By Sterling Pingree
The past two weeks I have climbed mountains and etched the faces of 8 of the greatest athletes in Boston sports history onto the Mount Rushmore’s of the Red Sox and Celtics. This week’s trek will be the most difficult so far as I will enshrine the 4 greatest Boston Bruins onto the pantheon.
With everything revolving around fours, let’s begin with the greatest number 4 in Boston history (with all due respect to Joe Cronin and Adam Vinatieri) the one and only Robert Gordon Orr. In the same ilk as Williams, Yastrzemski, Russell and Bird, Bobby Orr is a no-brainer on this list. From the moment he first took the ice of the Boston Garden he owned it. Whoever is the first at something is always seen as the measuring stick and the bar that Orr set as a scoring defensemen may have taken on some rust, because it is what hockey players have measured themselves up against for 50 years. Orr’s single season records set in 1970-71 for assists (102) and points (139) still stand to this day.
The argument of who is the greatest hockey player of all-time seems to vacillate between Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr. I’ve always tended to give the nod to Gretzky, but I’ve heard many great arguments, including one from Bob Ryan that Orr’s dominance as a defensemen, because of the level of difficulty, is just greater than the eye popping numbers that Gretzky put up as a center. One of the great sports what ifs, is what would Bobby Orr’s career have looked like if it hadn’t been cut short by a knee injury?
As the old saying goes, one legendary defensemen deserves another. (I’m not sure if that’s the old saying, it probably isn’t. But I could certainly see that being a saying in some place like Moosejaw, Saskatchewan amongst hockey fans, getting their coffee at the corner store.) In this case, playing the role of Yaz to Bobby Orr’s Ted Williams, we have the Gibraltar that was Ray Bourque. For 21 years Bourque was the backbone of the Boston Bruins. A steadying presence in the era following The Big Bad Bruins, Bourque won 5 Norris trophies, a Clancy trophy and a Calder trophy. The one thing that eluded him in Boston though was a Stanley Cup and all Bruins fans were happy to see him finally hoist one in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche. Perhaps the greatest tenstament to a player we have ever seen was that when Bourque was traded to Colorado, fans were just glad to see him get a chance to win a Cup and were only sadly remorseful that he wasn’t going be hoisting it wearing his familiar black and gold sweater.
My favorite moment of Bourque’s career was on the night in which the Bruins retired Phil Esposito’s number 7. The current tenant of Espo’s old number, Ray Bourque, peeled off his sweater to reveal his new #77 sweater. This is the kind of moment that seems to happen with regularity in Boston, although now thanks to Larry Lucchino and Dr. Charles Steinberg these moments feel much more contrived and staged. Bourque removing the sweater is an all-time moment. It is only appropriate that both numbers would eventually find their way to the rafters of the Boston Garden. Speaking of Phil Esposito.
In cases of players being equal I have given the edge to the player who either played his entire career with the team or played longer for the Boston team. Espo violates both of those rules in getting this spot. He played 9 years in Boston, which was sandwiched between 4 years in Chicago to start his career and 6 season for the Rangers at the end of it. The prime of #7’s career unequivocally came in Boston. His goal totals between 1969 and 1975 are as follows: 43, 76, 66, 55, 68 and 61. In those 9 years he racked up just over 1,000 points and all of this was done during arguably the greatest stretch of success in Bruins history. Stanley Cup wins in 1970 and ’72 were anchored by Orr’s mixture of toughness, explosiveness and Phil Esposito’s threat to drop a hat trick on you at any moment.
Before we get to the final spot on the Bruins Mount Rushmore, allow me a brief aside to announce my Might Ducks’ Mount Rushmore. (Not the team from Anaheim, I’m talking the former District 5 team, coached by the Minnesota Miracle Man, Gordon Bombay in the 3 Disney movies.) This is a no-brainer, Adam Banks makes the team, he was the best pure scorer on the team, as evidence by the fact that he made the varsity team at Eden Hall as a freshmen in the third movie. Charlie Conway makes the list, because he was arguably the main character besides Emilio Estavez and scored the championship game winner against the Hawks in the first movie. Slight drawback for Conway is that he sat out the Junior Goodwill Games and I’m not sure if he’s good enough to play against Iceland, but he’s good enough for this list. The third spot goes to Fulton Reid. Thumping defensemen. Hardest slap shot in the state of Minnesota and one half of the Bash Brothers. The final spot is a bit of a controversial pick, but shouldn’t be around these parts, I’m going with Julie “The Cat” Gaffney, goaltender from Bangor, Maine. “The Cat Lady” wore a Bangor Rams jersey in D2, did you really think that I was going to put Greg Goldberg on the list? Goldberg was so bad when he got to high school, that Coach Ted Orion turned him into a defensemen. Gaffney came up big when she stoned Gunnar Stahl to win the 1994 gold medal in Los Angeles. Banks, Conway, Reid and Gaffney. Okay, back to the Bruins.
The final spot goes to Cam Neely. This list is purely for on ice contributions, so any opinions on Cam Neely the executive are persona non-Grata. The term “Power Forward” was created in hockey because of Cam Neely. Here was a guy whose coach had to have talks with him about fighting because time spent in the penalty box was hurting the team because it took away his contributions as a scorer. And score he did, Neely punched 50 goals in just 44 games during the 1993-94 season, only Gretzky scored 50 goals in fewer games. Here is the reason I added Neely though, in 1994 Neely had the tip of his right pinky finger cut off through his glove at the beginning of the second period. Neely not only returned after 15 stitches, he returned that same period.
Orr, Bourque, Esposito and Neely. The hardest omissions were Milt Schmidt, Eddie Shore, Gerry Cheever and of course the winners of the B’s most recent cup: Chara, Bergeron and don’t forget about the greatness that was Tim Thomas during that season. This was the hardest list to work on, but in the end, I think the Mighty Ducks group came out pretty good.
Sterling Pingree is a co-host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.