Thursday, June 16, 2011

Championship of a Lifetime...

Finally, a Boston championship I can celebrate. Not being a Patriots, Red Sox or Celtics fan, the previous 6 Championship Parades that rolled by my office in downtown Boston didn't matter to me. In fact, I worked through them. It was quiet while everyone else had their noses pressed to the glass or were outside the building curbside for the parades. I got a lot done.

But this time, this one's all mine. Truth be told, I blocked off Friday on my calendar so no one would book anything for me just in case. I know that was probably a potential jinx, but hey, if there's a parade Friday, I'm not going to be analyzing legal systems during it.

Before anyone can accuse me of being one of the masses of band-wagon jumpers, let me share with you what Bruins hockey memories I've lived. But first, you have to rewind and reset your time capsules to 1980. In fact, go back to the US victory over Russia, and then my mother-country Finland, to win the Olympic Gold medal. I was 10 and my autographed poster of goalie Jim Craig wrapped in the American flag after that last game was my prized possession. See, my Dad (and his Dad) was all into hockey, and when Craig was signing stuff at a deli in Marblehead, my Dad took my sister and I to meet him. And so the fan-dom began. But it got even better when Craig landed with the Bruins about the time a rookie named Ray Bourque started to play for Boston. And the fan-dom grew.

I collected hockey cards. I had Ray Bourque's rookie card. And Wayne Gretzky's too. Top that.

I spent the next several seasons watching games with Dad and I remember him using checkers on our shag carpet as he tried to teach me the fine art of staying onsides. I had a hobby of clipping articles out of the Globe and pasting them into scrapbooks made of green paper (green?) that I'd hole-punch and hold together with yarn. I remember the bench clearing brawl against Minnesota (how many of you even remember there was a team in Minnesota?), the game we lost Norm Leveille in Vancouver to a brain aneurysm (Vancouver, how coincidental!), sending postcards to vote for the 7th Player Award, getting psyched when Brad Park opened a pizza place at the bottom of our street!

Dad fed into the madness by taking me and my over-the-back fence neighborhood pal David to Twin Rinks in Danvers. There, the Bruins practiced in open session, for free. This was cheap entertainment for kids from the hood. We'd go during school vacations, weekends and (don't tell Mom) some school days. Those guys were great to us. Ray Bourque, Steve Kasper, Stan Jonathan, Brad Park, Terry O'Reilly...they always had time for us and we collected autographs, broken sticks and pucks that they'd toss over the glass to us.

If we weren't 10 or 12 at the time, we clearly would have been arrested for stalking Ray Bourque. One pre-Christmas shopping season, my Dad spotted Ray buying Corningware in Lechmere (how many of you even remember Lechmere?). My sister and I followed him around, as if he didn't see us at all, until he finally turned around and said hi. We giggled and ran, as I remember it.

My Dad's Dad took me to my first game when I was about 12. It was a Christmas present, and the game was against the Hartford Whalers. It was a big deal because Grampy took me on the train into Boston, which I'd never done (and god, if I realized I'd be doing it every day for 17 years now...!), and even today I can remember him pointing things out to me on the way in and explaining the finer points of the game to me. But that was when I learned, even at that young age, that there's no hockey like live hockey. Damn. I was hooked.

It wasn't until the Cam Neely era that I was able to get back to another game. My sophomore year in college, the Bs made another dash to the Stanley Cup finals, and by that point, I'd met a like-minded friend at Salem State who was just as willing as I was to do what it took to get to the home playoff games. We were not beyond taking cash advances on our credit cards or selling our textbooks back for cash before finals were even over to buy scalped tickets. We were in the house when Edmonton dropped Boston on its head in 1990 and also there in 1991 when Ulf slammed Cam and effectively ended his career. Those were the days when sitting in the top row of the balcony wasn't nearly as far away as it is today, and just being in the house for the game was all it took. We spent many a game in the highest reaches of the old Gah-den, singing our hearts out and drinking watery beer with our friends. Karen and I both think we're still carrying that credit card balance.

But as a Bruins fan, one of my proudest moments was converting an oblivious Irishman who'd never even seen hockey. I think it was in the late 90s on one of Martin's visits here that we went to training camp at the Ristuccia Center in Wilmington. There, we got to watch practices and scrimmages. We didn't go just one day, we went just about every day that week. And like I did nearly 20 years before, Martin was able to get up close and personal with the players, like superstar goalie Blaine Lacher, though I think he had a stronger affinity for the goon squad that did better beating the hell out of each other than they did making the team. Other seasons, I'd take him to Bruins games, always tending to pick the most violent ones, like against Eric Lindros and Philadelphia, and Martin would be screaming at the fights just like the most seasoned Gallery God. He made me proud.

Finally, after a long and stellar, but ultimately unsatisfying career, Ray Bourque left Boston to try and chase the Cup that had eluded him so long in Boston. I obviously had a "history" with Ray and was sad to see him go, but pulled for him to be fulfilled somewhere else. Ultimately in the spring of 2001, Ray won the Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. Martin and Joe from Ireland, Karen, my back-yard-neighbor David and my sister and I were all in the midst of a marathon week of U2 concerts. But every night after the shows, we'd huddle around ESPN and catch up on Ray's games. On the night he won the Cup we were in the FleetCenter (now the TD Garden) listening to the last night of U2's stand in Boston. I'd been getting text messages during the concert from friends watching the game at home. I knew he was close. At the start of the concert's encore, Bono came on stage wearing a Bruins jersey and announced to the crowd that Ray Bourque had just won his Stanley Cup. The crowd went nuts. We were Ray's fans in Ray's house. No matter what U2 played to finish the night, we'd be celebrating in the streets for Ray that night. And celebrate we did. I wonder today if he ever found out about that, and how happy we as a city were for him. I think the turnout at his appearance with the Cup at City Hall the next week was an indication of our appreciation.

So here I sit now, feeling slightly hungover from lack of sleep and emotionally tired (I really thought they were going to blow whatever lead they had, hey, I'm a pessimist!) But I'd not miss the game or the interviews or the replays of the footage until 2:00 a.m. for anything. I'll be at the parade Saturday, because this is a team I care about. A team I grew up with. A team I shared with so many people special to me who I remember today. There's no drama. There are no bloody socks. No Mannys just being Manny. No star quarterbacks who can't cut their hair without the permission of a Brazilian supermodel. These are guys who have always been good to me and to Boston. It's time now to say thank you for that.

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