General manager Milt Schmidt had a * Chief” in place when he began assembling the Big Bad Bruins that won the Stanley Cup on Mother's Day 50 years ago.
Hall of Fame left wing John Bucyk, nicknamed Chief after a Boston cartoonist mistook him for a Native American, labored on some of the worst teams in Bruins history.
Bucyk broke into the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings in 1955 and, after two seasons, was traded to Boston for goalie Terry Sawchuk.
The Bruins were in a perpetual state of malaise in the early 1960s, finishing last in five consecutive seasons while Bucyk floundered on a series of unproductive lines. The optimism of the New Frontier had no effect on Bruins fans in the days of Camelot.
* That was really crazy because there were eight years we never even made the playoffs,” said Bucyk. * Then you come back and see the team changing and see the wheels turning.”
The Bruins' upswing began with the arrival of rookie sensation Bobby Orr in 1966. Orr emerged as a dominant scorer and playmaker while revolutionizing the role of a defenseman in the NHL.
Bucyk's fortunes improved the following season when Schmidt fleeced the Chicago Blackhawks in a blockbuster deal that became the nucleus of two Stanley Cup championship teams.
The Bruins acquired centers Phil Esposito and Fred Stanfield and right-wing Ken Hodge for defenseman Gilles Marotte, center Pit Martin and goalie Jack Norris.
Gerry Cheevers supplanted Eddie Johnston as No. 1 goalie and coach Harry Sinden was able to construct three solid lines with the additions of Wayne Cashman and Derek Sanderson.
Bucyk was paired with Stanfield and right-wing Johnny * Pie” McKenzie, another holdover from the dark ages. They combined to become the best second line in the NHL.
The numbers back up that claim. Bucyk (31 goals, 38 assists, 69 points), Stanfield (23-35-58) and McKenzie (29-41-70) combined for 83 goals, 114 assists and 197 points. In 14 playoff games against the Rangers, Blackhawks and Blues, the troika combined for 20 goals and 32 assists.
* You know what it was like then, the three of us lived together in Arlington and we use to talk and sleep and eat hockey,” said Bucyk. * After a game we would sit together at the house and discuss what we didn't do right or what we could do better and different things.
* When I got to play with Pie and Freddy Stanfield it was the same thing. We used to always talk about our mistakes and what we could do to improve.
* Of course, a lot of pressure was off us because Phil Esposito at that time was with Hodge and Cashman, they were the top line. They were the No. 1 line and the other teams had too many of us to watch and they couldn't.”
The Bruins had a dynamic power play that season and Sinden gave Bucyk a big role on the team's first unit. Sinden deployed Orr and Stanfield at the points with Bucyk below the left circle, Esposito in the slot and Hodge doing the grunt work along the boards. The Bruins potted 81 power plays goals in the regular season and 14 in the playoffs.
* I think it was that we moved the puck along pretty quick and had our positions to play and we thought of different ideas,” said Bucyk. * When you have somebody like Bobby Orr on the point and Freddy Stanfield had a very good shot, that made it so much easier.
* What I used to do was make a long pass from the left corner to Bobby a lot. He had a shot that he kept down low. I don't think it was more than a foot high and we thought the key was to keep the puck down low on the goaltender.”
Bucyk was indirectly responsible for Orr's overtime goal against the Blues that won the Cup, a play magnificently captured on film by Record-American photographer Ray Lussier.
The Blues were leading 3-2 in the third. Bucyk scored the equalizer at 13:28 which sent the game to overtime and into Boston folklore.
* I just remember it was a very important goal because it tied the game and gave us the chance to win the Cup in Boston,” said Bucyk. * If we had lost then we would have had to go back to St. Louis and who knows what would have happened.
* If we had lost it could have given them extra energy and changed the (series). I'm glad I was able to score and put it into overtime and the best thing was Bobby flying through the air. That was one of the greatest hockey pictures ever.”