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Cheers cross the Canada line

Nova Scotia harbors a den of Boston backers

Nova Scotia’s Bill Estabrooks removes his false teeth before playoff games for good luck. Nova Scotia’s Bill Estabrooks removes his false teeth before playoff games for good luck. (Ryan Taplin for The Boston Globe)
By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / June 13, 2011

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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Bill Estabrooks, the province’s Cabinet minister for transportation, arrived in his living room ready for bear and took out the heavy artillery.

The big guns were his two front teeth, which Estabrooks ceremoniously plopped in a full beer glass as he flashed a gap-tooth grin and prepared to watch the Bruins square off Friday against the Vancouver Canucks. Such is the good-luck ritual that Estabrooks, 63, rolls out before every Bruins playoff game.

It’s a passion that thousands of Nova Scotians share with Estabrooks, who grew up listening to Bruins games on a transistor radio. The broadcasts from Boston carried across the water to the province, which had sent waves of job-hungry immigrants to Massachusetts, shared a rich maritime history with New England, and reveled in a common love of hockey.

To many Nova Scotians, reared on stories of Boston’s rush to respond to a 1917 explosion in Halifax that killed 2,000 people, the Bruins became a natural and enduring fit. The province, nearly a century later, sends a Christmas tree to Boston every year in thanks.

“There are so many of us,’’ said Estabrooks, who sports a walrus moustache and still plays hockey for the Tantallon Buzzards. “To be truthful with you, more people know me as a Bruins fan than as a provincial politician.’’

Boston lost, 1-0, to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, but Estabrooks and his kindred fans have walked this road before. They compare themselves to longtime Red Sox fans, who suffered through decades of unfulfilled yearning before grasping the holy grail of a championship in 2004. The Bruins, for whom Halifax-area native Brad Marchand plays, have not won a Stanley Cup since 1972.

“I’ve never known anything else,’’ said Daryl Woodill, 44, who watched the game in a raucous sports bar. “I’m a loyal person.’’

That loyalty began when he was 3 years old, Woodill said, because his mother thought the milkman looked like a young Bruins superstar. “My mother would always say, ‘Oh, here comes Bobby Orr.’ ’’

As he watched the game Friday, Woodill wore a Bruins sweater and a cap he bought seven years ago at a hockey game in Boston. The cap, autographed by former standouts Terry O’Reilly, Rick Middleton, and Ray Bourque, had been badly chewed by Woodill’s dog when the Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens in this year’s playoffs.

“I’ve been wearing the hat ever since,’’ Woodill said.

And the dog? “I didn’t know he was a Montreal fan.’’

To be sure, Nova Scotia holds fans of Montreal and the Toronto Maple Leafs. But to many Bruins supporters here, Canadiens fans are front-runners, much like some Yankees fans, and the Maple Leafs are a distant irrelevancy.

David Hendsbee, a Halifax regional councilor who traces his loyalty to Orr’s playing days, donned a Bruins jacket when he greeted the mayor of Vancouver in a visit to Halifax recently. By Wednesday, when a deciding Game 7 could be played, he hopes to have another reason to crow.

“I’ve been waiting 39 years for a parade,’’ said Hendsbee, who celebrated his 50th birthday by traveling to Boston for two Bruins games. “I’ll fly down that morning and stay up all day if I have to.’’

Hendsbee, 51, said he still “stretches the bandwidth’’ on his radio to find Bruins games at night. Unless a satellite dish is available, the games are only sporadically shown, on cable television.

In Dartmouth, across the harbor from Halifax, City Councilor Darren Fisher has made sure to connect his family with the team. His 10-year-old son, with his wife’s blessing, is named Bruen.

On Friday, the Bruins faithful at Bubba Ray’s sports bar were razzed good-naturedly by Canucks fans, many of whom said they were rooting for Vancouver only because a Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993.

“I’ll cheer for a team from Canada before I’ll ever cheer for a team from the States,’’ sniffed David Menear, 40, the bar’s general manager, who nevertheless has something of a Boston link. He won a look-alike contest in Orlando because of his striking resemblance to Woody Harrelson, who played a bartender on the TV series “Cheers.’’

Still, Bruins fans were undaunted, and they scoffed at rooting for a team based solely on patriotism.

“Look, the Bruins play hard-hitting, tough, Canadian-style hockey. It’s not like the Europeans,’’ said Blair Walsh, 33, a cook in the Canadian Coast Guard. “I just love the personality of the team.’’

Christa Jardine, anxious and pensive as the Bruins struggled to score, said her allegiance to a team from “the Boston States’’ — as America is sometimes called here — is a no-questions inheritance.

“I was forced into it. My dad is a Bruins fan,’’ said Jardine, 24, of Sydney Mines. “I watch every game. I feel the stress every game. It’s pretty much my life.’’

Cecil Wright, who hosts a sports call-in show on cable TV, has seen the Bruins’ allure from both sides of the border. Brought to Boston at age 6 by parents looking for work, he later moved to Holliston and played football on the high school’s team.

But the draw of Nova Scotia remained, and he returned to the province in 1984. Like many other fans here, he knows that clear winter nights mean the Bruins are reachable by radio. Such dedication “takes a person of special character,’’ Wright said.

Woodill, still wearing the Bruins hat his dog tried to eat, summoned some of that stoicism when Friday’s game ended. As his best friend — a New York Islanders fan, of all things — cheered the Canucks victory, Woodill pursed his lips, crossed his arms, and narrowed his eyes.

“I’m not going to talk to him for three days,’’ Woodill said. “We’ll get ’em in Boston.’’

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.

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