|The image of Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden wasn’t hard to unmask. (1979 File/Canadian Press via Ap)|
No giving this series cold shoulder
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — I’ve been exposed to hockey for 45 years. My school was one of the few that played the sport in New Jersey, and I had friends on the team, so I went to as many games as I could. When I wasn’t playing basketball, of course.
For the record, my first NHL game was at Madison Square Garden in 1960. The Rangers were playing the Canadiens, so I can honestly say I saw Maurice Richard, the great Rocket, play during his last season. I still have the program.
I went to Boston College, where hockey is rather large. My girlfriend, Elaine Murray, now my wife of 42 years, came from a family where it was considered a mortal sin to miss a BC home hockey game. Red Martin was her favorite player. My future father-in-law, Joe Murray, hated Harvard because “they play all those dirty Canadians.’’ The name “Kinasewich’’ (that would be Harvard’s Gene) was a swear word in that household.
Joe Murray came up with tickets for the 1965 NCAA championship game between BC and Michigan Tech, featuring Tony Esposito in goal for the Huskies. I believe the final score was Michigan Tech 9, BC 2, but I’m too lazy to look it up.
I was a Joisey guy, a basketball guy, but how can you go to BC and not get swept up in hockey? We beat Boston University in my first Beanpot final, and I can still remember sitting behind the goal, under the overhang, and running down constantly to see how much time was left during a tense final period. You old-timers may recall that reading that Garden clock was a skill in itself.
And, oh, those Cornell games. This was the height of the Ned Harkness era, and I am here to tell you that the two most terrifying, formidable opponents of my entire BC fan-rooting experience were Jimmy Walker and the great Ken Dryden. The image of Dryden resting his chin on his arms while leaning on his stick during down moments remains.
When Dryden came from seemingly nowhere to ruin the 1971 Bruins playoffs, it sure didn’t surprise me. I may not have known very much about hockey, but I knew that Dryden guy was pretty good.
Now, I’m going to be honest about something. I came to resent hockey somewhat in the early ’70s. That’s because I was young, emotional, and just happened to be covering the Celtics, who were in the midst of a tremendous resurgence that would lead to a pair of championships and feature an amazing year in which they would win 68 games while running as well as any team has ever run.
And all the town seemed to be talking about was the Bruins.
Now, of course, I embrace those memories. When I talk to outsiders about the Big Bad Bruins, I act as if I had front-row seats on the blue line. I can rhapsodize about Bobby, Espo, Cheesie, Hodgie, Turk, Pie, and, of course the Chief. I mean, I really did see them play every now and then, but my life was centered around basketball.
Hey, I actually covered them a few times on the road from 1974-76.
Then, as now, the Celtics and Bruins vacated the Garden at Christmas time and February to make way for the Ice Capades, or whatever, and both found themselves on the West Coast at the same time. It was decided by the boss that one guy would cover both teams as much as logistically possible. So the question was, “Do we want Bob Ryan covering a hockey game or Tom Fitzgerald covering a basketball game?’’ With all due respect for a beloved colleague, that was an easy call.
So, I have my Bruins coverage memories, such as walking up to Bep Guidolin at an Oakland coffee shop, introducing myself, and, by way of breaking the conversational ice, saying, “I’ll probably have a few questions,’’ and him growling, “Oh, yeah, what kind of questions?’’ Then there was the time we were entering the Fabulous Forum on a gorgeous 80-degree February Los Angeles day, and Phil Esposito yells out, “We’re supposed to play hockey in this?’’
But the best one was the time we flew back home from the coast, changing planes at O’Hare at, like, 5 a.m. — ah, the pre-charter days — and learning only after we got home that Derek Sanderson had jumped the team and I didn’t know anything about it.
So, what’s the point? The point is that I have always liked hockey, but have never professed to be an expert, because of the four sports it is, by far, the most unknowable. Basketball is in my blood. Hockey is not. I see things in basketball games some others might not. I miss things in hockey games those who know and love it recognize instantly.
As someone who has done all four major sports, I can tell you that hockey is the hardest to write from a journalistic standpoint. Say what they want, there are no plays. There are concepts such as the 1-3-1 you hear about, but they break down very easily because passing the puck is a bit more capricious than, say, passing a basketball. It is so hard to be precise in hockey. Also, if someone happens to hit someone at the right time, it becomes instantly necessary to adopt Plan B.
But there surely are positional requirements and responsibilities, and you really have to be a hockey person to pick them out. I admire anyone who can write this game well, and so I am telling you that if you are a hockey aficionado, you are twice blessed, because in Fluto Shinzawa and Kevin Paul
As for myself, all I can say is that this prolonged exposure to the fascinating alien world of hockey has been extremely enjoyable. From digging out of that 0-2 hole against Montreal, to trashing the Flyers, to the roller-coaster ride of the Tampa Bay series (culminating in a 1-0 Game 7 that will rank very high in my personal Great Game list), and now to this emotional and spirited Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins have stitched together a wonderful narrative and I have been happy to throw in my dubious observations when asked to do so.
Anybody know how the Red Sox are doing?
Bob Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.