July 5, 2012

Bruins Dream Team: The All-Americans

By Jesse Connolly

In honor of yesterday’s celebration of the United States’ 236th birthday, here’s the first edition of Bruins Dream Team in quite some time. Today, we’re saluting the greatest American-born players to ever suit up for the Black and Gold.

Note: The length of a player’s tenure with the Bruins and their impact during that time weighed heavily in these selections.

COACHING STAFF


Head Coach – Robbie Ftorek (Needham, Mass.)

Ftorek compiled a record of 76-52-14 during his two-year tenure behind the B’s bench. Such totals aren’t going to blow anyone out of the water, but with Mike Milbury having made this squad as a defenseman – which keeps him from being a coach, per Black and Gold Blog rules – there were slim pickings among American bench bosses in club history.

A superstar at Needham High and a prolific scorer during his days in the WHA, Ftorek won a Northeast Division title in 2001-02, but was canned 73 games into the following season despite not even throwing a bench onto the ice.

Asst. Coach – Mike Sullivan (Marshfield, Mass.)

Sullivan’s brief time as a player with the Bruins wasn’t good enough to get him on the team, but he certainly deserves to be part of the coaching staff. As a rookie head coach, he guided the B’s to a 41-19-15-7 record in 2003-04, good for the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

But after the lockout, GM Mike O’Connell tore his roster to shreds, trading away star captain Joe Thornton and a sea of other talented players. Sullivan had no shot of making the playoffs and was eventually fired in favor of – gasp! – Dave Lewis by new general manager Peter Chiarelli.

Asst. Coach – Peter Laviolette (Franklin, Mass.)

Many of us forget that Laviolette was the coaching version of Tuukka Rask once upon a time, waiting in the wings to take over behind the bench in Boston. After guiding the P-Bruins to a Calder Cup championship in 1999, Laviolette became an assistant coach for the B’s in 2000-01 under Pat Burns and later Mike Keenan.

But rather than hire Laviolette to become head coach the following summer, Boston went with Ftorek. Laviolette took off to take over head-coaching duties for the Islanders, eventually won a Cup in Carolina and has had a wealth of success in Philadelphia.

FIRST LINE


Left Wing – Bobby Carpenter (Beverly, Mass.)

The ‘Can’t Miss Kid’ came to Boston in a 1989 deal that saw Steve Kasper shipped to Los Angeles. Carpenter was a big contributor down the stretch with 14 points in 18 games. He buried 25 goals twice in the next three seasons – one of which came in just 60 games. In total, he had 134 points in 187 games with the B’s.

Center – Craig Janney (Hartford, Conn.)

A remarkable setup man during his prime, Janney enjoyed great success with the Bruins after coming out of Boston College. In addition to a 92-point season in 1990-91, Janney was also sensational whenever it was playoff time, as he played a huge role in the B’s two runs to the finals in ’88 and ’90. In 69 playoff games with Boston, the slick center had 73 points.

Right Wing – Bill Guerin (Wilbraham, Mass.)

Guerin may have only been around for two seasons in Boston, but they sure were something special. After coming via trade from Edmonton (for Anson Carter), the power forward had 63 points in 64 games for the Black and Gold in 2000-01 and followed it up with a career-high 41 goal campaign the next year. Boston may not have had great success as a team, but the ‘GAS’ line of Guerin, Jason Allison and Sergei Samsonov was simply dynamite.

SECOND LINE


Left Wing – Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.)

A Harvard product (and future head coach of the Crimson), Donato ranks first in games played by an American forward for the B’s. The 5-foot-10 winger had three seasons of 22 goals or more during his first stint with the club (1991-98) and was a solid, veteran presence when he returned for one year in 2003-04. In 528 games for the Bruins, Donato notched 266 points.

Center – Brian Rolston (Flint, Mich.)

Acquired in the deal that sent Ray Bourque to Colorado, Rolston was a key cog for the B’s in the early 2000s. In 2001-02, he scored a then-career-high 31 goals and led the league with nine shorthanded tallies. The speedy pivot returned to Boston on deadline day this February, notching 15 points in 21 contests. For his career, Rolston has 251 points in 359 games in a Bruins’ uniform.

