December 7, 2008

OLD TIME HOCKEY:

The icemen returneth: The first-place Bruins are after something bigger than wins: Making an old hockey town believe again (Shira Springer, December 7, 2008, Boston Globe)

The line of fans stretched from the TD Banknorth Garden Pro Shop down the length of the arena, curled left, and extended another 30 yards into the cold fall air. Some waited almost two hours in the 34-degree weather. Some took their children out of school. One family drove 12 hours from Ontario just for the chance to meet some players from their favorite team and buy the latest souvenir jersey.

A black and gold jersey, no less.

Something strange is happening in Boston. The Bruins matter. A proud, old hockey town has rediscovered its pulse. When was the last time anyone could say that?

This young and feisty team has vaulted to unexpected relevance with 18 wins in its first 26 games, and to first place in the National Hockey League's Eastern Conference. Built from the ground up by a revitalized front-office team, the new Bruins aren't exactly big or bad, but they have so far showcased the essential elements of success on ice: shifty scorers, a fists-up enforcer, a towering defenseman, a rock in goal. And not one household name in the bunch. Not yet.

Average attendance is up 10 percent; pro shop sales, 30 percent. Home game sellouts are no longer a dream but a growing expectation. Even the team's flatline TV ratings, rivaled only by the New England Revolution for local sports broadcast oblivion, have begun to perk up. [...]

It's hard to remember how big hockey once was in this town, especially in the early '70s, when the team, one of the original six franchises in the league, sported both the game's greatest superstar in defenseman Bobby Orr, its most prolific scorer in Phil Esposito, and a complementary cluster of lesser stars. Gerry Cheevers. Ken Hodge. Derek Sanderson.

It didn't take much effort to build a fan base in those days, especially in a city like Boston where schoolboy hockey and youth leagues flourished. Team legend Johnny Bucyk recalls every game as a sellout and constant chatter about the team around town. In those days, Orr's number 4 was as ubiquitous an emblem of the region as Ted Williams's number 9.

Rebuilding the fan base today is much harder work, though the base of youth hockey enthusiasm remains very much in place.


It would help if the NHL got rid of all the expansion teams.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 7, 2008 9:41 AM
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