Nifty’ the right wing who starred for the team from 1976-88, will have his number 16 retired in a game later this November (29th- vs the NY Islanders). The longtime New Hampshire resident and Bruins Alumni fixture is deeply touched by the gesture, which comes three decades after he skated off into the sunset (more on that later).

The former Oshawa Generals star broke into the NHL with the NY Rangers, who selected him in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Middleton was also picked by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the rival WHA that same year, going in the second round, 21st overall.

The trade is right up there with Cam Neely as one of former Bruins GM Harry Sinden’s best heists, sending the over-the-hill Ken Hodge to Broadway for the 22-year-old, who put up 90 points in two seasons with the Rangers. The catalyst for the deal was believed to be Phil Esposito, who was dealt to the Rangers the season before in a blockbuster, which sent Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the B’s. Espo wanted his old (no pun intended) reliable right wing back, and Middleton was rumored to be a bit of a wild card off the ice…his -38 in 1975-76 certainly didn’t help.

So, Middleton headed off the Boston and after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years (by the standards of the 1970’s), he took off, posting 38, 40, 44, and 51-goal seasons from 1978-82. He peaked in 1984 with a 47-goal, 105-point year (finishing second to Barry Pederson’s 116 points) but the Boston offensive juggernaut was silenced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Penney, who sent them out with a whimper in 3 games (no points for Nifty). The year before, Middleton had posted a playoff season for the ages (33 points in 17 games), leading the Bruins past two rounds of the playoffs including the memorable 7-game affair against Buffalo where he registered a team-record (for one series) 19 points. Unfortunately, the B’s ran into the NY Islanders dynasty in the spring of 1983. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith & Company dispatched them from the Wales Conference final in a series that never seemed that close, en route to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, leaving so many B’s fans to wonder…what if?

Middleton’s production steadily declined after that career 105-point campaign, due in part to age and injury, but he did preside over the historic defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988, a first for any Bruins team since 1943. Middleton’s breakaway game-winner in Game 3 (2-0), to put the B’s up 2-1 in the series after splitting the games in Montreal was a fitting coda for a man who had been a part of so many heart-breaking losses to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge during his entire Bruins tenure. He split the captaincy with Ray Bourque that year, wearing the ‘C’ for home games, until his retirement after the B’s were swept by Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers (their 4th NHL title since 1984) giving way to Bourque’s sole leadership from 1988 until his trade to Colorado in the spring of 2000.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, Nifty was an ubiquitous presence in my budding love of hockey and the Bruins. Although not a pure burner, his golden locks (later shiny pate as his hair thinned and ultimately gave way to a Jofa helmet late in his career) looked like they were on fire as he would bob and weave through the neutral and offensive zones, often putting on a display of stickhandling prowess at impossible angles and contortions, ending with pucks in the back of the net or sublime back-door feeds for gift-wrapped tap-ins for his lucky linemates. The Mike Krushelnyski-Pederson-Middleton line racked up 111 goals in 1983-84…a number that seems awe-inspiring some 35 years later.

Although Middleton’s scoring numbers paled in comparison to Gretzky’s (The Great One scored 100 more points than Middleton’s 105 in 83-84 just for perspective), or Mario Lemieux or Bossy to name a few, he was a veritable King Midas for the B’s, creating magic from the mundane and turning pucks into goals. But don’t take my word for it- Channel 38 once paid tribute to him with a highlight reel video now on YouTube to America’s “You Can Do Magic” and I had it recorded on VHS and must’ve watched it 1000 times…

Ignored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 years after he retired, taking his number out of circulation is a welcome move for those who watched him (and maybe a good percentage of fans who didn’t, but who appreciate history). Sure- there are some who may be opposed to the honor (it is the 11th so number retired by the B’s) but that’s just a curmudgeonly nature of New Englanders at work- deep down, even the grumblers get it. After all- we’ve seen Peter Douris, Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Marco Sturm and most recently, Kaspars Daugavins (in 2012-13), wear the digits in the intervening years. None hold the distinction and cachet Middleton did, and in the end- it’s just a number. It’s time to admit that he wore it well…better than anyone in the Black and Gold. As his 402 goals as a Bruin can attest, he could finish plays off just as easily as he set the table, and was the heir to Espo as the next pure scoring forward to put on the spoked B.

If the Bruins can take the time to honor for a player who grew up and matured in Boston as a model of consistency and was the face of the franchise at least up front for the better part of a decade, then why not?

It’s about time.