Right Wing – Phil Kessel (Madison, Wis.)

Though his time in Boston was short (three years), and he’ll always be remembered for the trade that brought the B’s Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton, Kessel undoubtedly showed flashes of brilliance for the Black and Gold. The fifth overall pick in 2006, Kessel won the Masterton Trophy after beating cancer, broke out after a benching during the 2008 playoffs and followed that up with a 36-goal season in 2008-09. In 15 career playoff games with the B’s, Kessel has nine goals and six assists.

THIRD LINE


Left Wing – Andy Brickley (Melrose, Mass.)

Now the renown color analyst for NESN, Brickley battled his fair share of injuries as a pro. When healthy, he was a consistent scoring threat for the Black and Gold. The former UNH standout bounced between the AHL and NHL with the Flyers, Penguins and Devils before nailing down a spot in Boston. In 1989-90 he had 40 points in 43 contests and again thrived in 1991-92 with 27 points in 23 games. All in all, ‘Brick’ had 113 points in 177 games.

Center – Tom Fergus (Chicago, Ill.)

Most B’s fans likely forget just how potent Fergus was during his time in the Hub of Hockey. After a rookie season that saw him notch 39 points in 61 games, the Chicago native had back-to-back seasons of 60-plus points. In 1984-85, he had the best year of his career with 73 points in 79 contests. Just a few months later, Boston dealt Fergus away for Bill Derlago, who played in just 39 games for the team before being traded to Winnipeg.

Right Wing - Steve Heinze (Lawrence, Mass.)

Heinze was selected 60th overall by the Bruins in 1988 before shining at Boston College. A staple in the B’s lineup for nearly a decade, Heinze played in 515 games for the Black and Gold. During his nine seasons he scored 131 goals and chipped in 108 assists, giving the team a solid, secondary-scoring presence throughout the ‘90s.

FOURTH LINE


Left Wing – Steve Leach (Cambridge, Mass.)

After being acquired from Washington in the summer of ’91 for Randy Burridge, Leach came home to the Bay State and had a breakout year for the B’s. But after scoring 57 goals in his first two seasons (to go along with 273 penalty minutes), the 5-foot-11 forward was beset by injuries and played in average of 42 games over the next three seasons.  

Center – Bob Sweeney (Boxboro, Mass.)

Eternally known as ‘Swoop,’ Sweeney turned pro in 1986 after four years at BC and really carved out a spot in the lineup a year later. During his five full years with the club, the 6-foot-3 forward topped the 20-goal mark twice. He was a key contributor in Boston’s run to the finals in ’88, notching 14 points in 23 playoff games.

Right Wing – Tom Williams (Duluth, Minn.)

The eldest skater on this imaginary squad, Williams spent eight seasons with Boston from 1961-1969. During that span, he played in 390 games, scoring 96 goals and chipped in 136 assists. Unfortunately for Williams, the going got good after he left. The Minnesota native made just one playoff appearance with the club (1968) before being traded to his hometown North Stars. Boston went on to win the Stanley Cup twice in the next three seasons.

Top Reserves – Bob Miller (Billerica, Mass.), Bryan Smolinski (Toledo, Ohio), Dave Christian (Warroad, Minn.), Blake Wheeler (Robbinsdale, Minn.)

(Pugilistic) runners-up – Chris Nilan (Boston, Mass.), Jay Miller (Wellesley, Mass.)

DEFENSE


Top Pair – Mike Milbury (Brighton, Mass.), Mike O’Connell (Cohasset, Mass.)

While forever known for their shortcomings as general managers, Milbury and O’Connell were dynamite d-men for the Black and Gold. Milbury played in 754 games for the B’s (more than any other American-born player) and trails only Terry O’Reilly (2,095) for the club’s all-time lead in penalty minutes with 1,552. In addition to his toughness, Milbury also chipped in offensively. He had a career-high 10 goals for the club in 1979-80. During the 1978 and 1979 postseasons, he had 17 points in 26 games.

