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Brian McGrory

Jumping on the Zamboni

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / June 8, 2011

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All right, I admit it: The last time I watched a hockey game, face-off to final siren, Bobby Orr was flying through the air, and Mary Tyler Moore was must-see TV.

It was back when every dead-end road in Weymouth became a street hockey rink in the hours between school and dark. It was when clunky table hockey games, with all those knobs and levers, could fill a weekend. It was back when Phil Esposito, Derek Sanderson, and Wayne Cashman were all household names.

But something happened in the last 40 years. Larry Bird happened, making the Celtics the toast of the town. Then Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez and so many other Red Sox happened, and Fenway sold out every night. Then the Patriots happened at the same time as the Red Sox, and the Celtics happened all over again.

Left completely out of the picture, every year, every decade, was the team in black and gold that seemed to play at odd times, never in the late spring, in front of an arena half filled with fans nobody seemed to know.

But now? I want to snap my fingers and have it be 8 o’clock tonight so I don’t have to suffer another moment of breathless anticipation. I want to flood my side yard and turn it into a rink, even though it’s 80 degrees and I don’t know how to skate. I want to park myself in a Causeway Street bar and spend hours discussing the physics of being a 6-foot-9-inch defenseman.

I’m sorry to admit it, but I’m a card-carrying, badge-wearing, late-arriving member of the Bruins bandwagon. Check that (note the hockey pun): I’m not sorry for what I’ve become; I am sorry for everything I missed.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Hockey is basically a sport in which some of the fastest skaters in the world, a bunch of 200-pound men born on a faraway tundra, blaze across a frozen surface with the equivalent of knives on their feet and weapons in their hands and slam their opponents into wood and glass as hard and as often as they can. They slash at a deadly hard disk called a puck, mostly because a frozen rock would probably rip the net.

I don’t want to overstate things, but these are the toughest human beings on the planet. Their helmets leave half their faces exposed. They basically have to be dead before the trainer comes out. They occasionally tap an opponent with their stick, a gesture that says, “I’m about to punch your face.’’ The action never stops. There is an odd elegance in much of what they do. After the games, the players give the most thoughtful interviews in sports.

And I spent 35 years in willful ignorance of this? There’s no apology heartfelt enough.

But enough regret, because if the players are tough, their fans must be, too, right? Did you see that screaming, potbellied, bald guy banging the glass Monday night after another attempted homicide on the ice? By yesterday, he was at his accounting firm telling his friend, The Actuary, how he would have bloodied a Canuck if he could.

Why not? We’re all in. I’ve been practicing how to pronounce Zdeno. I dream about driving a Zamboni. I wanted to visit Nathan Horton at Mass. General and Aaron Rome in jail.

Boston, for better or worse, has slowly become a city of manicured, latte-loving gourmands, venture capitalists, and biotechnologists who like sports for the social aspect, more than the art and craft of the game. These rough-and-tumble Bruins bring us back to the day things didn’t glitter so bright, and it feels good.

A month ago, I thought icing was something on the desserts in the luxury suites. I thought Mike Milbury was still the coach. That all changed in the breathless Game 7 victory against Tampa Bay.

Tonight, unashamedly, I’m just another born-again Bruins fan who wants Tim Thomas to have the performance of his life.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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