August 25, 2012

Original Six: The Ultimate Bruins

By Jesse Connolly

From their inception during the roaring ’20s until today, some of the game’s all-time greatest players have worn the Spoked-B for the Bruins. Throughout that time, certain players have seemingly been destined to wind up in Boston, be it because of their blue-collar effort, their hard-nosed, tough-as-nails style of play or their workmanlike, never-back-down approach to the game. For that, in the great annals of the team’s history, they stand out above the rest.

6. John Bucyk

Throughout the Bruins’ 88 years of existence, there’s no better example for consistency at the forward position than Johnny Bucyk. After being acquired via trade from Detroit in 1957, “Chief” went on to play in 1,436 games for the Black and Gold, which trails only Ray Bourque on the all-time list.

Through the team’s leaner years in the 1960s and their return to the top of the NHL mountain in the early ’70s, Bucyk could be counted on every night. The two-time team captain topped the 20-goal mark an astounding 16 times, including a career-best, 51-tally campaign in 1970-71. Despite playing during an era known for its physicality, Bucyk remained effective until his retirement in 1978 at the age of 43.

5. Ray Bourque

Rather than bore you with everything you know about Bourque’s tenure in Boston, we’ll focus on this: Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When looking back on Bourque’s career, it’s clear that the elevator didn’t exactly reach the top floor for darn near every coach who ever tried to game-plan against No. 77.

Time and time again, the theory was this: hit Bourque every chance you get and eventually he’ll wear down. After 22 years, 1,826 NHL games (including the playoffs) and five Norris Trophies, only one thing could make Bourque stop: winning the Stanley Cup. Unquestionably one of the greatest defensemen of all time, Bourque was — among other things — an unbreakable warrior.

4. Milt Schmidt

Schmidt might not ooze intimidation the way others on this list do, but the man trumps just about every other Bruin combined when it comes to dedicating oneself to the team. Now 94, Schmidt spent 16 seasons with the Black and Gold from 1936 to 1955, a tenure interrupted by a selfless decision to enlist in the Canadian military (along with teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer) during World War II.

Schmidt also coached the team for 770 games and served as general manager from 1967-72, a role that saw him put together two Stanley Cup winners. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

3. Terry O’Reilly

The unquestioned heart-and-soul of the Bruins during the “Lunch Pail Gang” days, O’Reilly remains one of the most beloved players in the history of the club. His blue-collar style certainly has a lot to do with that. Nicknamed the Tazmanian Devil for his reckless, energetic style, O’Reilly likely will never relinquish his spot as the team’s all-time leader in penalty minutes (2,095).

When not scaling the glass at Madison Square Garden to wail on fans for attacking a teammate, O’Reilly worked his tail off to be a big-time contributor offensively, topping the 20-goal mark four times and finishing with 606 points in 891 games. His No. 24 was raised to the rafters in 2002.

2. Cam Neely

When Milan Lucic’s brawn and brazen style earned him a spot in the Bruins lineup as a 19-year-old rookie in 2007, many proclaimed that the Bruins had the next Cam Neely on their hands. This just in: Unless cloning laws get passed, neither the Bruins nor any other NHL club will ever possess such a prize. Neely’s perfect blend of skill and snarl made him destined to don the Spoked-B.

A tremendous sniper, feared fighter and all-around beast, Neely essentially spawned the term “power forward” with his rugged style. Opposing defensemen were left quaking in their boots every time No. 8 came barreling over the blue line. More often than not, Neely steamrolled them, right before he put the puck in the back of the net.

1. Eddie Shore

There’s a reason Shore’s name and the phrase “Old Time Hockey” go hand-in-hand. With a legacy of mythical proportions, and a reputation for being the toughest SOB in the league throughout his 14 seasons with the Bruins, Shore was a raging bull on the ice for the Black and Gold. Teammate Milt Schmidt once said that opponents would bounce off the legendary defenseman “like tenpins.”

An unrelenting workhorse, Shore was no slouch offensively, either, topping the 10-goal mark in each of his first five seasons with the club (back when the NHL season was roughly half the length it is today). The Bruins reached four Stanley Cup finals during Shore’s tenure, winning it all in 1929 and 1939.

So, why didn't Bobby Orr make the cut? 

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ

Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com