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The true measure of devotion

For one Maine family, it was a moment not to be missed

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By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / June 19, 2011

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The six Gurskis rose at 3 a.m. yesterday, climbed into a van before dawn, and motored three hours from Maine to Boston to bask in the wonder of a Stanley Cup victory parade.

Lisa Gurski, a longtime Bruins fan from Waterville, Maine, joined her husband, 10-year-old daughter, and three other family members to savor what she called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’’

Incurable lung cancer might give her only a few months to live, Gurski said, and she was not to be denied.

“I don’t think I’ll last long enough to see it again,’’ said Gurski, 45, who wore a Rick Middleton sweater signed by the former Bruins captain. “If I had the opportunity, I was going to take it.’’

Such is the devotion of Bruins followers throughout New England. The Amtrak parking lot in Portland was nearly filled at 6 a.m. by Boston-bound faithful. Joyous fans saluted one another while scurrying for coffee at Maine Turnpike rest stops. And southbound drivers wearing Bruins garb flashed smiles and thumbs-up as they pressed toward the parade route.

For Gurski; her husband, Paul; and brother-in-law, Peter, who lives in nearby Winslow, the Bruins never lost their appeal while legions of fans jumped off the bandwagon over the last few decades. Ed Gurski, the brothers’ father, bought a Terry O’Reilly sweater for the boys at the old Boston Garden. Lisa later wore the same top while on a Bruins date with Paul. And yesterday, the hand-me-down treasure was draped over the shoulders of Trevor Gurski, Peter’s 12-year-old son.

“I’ve heard their stories for years, the same stories, time and time again,’’ Lisa said of Paul and Peter’s rollicking tales of Bruins lore. “They get better every time.’’

On Wednesday night, when the Bruins won the Cup for the first time in 39 years, Lisa cried as she watched the television. Paul also became emotional, thanked his late father, popped open a bottle of champagne, and sat in front of the TV long after his wife had gone to bed, watching replays of the victory and interviews with the winners.

Peter, 42, had secured a seat at the Pointe Afta, a sports bar in Winslow, Maine, three hours before face-off.

“I kept telling myself that I hope the alarm clock doesn’t go off and this is all a dream,’’ Paul, 45, said yesterday while handling the wheel of a big van. In the rear, three children, 9, 10, and 12, huddled in Bruins clothing as they caught cat naps, sang songs, and repeatedly asked how much longer the drive would take.

“They can sleep on the way home, just like we did,’’ Paul said. “For us, the rule was, ‘You can’t miss school.’ We’d go down and back the same night.’’

In the front two rows, the brothers and Lisa reminisced about the razed Boston Garden, legendary hockey fights, and how O’Reilly, the Bruins legend, once let the boys sit on the team bench before a game.

The crew arrived in Boston at 7:50 a.m., parked a few blocks from TD Garden, and mingled with the growing, boisterous crowd that awaited the start of the parade three hours later. Lisa walked slower than the others. The heat, humidity, and labored breathing took a toll as she struggled to keep up.

“We’ll carry you if we have to,’’ Peter Gurski had said on the drive.

Lisa, who smiled slightly at the time, showed the kind of determination that her husband has seen since her latest diagnosis two years ago. The bout with lung cancer has been double jeopardy for Lisa, who said its origins have been traced to radiation she received 29 years ago for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

A couple of months ago, when Paul found her stacking two cords of wood, he questioned the wisdom of such work.

“If I’m alive,’’ she replied, “I’m going to live.’’

And yesterday, Lisa was living, waving her Middleton sweater from a second-floor hotel window that overlooked the start of the parade. Sitting on a pillow atop a dresser, Lisa took in all the color, emotion, community, and joy that spilled out below her as team captain Zdeno Chara hoisted the Cup.

Middleton, who has met the family, said later that he saw his sweater while watching television. Such loyalty does not surprise him.

“Even though they’re called the Boston Bruins, there are fans from all over, and they travel for hours to come down — and not just once a year,’’ said Middleton, who played 12 seasons for the team.

Peter Gurski grabbed a bedsheet, scrawled “Let Vancouver Hear the Party’’ on the linen, and hung the banner out the window. His brother bellowed, “Let’s get ready to make some noise,’’ and hundreds of fans thundered their approval.

After the last duck boat passed and the excitement began to ebb, the Gurskis had more work to do. The time had come for pictures. “This will make a hell of a memory bank,’’ Paul said.

The children were photographed; the brothers were, too; and then a poignant moment was captured to last a lifetime and longer.

Lisa and Randi, her 10-year-old girl, stood side by side. The daughter, smiling broadly, laid her head on Lisa’s shoulder. The mother curled her arm around Randi’s waist.

“I could sleep my life away, but I won’t do it,’’ Lisa had said earlier. “There are days I could sit here and cry, but I don’t want to. I’m not going to get down and bring my family down.’’

Neither happened yesterday, a day of triumph for the Bruins and also for the Gurskis. The parade — “I thought it was awesome,’’ Lisa said — had been worth the trip.

MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.

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