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Bruins have Boston buzzing

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 31, 2011 03:44 PM

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(From left to right) James Pioppi, 13 of Winthrop; Frank Martens, 16 of Malden and the Cup's creator, Justin Pioppi, 16 of Winthrop.


A water cooler jug serves as the base. Stacked above it in ascending order are inverted containers that once housed butter, cream cheese and yogurt, but now have answered a much higher calling. The iconic chalice atop is an erstwhile Ziploc bowl. Coalesced by silicone and bathed in silver paint, it is a homespun version of hockey's Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup.

The faux Cup is the work of 16-year-old Justin Pioppi of Winthrop, and it is a symbol of how the coolest game on Earth has become the hottest thing in the Hub with the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990 and trying to win it for the first time since 1972. The Bruins open the Stanley Cup finals tomorrow in Vancouver against the Canucks.

Spring fever has been replaced by Stanley Cup fever in Boston. The symptoms include wearing Bruins paraphernalia, throwing around terms like backchecking and net-front presence, and referring to "Bergy" (Patrice Bergeron) and "Looch" (Milan Lucic).

Pioppi, his younger brother James, and friend Frank Martens held the ersatz Cup aloft yesterday in the players' parking lot outside TD Garden, where approximately 3,000 Spoked-Believers, according to the Bruins, gathered to send their hockey heroes off with pomp and pleas to bring home the real Stanley Cup. Other fans came up to touch and take pictures with the faux Cup and its creator, who spent an hour bringing it to life.

"It has relevance because our city wants it, the real Cup, so bad," said Pioppi, who made his Cup before the first game of the playoffs, against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Spoked-B has become haute couture worthy of any Newbury Street boutique, and the Bruins are a hot topic for those conversant in vulcanized rubber and those whose only familiarity with the blue line is courtesy of the MBTA.

Sorry, Detroit. Boston is currently Hockeytown, USA.

"You know I definitely got a feeling of it [Saturday]," said Lucic. "Me and Johnny Boychuk, we went for lunch and everyone was cheering when we left the restaurant so that was cool. From when I first came here, obviously, the Bruins were kind of in the bottom of the standings and everyone was cheering for the other three teams that were here, and they kind of the forgot about the Bruins.

"It’s been a long time since they’ve been in this position, and you can see how special it is to this city that we've been able to get here. Walking around, you could see everyone's Red Sox hat was replaced by a Bruins hat, and that was really cool to see and it means a lot. We want to do whatever we can to do it for our fans because we really feel like they do deserve it."

There is a never-ending debate as to what the professional sports pecking order is around here. Have we all been annexed by Red Sox Nation? Have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady made football first in fealty? Is this a dormant hockey domain waiting to erupt with passion. Where do the Celtics and their 17 championships weigh in?

The answer is simple. Boston is a town that loves winners and possible winners, first and foremost. Yeah, the Red Sox went 86 years without a title, but what kindled the obsessive state of Red Sox fandom most of us our familiar with was the 1967 "Impossible Dream" season, when the Sox went from ninth place in the 10-team American League the season before to the World Series.

The '67 Sox led the AL in attendance (1, 727,832). The '66 Sox, who authored the franchise's ninth straight losing season, drew nearly a million fewer fans at 811,172. After '67 there was a reason to be emotionally invested in the Sox -- they could actually win it one of these years. The rest is history and a Red Sox Nation membership card.

This isn't Chicago. There are no lovable losers here in the Hub of Hardware. We are a sports meritocracy.

Suddenly, the Bruins, the definition of unremarkable for nearly two decades, have a chance to add to the 21st century trophy case and everybody wants a piece of the action. That's why the Bruins are the "it' team in town.

The players are appreciative of the fan support and attention, die-hard puck-heads and hockey dilettantes alike. A member of the Bruins media relations staff said that players were still buzzing on the flight to Vancouver about the send-off they had gotten from the Garden. They were taken aback by how many people showed up.

Before they boarded their buses to begin the trip to British Columbia, Bergeron was asked if the players had noticed the increased interest in the team and the sport.

"Yeah, for sure. You can feel, you can sense that the whole city is behind us and they’ve been like that all playoffs," said Bergeron. "It’s great. Obviously Boston is such a sports town and to bring back I guess the hockey fans and us into it is something that I’m very proud of."

It hasn't taken defenseman Andrew Ference long to realize that the loyalty of the Boston sports fan is only matched by his or her sense of fatalism.

"I think people are excited just to know we have a shot," Ference said. "I think even last series, playing a Game 7, I know everybody was excited, and everybody was really wanting us to win. But I think the Boston mentality is to prepare for the worst. So, I think they were pretty jubilant and couldn't believe that we did win."

Perhaps that's why in keeping with real Stanley Cup superstition, Pioppi made sure none of the Bruins touched his replica Cup yesterday as they made their way through the crowd to sign autographs.

But he's certain the franchise will be lifting the real thing for the first time since 1972.

"They have to," he said.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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