O’Connell, a Bruin from 1980-86, was known more for his offensive exploits. He topped the 10-goal mark in four of his six seasons and had a career-high 60 points in 1983-84. Up until 2009, O’Connell held the NHL record for most consecutive games with a goal for a defenseman, having tallied in seven-straight contests for the B’s back in 1984.

Second Pair – Hal Gill (Bolton, Mass.), Reed Larson (Minneapolis, Minn.)

Fans were overly critical of Gill during his tenure in Boston (1997-04), but the towering defenseman was never nearly as inept as anyone made him out to be – as was proven with his success after leaving the Hub of Hockey. Gill had a negative plus-minus rating in just one of his seven seasons with the team, which is pretty remarkable given the B’s struggles during that stretch. All in all, the 6-foot-7 blueliner had 97 points and a plus-41 rating in 626 contests for the Black and Gold.

Larson couldn’t replicate the superb offensive numbers he put up in Detroit, especially with a guy like Ray Bourque being the go-to guy on the back-end, but he was a solid contributor during his two-plus seasons with the Bruins. Acquired from Detroit for O’Connell in March of 1986, Larson went on to register 77 points in 141 contests for the B’s.

Third Pair – Mark Stuart (Rochester, Minn.), John Blum (Detroit, Mich.)

Stuart had “future captain” written all over him during his first few years in Boston, and with good reason. The tough-as-nails rearguard’s selfless approach and hard-nosed style made it seem as though he was born to be a Bruin. Unfortunately injuries derailed his Iron Man streak and eventually diminished his importance to the club, leading to his trade to Atlanta. Stuart had 40 points and was plus-37 in 283 games over six seasons with Boston.

The 6-foot-3 Blum complements Stuart perfectly, as he was renown for his toughness and pugilistic ways throughout his pro career. Blum spent parts of three seasons with the B’s from 1983-86. His best year came in 1984-85, when the Detroit native had 16 points and 263 penalty minutes in 75 contests.

Top Reserves – Brian Leetch (Cheshire, Conn.), Bryan Berard (Woonsocket, R.I.)

Runners-up – Andrew Alberts (Minneapolis, Minn.), Frank Simonetti (Melrose, Mass.), Dave Ellett (Cleveland, Ohio)

GOALTENDERS


Starter – Tim Thomas (Flint, Mich.)

Thomas’ legacy may wind up being like that of Kessel’s, only considerably wackier, but the quirky netminder’s accomplishments will never be forgotten. A two-time Vezina Trophy winner, none of you need a lengthy recounting of Thomas’ tale. His fight to establish himself as an NHL goalie was inspirational, and his 2010-11 season and subsequent playoff run which brought the Cup back to Boston for the first time since 1972 was simply legendary.

Backup - Frank Brimsek (Eveleth, Minn.)

Brimsek takes the cake for the oldest player on this team, as he’d be 97-years-old this fall. But way back when, though few of us were alive to see it, he was among the best netminders in the game. Brimsek was a Bruin from 1938-49 – with part of his tenure interrupted by World War II – and played in 514 games for the Black and Gold. During his nine seasons with the club, he led the league in wins twice and finished with the most starts on five occasions. He backstopped the B’s to four Stanley Cup finals, winning it all in both 1939 and 1941. Brimsek also won the Vezina Trophy twice, doing so in 1939 and 1942. Brimsek was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. The only reason he ranks behind Thomas is the fact that Brimsek’s accomplishments must be viewed in a slightly different light, as the league now has 24 more teams than it did back then.

Third String – Jon Casey (Grand Rapids, Minn.)

After a strong run with the hometown North Stars – which included a trip to the finals in 1991 against a stacked Penguins’ squad – Casey was traded from Dallas (where he never played) to Boston for beloved netminder Andy Moog. During his lone season with the club, the 5-foot-10 netminder was solid. He wen 30-15-9 in 57 contests and had a career-best 2.88 goals-against average. In the playoffs, he helped Boston defeat the hated Habs in a seven-game series, but Boston fell to Martin Brodeur and the Devils in the next round.

(Very distant) runner-up: John Grahame (Denver, Colo.) 

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.